The clock has just struck 12 and it is now the 1st of May.
I’m in my Edinburgh flat with my parents for one night, and it’s been over five months since I lived here properly. On December 14th I was taken for a four-day stay in the hospital and from then on, my time in this place was limited to one or two or three-night stints.
I’m lying here in bed with my tiny sleeping daughter, 19 weeks and 5 days old, feeling like a stranger to this place. The fact that my husband is not here with me, but at our temporary flat in Vienna, adds weight to the sense that an era is ending for me. This is the bed where my husband and I woke up each morning to go through the motions of our final year at university. How is it possible that I slept here each night, first to study and then, when the studying was over, to say long goodbyes to my closest friends while writhing for full days in morning sickness? Or, when the summer had gone, to live out my last few weeks of pregnancy with shopping and cooking and maternity yoga and watching every movie in the cinema with my husband?
I’m listening to a song I played on repeat during those sessions of morning yoga. ‘What’s going on’, by A Perfect Circle – a band I’d loved since my Egyptian ex-boyfriend introduced me to the band in 2008. The song is old, but to me it was new, because while I waited for my life to change irreversibly I sought a reconnection with the earlier, teenage me, and the music which that teenager loved. Now it is embedded in the feeling of those days, when I had all the space and time in the world to enjoy the growth of life inside me, and it makes me shiver.
Have you ever felt sick with nostalgia? Nostalgia so heavy it threatens to split your breastbone down the middle?
Between September and December time slowed into a steady stream. One day blended into the next. I had midwife appointments and doctors appointments, and those little milestones were the only things which gave structure to my life. One warm September day, after an appointment with my obstetrician at the hospital, I boarded my bus home in the wrong direction. I was alone; nobody missed me at the flat and I didn’t have another appointment for several weeks. So I shrugged, played music on my iPod, and enjoyed the scenery as the bus drew me further and further from the city centre, through sattelite towns and untouched fields. I was in the front row of the upper deck and bathed in sunlight. It took me two hours to do the full circle back into the city centre, taking me past the student halls where I’d lived in my first year as a student, but I didn’t care. I’d bought eggs and milk from the farmer’s market in the hospital lobby and all that was left for me to do was go home and cook them.
During the time I was there alone, there were days when I didn’t leave the flat. I filled them with Arrested Development and sewed together the tiny moth-holes which had eaten into my cashmere sweaters while I travelled during the summer. I researched pregnancy nutrition, cooked huge batches of healthy vegetarian chilli and curry, and made green smoothies every morning. I read a book on Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth, and watched a montage of birth videos. When I did leave the flat, I walked through the residential grounds where I had spent my first year in Edinburgh and my first year away from home as a University student, and, pregnant belly in full view, climbed Arthur’s Seat like I had so many times before.
When my husband joined me in the beginning of October, he was working on a research project for the university. In his spare time, however, we made a habit of frequenting the movies. We saw The Martian, The Lobster, Sicario, Suffragette, Spectre, Macbeth, Carol, and Krampus. I don’t know what the order was, but we huddled against the cold air on our way there and held hands as the movie played, and it was when we were able to turn off that we felt the closest to each other. On Halloween, we took a long walk through the city – transformed, by its reputation for ghoulishness, into a kind of macabre carnival – and surveyed the costumed drunkards who roamed the streets. The night was cold but not windy, and pubs set their tables outside on the streets so that spectators could drink and take in the excitement. We went to the Whiski Rooms, which loomed above Princes Street, and had Sticky Toffee Puddings. We had no friends to celebrate with, but were perfectly fine with each other, witnessing the moment together.
As December neared, I woke up one late morning to find him erecting a small and gangly Christmas tree in our living room. We wandered Edinburgh’s Christmas Market in search of decorations for the tree and he spoke German with the vendors in order to haggle down the price. We ate waffles and I took two tiny sips of his mulled wine, and we laughed and played around like we did when, several months into our relationship, I decided to let go and dive in and we became madly and giddily in love. When we bought candles for the tree (my first time lighting candles on a tree, a slightly unnerving event), the sight of it was so warming that we happily spent the night in our living room, reading and writing and coexisting in a blissful peace. “We have to take a picture with Clio under it when she arrives,” he said enthusiastically. It pained me that we would not get to spend Christmas with that tree, but would be abandoning it for my parents’ house up north. After three winter breaks from university spent apart in our respective family homes, it had been our first christmas tree together, and our first as a married couple.
At the start of December, I began seeing a Chirporactor to resolve Clio’s breech position. I would take the long busride into a beautiful part of Edinburgh that I’d never seen before, and spend half an hour being tapped and massaged into a better shape. My husband would be there to meet me outside when I was done, and we’d walk back together in the moist Autumn air.
