Some days are harder than others, some weeks, some months, some years, sometimes an entire life seems bundled into one solitary hard day. Unfortunately, the present is a petulant child that demands attention, you can’t just abandon it at the toy-store and go get ice-cream (thanks for that one parents). I mean after all, if the past is merely a memory, and the future is unrealised imagination, then the only true thing we actually have is the moment it takes me to write this sentence, and the moment it takes you to read it. Right now is the only thing we’ll ever know for fact, because even history is rewritten over and over by the brain depending on whether you happened to smell the rain outside your window that day, or whether you want to convince yourself you never loved them, or lost them, or forgot to call your grandparents more often before they died.
The past is a puppet held at the ends of future’s calling – we believe we can only end up at the right destination if we’ve been travelling down a straight path this entire time. So while we sleep, our blood runs backwards, rearranging the breadcrumbs so mistakes appear like bad-nightmares, kind of faded, lingering sorrows, an essence of incoherent sensation when the sun hits your face through the curtains. Today is a new day, a perfect day, a wonderful day – because it hasn’t happened yet.
Yet our relationship with the here-and-now is one that constantly requires reminders: “Be in the moment!” “Seize the day!” “Don’t look backwards, you’re not going that way.” So strange to think that a species that claims that its primary existential angst stems from a quest for truth, is actually absolutely terrible at embracing its automatic existence within it. I mean literally, all we have to do is be — it’s our closest shot at objectivity. That’s why I’ve come to the rather calming realisation that people don’t actually want the truth, like at all, it’s almost complete bullshit. They want a story that makes sense to them about why their lives have shaped out the way they have — a series of breadcrumbs that discounts the cruelties of chance and fate, of just pure shitty luck and unrequited love and cancer that shouldn’t have spread and wars that shouldn’t have killed and presidents that shouldn’t have plundered and alleyways that shouldn’t have been so dark that night when you were wearing jeans and drinking I mean whose fault was that right.
I often speak of ‘getting away from it all.’ A rather pretentious statement for a privileged 22-year-old who smokes cigarettes in balconies at night because ‘god it’s just too overwhelming, the absolute okayness of it all.’ I told my mother the other day, as I was leaving for work at an unseemly hour with flavoured yoghurt in my hand for breakfast, that I can’t believe this is actually my life now. “I mean this is it ma. I’m living – going to work, and paying tax, and meeting deadlines, and having panic attacks, and like there isn’t a dress rehearsal anymore you know? School and college were the dry-runs of this, and shit, this is just the beginning, why am I so exhausted at the prospect of an indefinite future that has already begun. I’m actually living in the ‘real’ world now and that’s so fucking scary.”
I keep a hypothetical-probably-will-never-take-it gap year on standby because a part of my story needs to believe that there’s a bookmark I can fold into the pages. Pause, just one second, the truth of the present-continuous tense is too much for my body to bear. “She has been going to work for 6 months now,” – language is a beautifully absurd thing – in this form of present-perfect-continuous you arrive at the intersection of infinite time: it acknowledges a past (that you have been doing something up until now), the present (that you are still doing it), and sets precedent for a logical future (I mean it’s likely you’re going to continue doing it), and suddenly you have: a story, fuck. A life even.
That is why my let-me-dye-my-hair-red and ‘get away from it all’ statements are actually factually inaccurate. My limited vocabulary delineates my rebellion into physical spaces, visualising escape in the forms of tangible destinations: ah the woods are lovely dark and deep, and for the life of me, I can’t commit to the promises I have to keep. A road-trip to the lovely cottage you haven’t found on Airbnb yet. But I think I was mistaken, it’s not where I’m trying to escape from, but when. If it were truly the walls of my room that had gotten too much, I probaby would have learned how to drive, but “I have been learning for over three years now” – present, perfect, continuous, forever, and therefore, never. Like the parallel lives we are leading in a multiverse where we got it right, I will probably be learning to drive for the rest of my life. I think I haven’t learned yet because I can’t disrupt the continuum of my story.
At some point, we fall more in love with the narratives of loss than we do with the person that actually left us. I was afraid I would forget you, because the vacancy your memory would leave behind will force me to face the present moment – the truth of it all, of my life that is actually frighteningly filled with potential. Just as I have been perhaps, afraid to learn how to drive, because that would mean I could actually go places. Actually ‘get away from it all.’ The question is, where would I go? And if I manage to fulfil the unrealised imagination of a perfect future, then it will become the present, and it will then become the truth, and soon enough it will become the past, and once again I will be empty.
I wonder how much happiness we deny ourselves simply because we must continue living in perfect-present-continuous. Stories that make sense only as long as you never stop telling them, over and over.