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					String of

Moments
KIERON DEVLIN
‘String theory is the first candidate for the theory of everything, a way to describe all the known natural forces (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak and strong) and matter (quarks and leptons) in a mathematically complete system.’ Wikipedia

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once believed that if I threw a rubber ball in the air instead of at the wall, it might pierce the blue and carry on through a halo of stars to reach the edge of a velvet silence. I wanted to go with it, into it, but was too rooted to the earth, too small. I was aged eight and three quarters. I did a lot of wondering. My mother told me I’d never grow up if I didn’t get a move on. ‘What’s the hurry?’ I said. I was playing one day on the street and I decided to test my ball theory again with a heavy stone. I wanted to see how far it would go up. It arced back quickly and thudded on to a girl standing nearby. Her head was bleeding. She burst into tears. From Newton then, and this girl, whose name I forgot, I learned to keep my head down. Now I simply nod in resignation at the way all things in life have to come down after the initial boost into the air, to follow the magnetic pull of the earth. I note it all in my little lined note book, the incredible number of things that drop, that fall, that keep on falling: 36 keys, 16 cups of coffee, 5 flower vases, 19 plates, 41 glasses, 4 lovers hands, 105 faces, 2 wombs, a multitude of stocks and shares — 10 entire lives. They do not fall so much as spiral slowly downwards, then plop as into a golf hole. This creates a twisted feeling inside, more than it should. At my first holy communion, I knelt at the altar and the scented priest placed a disk-shaped white wafer on my expectant tongue. It melted fast like waxy sugar paper; I imagined I was salivating on to the thighs of a tormented Jesus and the

blood dribbled, sweet as Sangria, from the corners of my Aramaic mouth. I was carrying a white prayer book, a set of rosary beads and a statue of the Virgin Mary, the mother of all sorrows, who looked like Mrs Johnson in third form. The statue dropped from my sweating hands; it hit the pew and chipped off the corner of her upper lip, turning her beatific smile into a toothless urchin’s grin. That made her more funky than funereal. Though my father never said the words, he acted as if his own chasm was all that was real. He wanted nothing to do with me when I last saw him. Did he look the other way because I was with my mother? No, because I meant nothing. I could be abandoned; I was external, so it was easy for him to disappear. That was the day I happily stopped believing the God’s famed beneficence. My father was as absent thereafter as God was allegedly present. I had just turned eleven and was wearing long pants for the first time. The entire edifice of social structure, and the church crumbled inwards around me quietly, nobody noticing the debris. I continued at school, learning more about nothing than I’m sure they permit — but then education is laughable too. At my graduation, a gust of wind lifted the mortar board off my head just as the photographer tried to clinch the shot. It scurried off, bouncing on its corners into the car park at Manchester Town Hall. It was flattened in the mud by a passing truck, the tassel broken off. My mother was upset as that would have been a picture of me she could be proud of. She wiped it down with a dampened handkerchief that had the imprint of her red lips on. On a recent trip to the Himalayas, I was carrying a gold ring my father had given me. It had hung on a chain around my neck for years. I was on a bridge over a mountain river feeling woozy from a long bus journey. A link in the chain snapped, and the ring tumbled down — before I could catch it — into the chasm of swirling, white foam beneath. I cursed the luck, but then I thought it was a sacrifice to the mountain gods. My father died that summer in a boating accident — a freak wave, an overturned catamaran — in the English Channel. In similar fashion, I fell for my first lover — and it was a mind-trip. I was at a dinner party and no one trains you for these events. I usually said the wrong thing. It was his face that overwhelmed me, that first sidelong glance halted my disordered world for a second. I wanted more. He simply held my gaze, a laser-still point that centred me, so that I could not ever look away again, except with the pain all addicts know — they have to have IT again. The stem of a fluted wine glass snapped on the marble-table; a tiny shard sliced into my thumb. Blood dripped on the ground and when I turned back to look, it was like a trail of ladybirds on the carpet. I did not so much as fall in love with him, but skid legs first, landing hard on my backside. But love is the ultimate false sacrifice and booby prize, a living, breathing puzzle, so he was as soon to slip from my hands, like all the chess pieces that refused to stay upright. He was gone before it had had time to grow. Then there was another day of falling sickness, years later. Like coming back to