I had thought I was due to be induced on the 7th of December, but was instead told that because my daughter had not turned, we were at risk of a c-section. So we researched all that we could about breech babies and how to turn them, and during a walk home from another chiropractic appointment, we entered a leisure centre only five minutes from our flat and bought 12 days of membership for only £12. It was a beautiful swimming pool with a victorian glass roof above it, so that if you floated on your back you could see the clear sky or the rain pattering above you. We gathered our bathing suits and showered, and because of the allure of my large, high belly, ended up speaking with a middle-aged woman about birth, breastfeeding, children, and the rest of our lives. We swam together, my husband holding my legs up as I did hand-stands in the water and willed my daughter to turn. We came home feeling wonderful, and had been all set to do more swimming if it weren’t for the appointment on the 11th of December which turned everything upside down.
I remember calling my parents on the bus back from the hospital, feeling like everything was falling apart. I remember having to speak to each of my parents separately, explaining each detail – small head, smallish body, no water, emergency C-section in two days – within earshot of half of the people around me. I remember feeling, just from his body language, that the gentleman in front of me was listening in closely. And I remember, when he got off at Princes Street, turning around to say to us “I hope everything works out for you two. You’re in good hands over there, I’ve been working with them for years.” I remember feeling absolutely raw as I looked up and thanked him. We returned here, to this flat, but what happened that night has exited my mind. It must have been nothing but stress.
I swam only once more, the Sunday morning before my C-section. I remember feeling like I had lost the moment, like things were happening faster than I could work to change them. I remember being angry with my husband, because he had refused to give me extra room in bed the night before and had necessitated my transition to the bed next door. I remember being sad because our day out at the Christmas Market, giggling and enjoying, was the last time we’d been so carefree and happy. I remember feeling like it had come too soon, no labour, no preparations, just a sudden date on the calendar to demarcate the slitting open of my body. And all the same, I wanted it to be over.
Our days in this flat come back to me often, and I remember them with a sad nostalgia. Even at the time, as we took walks on grey and sandstone streets, strewn with autumnal leaves and dark, curled trees, and I said to my husband how I’d love to live in one of those stone houses with a garden so close to the center of the city, I could feel the subtle, tearing knowledge that our time there was short-lived, delicate, soon to be over. We would not live in one of those stone houses because my husband didn’t want to settle here, in this city I’ve grown to love so much. I realized that even a few months from then we’d be living with my daughter in Vienna, and that once my year in Oxford ended, there’d be no knowing were we would end up next.
But this isn’t the worst part of what I’m feeling now, as I sit up in the bed I bought nearly four years ago so that my husband, then boyfriend, could sleep alongside me each night. The worst part is that our last few months in this flat were free and absolutely beautiful and a privilege for expectant parents, and yet they were wasted on stress. My husband agonised over his situation, in limbo and unable to start the career or further study which our friends were all currently investing in. I agonized for him, beginning just as strongly to feel guilty for the ample time we spent doing basically ‘nothing’. There was joy, in bits and pieces and tiny drops. But often we kept to ourselves, too nervous about the direction of our joint life to speak those worries out loud and make them real.
When I came back here today and surveyed the space, my heart hurt. This flat has our lives all over it. Our art is on the walls, my exercise ball in the corner, my maternity yoga drawings still blue-tacked to the wall beneath the mirror where I practised. Our books line the shelves and the desk, reminding me of all the things I intended to read in that time and didn’t. Our folders, titled ‘International Political Economy’, ‘Black American Fiction,’ and ‘Dissertation’, still lie here in piles, the work untouched as though we had shuffled through notes during essay-writing just yesterday. A tortoise-shaped clay teapot, bought in Singapore the summer before I began at Edinburgh, perches on an open shelf in our kitchen, while at least four dozen wine and beer bottles, consumed throughout our time here from September 2014 to December 2015, line the top of the cabinets.
We are everywhere in this flat. Traces of us, our thoughts and concentrations splayed onto lined paper, notes shoved into binders, books shuffled into shelves, clothes put on and shed off, the pull-up bar we used to keep ourselves strong, all lie here. This is my home, the one place where I am most concentrated and where my heart and soul are stored. It belongs to us, we designed it, we furnished it, and it will be here, no matter where I go. So it is no surprise that it agonises me, to come here and feel like I’ve been forced to leave it behind.
We came here today on the premise of collecting some final items to bring to Vienna. I saw the kitchen, empty of food, its cups and glasses and crockery unused. I walked into the closet and saw some of my neglected clothes, strewn and hung and folded away in drawers. I saw the empty hangers where my husband’s used to stay, before he took them, bit by bit, to Vienna. And it dawned on me once more that, while I an rooted into this home, my ties too rigid to cut, he has vacated this place readily and even enthusiastically.
My heart is heavy, as though trapped beneath the ancient wood of the foor. It is 2:35 AM, and I need to be up by 8:oo. My final sleep in this flat for a long, long time will be 5 hours, if not less. And then I will get up, and pack away the things I intend to take with me. More of my life, sucked out of this space. I will then rush to meet two of the few remaining people in this city that I knew in my years as a student, and introduce them to my baby girl. It will, most likely, be the last time I ever see either of them. And then what is left of my life in this city will, bit by bit, dissolve.
It wouldn’t be so bad, if I felt that I had a home besides this one.