Sunburn And Ice

In Finland, the trees go right down to the sea. The tide is too small and the water too sweet to bother them. And I’m swimming from the shade of the forest, in waters that come winter will be frozen so solid that people will skate from island to island. But now I am swimming in the sun.

As a child I loved to swim. But that was before I went for lessons, where they taught me I was doing it wrong. Maybe I wasn’t graceful – Hell, a lot of the time I was doing the doggy paddle, I definitely wasn’t graceful – but today I swam further than I ever have before, or thought I ever could. To hell with that teacher. I didn’t labour it, didn’t try to win, didn’t thrash. I took it easy and just… made my way.

I suppose it helped a lot that I was in water where I knew, if I ever got tired or felt like I might drown, I could just lie on my back for a while. How can you be afraid of furniture? The Baltic is a good pool for learners, definitely.

And now I am sunburned, having swum in the sun for far too long. It had been lightly clouded most of the time, and I counted that as no sun at all. When it did come out, I was in the sea. You can’t be burned underwater, surely?

Perhaps. But my neck, face, shoulders and upper arms had to come up for air. I look like I’ve been dipped head-first into boiling water. Please don’t think I’m complaining though. I know that at home right now it’s raining, that we’re headed for yet another truly pointless summer. This pain in my neck feels like victory.

After the swim we went for dinner with some friends who inhabit an ecological housing project. I’m not sure what practical difference that makes, apart from the fact that it seems a lovely green place to live and they grow their own fruit and vegetables. So dinner was a really excellent salad, followed by a huge and lovely dessert. Seems a good idea.

Sitting on the balcony of a third floor apartment in Helsinki now. It’s ten at night, but the sun has not yet gone behind the tower blocks across the way. I’ll go to bed when it does. It’s been a long hot day, I’m exhausted and in discomfort.

It is though, a very comfortable discomfort.

When It’s Over

Human skin structure
Safety

Now that she’s gone, I have lost my reason. I don’t mean I’m mad. I’m angry and bitter, sure, but not unbalanced. I mean that when we were together, life made more sense. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t living my life for her. Heaven forfend. Nor “our future together”, or anything so cute. But I was part of something that was better than myself alone, something that transcended my limitations.

I hate to call it “the relationship”. It seemed far more concrete to me than such a vague term can convey, even if it existed only in our heads (only in mine?). What I’m talking about is an emotional reassurance. The knowledge that someone knew you very, very well – and yet somehow wanted to be with you anyway. The simple touch of human skin coming between you and the abyss. To cross the frontiers of that skin, escape the bonds of individuality, discover the relief of trust.

It wasn’t all security. No. It was challenge too. But that’s a good combination. When someone smart thinks you’re smart, expects the best of you, criticizes you cogently, it brings out your best. It didn’t change my life overnight, no. But over a year it informed every decision in a positive way. Why not do this? Why not set that goal? I felt both motivated and secure enough to look at the future again.

So now. When I think of doing something, the unexpected question comes. What for? Wasn’t there a reason once? The logic of my life escapes me for a moment. I don’t know why I’m doing anything. I survive, of course. And I know objectively that things will be better one day. But right now I feel betrayed, abandoned, imprisoned. Condemned to the oubliette of memory, the echo chamber of self. The walls close in.