Psalm to Be Read With Closed Eyes
Ignorance will carry me through the last days,
the blistering cities, over briny rivers
swarming with jellyfish, as once my father
carried me from the car up the tacked carpet
to the white bed, and if I woke, I never knew it.
Yesterday I counted forward seven weeks, forty-nine days, a perfect patchwork of time in which we will finish our stay in Heidelberg. I am sometimes in the habit of working out the math of time this way, which is not really a useful occupation. It’s the same whenever Miss N. reaches a new milestone age and I spend the day marvelling at it. It feels foolish and adult. The part of my brain that remembers being a child, and having my own inevitable ageing remarked upon by out-of-town relatives, ripples with mockery. I am always going to be surprised that time passes, I suppose.
I have spent so much of this year wishing myself elsewhere that the prospect of actually returning home, living there again, has only recently become a real thing that will happen instead of an intangible idea. Our mail will not be forwarded from 1 July. We are thinking about shipping books and toys. A. hosted a symposium here with a colleague last weekend, and we had guests over for Kaffee und Kuchen — his former supervisor and his wife, an odd couple, to be sure. He is a genteel, reserved Englishman and she, an Alexandrian Greek who says exactly everything that is on her mind. (We know more than one Greek-English academic couple with a similar relationship dynamic, and I am always rabidly curious about what they were like when they were young.) “You will go back to work when you go home?” she asked me.
Actually, it was more of a statement than a question, and an erroneous one. There is no real “back” in “back to work” for me. I completed my final, professional degree almost three years ago — I am resisting the urge to put quotation marks around the word professional — and have not worked since. Six months of job hunting followed, then helping my mother during her illness, during which time I got pregnant and we found out we would be spending a year in Germany. Appropriately, I have been neither working nor networking during this time.
There have been moments, this year, when I have really wanted to be working at something other than parenting. Our first apartment here looked out at a monstrous glass-walled cancer research building, where floors of offices were stacked between floors of empty laboratories. I watched one corner office where the walls were striped with bookshelves. Its occupant sat working diligently at her desk, alone. (This is a projection. She could have been playing computer solitaire.) I watched her while I held N., who refused to nap in her crib those first few weeks we were there. Two or three times each day, I buckled her into the stroller and walked up and down the riverside, aiming for the loosest cobblestones, the better to jiggle her to sleep. It seemed always to be blistering hot. I smelled terrible and got a bad, deep tan. Yes, I thought, it would be nice to have a job.
We were speaking to my mother-in-law on Skype the other day, and as N. ran around in the background with no bottoms on, she chuckled and said, “These are good days. Enjoy them.” There is no denying this. It ha been a sweet thing to stay home with my baby in this ambulant cocoon that has been our life abroad, and that we are soon to shed. I am still mostly ignorant, I think, of the whole goodness of it, and what it might mean to me when I am older and looking back at the time that has, inexorably, elapsed.