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the same place. It was the day my lover told me he didn’t want to see me anymore; and I learned that love could be reversed in a nano-second like someone pulling the plug on still warm bath water. He said it wasn’t working and just upped and left; in that confused turnaround I was devoid of light, an evacuee from true self. To hold on, I merely tugged the knot tighter, made myself a slave. Better just enjoy the mud, embrace the dirt, I reasoned, which I did by hurling myself off the roof of my building and landing three floors below with a broken arm, but still alive. God is such a joker. Life has such grace and wit, if you have wit enough to read it. For years I suffered from acrophobia and could not use any stairs or lifts without a major panic attack. Strange that felt okay because at least, I reasoned, I will not fall for the joke again. I do not suffer the love disease. Not me. One day, about five years later, I was window shopping and day dreaming about nothing in particular. The phone rang. It was another wrong number. Someone pushed by touching my shoulder. It knocked me off balance and I fell on my backside. I was near the entrance to a shopping centre. Suddenly I was on the floor crying — the thought crossed my mind, ‘but I don’t do crying- at least not in public’. I was embarrassed and covered my face with my hands as though I had a spec of dirt in my eye. But the long ignored residue of lost love welled up inside as though disgorging a buried gem stone. It had to speak out. It did not seem right to cry standing up — not for nothing do Muslims place their heads low on their mats in abeyance to a mysterious law of grounding. Commuters, frantic shoppers, and the idle curious side-stepped me, thinking it was a ploy, just another beggar’s trick to wheedle money out of them. Or maybe I was a dead beat alcoholic, teetering on the pavement hoping for charity. A man tossed me an old coin he had no use for. It rolled by me following an S-shaped trajectory; I instinctively reached out for it, but it bounced down into a cleaning grid before I could stop its dizzying spin. The man said, ‘Oh well, it’s the thought that counts, not the money, right?’ I was flat on my tear-stained face, so did not reply. These past few weeks, a dream has visited me. They say it is common. I’m on the edge of my bed which is a towering white cliff, the sea foaming relentlessly below, and I feel myself just dangling. The roots and shrubs I grab desperately are not enough to hold me, my shins scrape the rocks. It helps to be a buffoon and laugh on the way down I think, so my face is fixed with an idiot grin — a heroic way to greet the end. But for all my tumbling, for all my compliance with the laws of gravity, I never find my world through the rabbit hole with Alice. I just remember the gut-wrench of going from high to low, from up to down, stomach in mouth. I do not ever touch the bottom, or ever get to reach the top. So if I’m down — at least I know my goal is just further down. I greet that with a ‘ha ha ha’ now and just fly. Now I’m in hospital and the nurse is crying joy-tears because she’s won the lottery. She’s not one of those that hovers around the sick to get them to hand over their credit cards before they kick the bucket. She said she would buy me a hol-

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iday in the Caribbean — out of her own money. Life is topsy-turvy all right: lived forwards, understood backwards, if at all. I feel now more complete I know she wants me with her. But it will soon be over. The good moments are a rare breed and appear with shiny bright halos, and they vanish quickly, so it’s like attempting to stare at the end of your nose, it makes you giddy. I have had a whole list of lovers one after the other and a Japanese friend asked, ‘but doesn’t that make you feel insecure?’ I said, ‘Not at all. Lovers are like waves on an ocean. Some are fresh and salty, some are like gentle ripples; others come on like walls of water, like great bloody tsunamis that drench me and suck me to my last breath, but others are just fine.’ He looked amazed, like I had lost all sense of human feeling. Truth is, they all came and they went, with each one leaving a particular flavour, an individual taste; but it was also like revisiting the same place, one person in different forms. The falling gives us grace, and from pain we wash ourselves free to laugh. In memory, each lover echoes and resonates, becomes a shadow play. I cannot bring any of them back now. I would not want to. I cannot even pin them down by writing, as a personal journal slows time right down to a stand still. But the bad moments congeal rapidly too; they suck out light, like globules of anti-matter; they tend to linger and accumulate, heavy and poisonous, forming a crust that covers up the brighter moments. But there’s a dance to falling and rising. A grand old ballroom dance, once you get the rhythm, you get up and go on your toes with it. I am sick, not so much of life, but of being close to death in life. I’ve been in hospital now for weeks. Some of my best friends have died. One by one they went without warning and I’m left behind. But I do still have a prolapsed lung. Blood trickles slowly from my mouth and down my chest; the catheter falls out — yet again — and the nurse has to mop me up. ‘Not again,’ she tuts. She cleans me up, under my arms, between my legs, with a moist warm sponge smelling of Dettol and toilet tissue. I pause to think: It’s not worth getting sexually roused. So it flops back into the pyjamas. These moments of grounding, of humiliation in the body are really radiant too, full of tenderness or love, just meeting needs and doing the necessary. These are fragile moments because we block them off. They are all we ever have, all that makes sense. Rare glimpses of the kernel of the world with gives us life. They just float there on top of the sea of overblown information, the daily mundane stuff, emails, news, bills, advertisements, demands. Moments that twist around us, but don’t stop shining unless we look the other way. They fade, but we know they are still there. You cannot touch them with your fingers because they come from beyond or around or above us. If you try to tighten your grasp, you only cause a shadow dance. We end up blotting out our own radiance and mistaking calamity for beauty, not seeing any benefit in pain. So this great string with each pointed moment stuck on it all chained up, though we can’t see, to a super skin. The germ of it is gone from view. It makes things happen in all parts. The round dance of our lives and loves. Snow falls merrily, even tears fall in joy. And hope, like misdirected laser rockets to the

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moon, can never stay too long in space, but must hurtle back disintegrating into the lower atmosphere. It has to spin back into the earth’s rotation sooner or later and land in its place — the ground. That’s why rain falls too. I’m thankful it comes down. What if it went upwards and sprayed outside the world’s gassy halo, beyond the asteroid belt? Would it sprinkle spit on the stars and cause them to hiss? I like the fact that things fall now. I stand in doorways, in telephone booths and watch what people throw away. I accept it with grace as you bow to your partner before the first step of yet another love affair. I have come to terms with the many bumps, births, accidents, deaths, break-ups, as an all-in-one episode of a soap opera that would be dumb to take as serious. And I can laugh at my prolapsed self so shot to pieces constantly trying to find each other. I’m one of the incredible tumbling things. The downward flow feels okay now. The day I never get back up again will be the day I have missed the point. The day that I’ve ignored my personalized string of bright moments which is there to light my way, as I watch myself, giddy with sliding down to the floor and then back up again to a roaring laugh.

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