It was a cold night and I was brooding. One childhood memory in particular kept coming back. Everything was white. The snow was oppressive, like a sinister white omen. (‘In some countries, white is the color of mourning’, I thought…). My father was driving. He braked too suddenly. The car hit a tree, an apple tree. My mother went through the windscreen. Suddenly there was blood on the snow. I still don’t want to drive. Just can’t. Nobody listened to me, to my feelings. Then as before as later…
I don’t know why I can’t shake this memory, or any of my distressing feelings, for that matter. They seem to cling to me. Sunday lunches with my parents do not help. Alan decided long ago he was not up to them. I don’t blame him. My mother finds everything difficult – dreadful... And unfortunately, I was contaminated by her pessismism long ago. My last conversation with her went like this:
‘Isn’t it a bit late for this?’
‘What? Late in the day?’
‘No, I mean, late in your life.’
‘You think it is too late for me to publish a novel? But why?’
‘Well, publishers want to be able to invest in an author. If you are too old, they are not interested in you.’
Totally depressed after this conversation – my father had been silent the whole time, not even pointing out that I am not yet thirty –, I went to see a therapist whose card had been in my bag for a while. The sign on the door said: ‘Ring the bell once and come in’. I did just that and found myself in a pleasant office, with a long wooden desk and a few comfortable-looking armchairs. There was nobody there. Well, not quite. A large ginger cat sat on the desk, considering me with a benevolent air. It let me stroke its fur. I whispered sweet catsy-type nonsense in its ears. When I sat down in the armchair that seemed to be designed for this very purpose, the cat leapt on my lap, settled contentedly and started purring. The sound of the door opening behind me made me jump.
‘I see you have met my assistant’.
‘Excellent to help clients relax.’ Turning to the cat:
‘It is time for your break.’
The cat instantly disappeared. And, ignoring my gaping mouth, the tall woman who had just entered the room just said:
‘So. What is your dream?’
I thought this was a bit blunt, but answered anyway, trying not to stare too much:
‘I want to publish my novel. I’ve been working on it for three years now and it is almost finished.’
‘Right. So what is the problem?’
‘I’m not sure. I’m just terrified. I’ve just had a very depressing discussion with my mother who says that I’m too old to publish now.’
‘I see. Too late now, and previously, it was too early.’
‘Yes, but, yes, but, how do do you…’
She waves this away.
I think I can hear her mutter something about it being obvious, because it is the same for everybody, which I resent because one of my deep convictions is that I am different – certainly not like everybody…
‘I thought I was unique’, I say, hoping against all odds that she won’t catch the bitterness in my voice.
‘Well, that’s the point. I’m a unicologist.’
‘A which?’, I said (remembering a line in Harry Potter).
‘A unicologist. I help people realize their unicity. 7 billion people, each one of them unique, and most of them having trouble with it – amazing, really.’
My mind is reeling:
‘So I am different, meaning I’m like everybody?’
‘Tell me about your dream as a child. Be specific. Divinity is in details, as you know.
After a surprisingly short time, she said goodbye, having first asked me to write about a childhood memory ‘as homework’, she said. When I went back to see her, I read out the following haiku:
Trees by empty road
Snow all around but no peace
Blood on baleful white
She gave me a wistful smile. I felt I should add something:
‘For a long time, I hated the snow the cold, the emptiness, the silence of January. But now I feel that I will love starting a new year’.
‘Wonderful’, she said. ‘Now I would like you to remember a happy memory.’
I thought for a while, watching the cat. I am not usually the contemplative type, if you see what I mean… But there was something about the way this mouser was licking its left paw, delicately and intensely at the same time… I fell in a kind of reverie. After a while, I fancied the cat had given me an encouraging nod and I started speaking, slowly, in an absorbed way:
‘I was sent to spend a week at my grand-mother’s place in the south of France, a small village surrounded by vineyards. I was five. In the morning we would read. To me the process was close to magic and the fact that I was gradually mastering the craft seemed nothing short of a miracle: The signs on the page were creating meanings. The fact that those meanings were only simplistic redundant ones such as “Marc is holding a red apple in his hand” and “the apple that Marc is holding in his hand is red” (this carefully confirmed by corny pictures: they believed in the didactic merits of repetition then) did not matter in the least. I suppose I also wrote the same sentences over and over because that is the way writing used to be taught but I don’t remember that bit. I remember the little wild asparagus that we would pick in the afternoon walks. And I remember exactly the taste and the color of the jam we would have in the morning with the round toasted bread that was so tasty and crispy and the old fashioned fireplace and the lampshades with pearls and the slightly musty smell in the lounge and the laughs and the talks and… there was so much love instead of the usual coldness and hostility. To be loved is the best I declare. The only thing worth living for… I discovered the world the world of books and the world of landscapes walking outside after the siesta and the incessant sound that the crickets made. Reading and writing and walking in the quiet countryside is still my delight’.
I was thoughtful for a while. Unusual ideas kept creeping up: I could have some fun, maybe visit my mother a bit less, spend more time with my boyfriend, go hiking together, go to the seaside together, enjoy swimming and sitting by the sea, just watching the waves crashing and uncrashing – yes, I knew that there is no such word, but I felt elated, inspired – on the rocks… or maybe even go swimming with dolphins (a friend of mine had gone and done that, she had come back a new person)… and I could write in a different way – happy, easy, fun books…
When I left, the garden was caught in a storm of cherry blossoms, wind-blown flowers all over the lawn. And peacefully grazing at the back, with flakes of white petals on snow white fur, I’m pretty sure there was a unicorn…