The Folly of ‘If Only’ and a San Franciscan Morning

This morning was full of thudding basslines of cars as they parked outside and bounced around and made sure, at 6am, everyone was tense, awake and ready for a war zone. In the distance loud thudding, the sounds of human conflict of varying degrees of intensity, and the regular cacophony of noise made by the garbage collectors added to the sweet sounds of morning in the TL. There was to be no relaxing, no more sleeping. The outside had declared the day open and ready for business, so I got up, put on the kettle and threw open the curtains to let a little light in on my window garden. The room is filled with the scent of hyacinths. The bulb I put in water at new years has now flowered into brilliant Van Gogh purple flowers. I love hyacinths. I love their fleshy glistening flowers and the scent that they emit so strongly it makes the whole room smell good. I would like perfume that smelt exactly of hyacinths and nothing else. There is too much muddle in life right now. Everything is mixed up, including me.

I’ve taken up yoga in an attempt to stave off the ravages of arthritis. My hands are swollen up and ugly with it. My left knee is the same. I feel as if I am turning to stone like Lot’s wife. Perhaps I have seen too much and now must slowly turn to salt. The pain in my hands bothers me. It hurts to type. It hurts to hold a fork. It hurts to even wash them in hot water. I wish I could do something to make it less painful, but that is not how life goes. I force myself to play guitar in an attempt to keep the fingers moving. I can’t lose that ability.

I am in a rigid kind of mood. Inflexible like my hands. I have little sympathy to go along with my empathy. San Francisco remembered that it is in California. Finally the sun is shining and the day is bright. I never used to like the sun but now I need it as badly as I need tea, good books and music. I am promising myself I won’t complain when the days get hot, just as long as I can move my damn hands. Getting old is miserable. I do not want to get old, and I am not fond of clichĂ©s like ‘better than the alternative’. I am not fond of platitudes. I would rather take my discomfort as cold hard reality, no softening the edges. I would rather stare at it head on and not wait for the hammer to fall. Give it to me neat, no ice, no twist, in a highball glass filled to the brim.

I made a break for success too late, it seems. While I was busy living I was not busy creating anything of worth. It was pretty mean living, pretty scant comfort. All those long youthful days of drudgery caring for small children swept by. I could barely stay on my feet, let alone do anything else. Yet, at least some of them were not wasted. Some of them were spent nurturing the Boy. He has endless energy and limitless hopefulness. He is a sensitive soul, but not prone to inaction. I am infinitely lucky he is still with me for a while longer.

I spoke to him about little choices that you do not see are life-changing at the time. Once I accepted an evening class in Chofu, despite it not being on my schedule. I went off to teach these two young men who had fallen behind in their English studies. They liked to talk about playstation games and how their hobby was sleeping. I didn’t believe them, it was just the easiest thing they could say. We are all guilty of saying the easy thing, not the difficult one. I left the job at about 9pm, and decided to stop at Doutor Coffee for a royal milk tea with honey. Royal milk tea is sweet and silky, made by boiling milk not water with the tea leaves. It was the closest thing to comfort food I had found at that time in Japan. Royal Milk Tea and a goma dango from a street stall, which was a deep fried ball of mochi dough, with sweet red bean anko paste in the center, and covered with sesame seeds. They were placed in a paper cone, so hot that eating them immediately was tempting but unwise. They were hotter than a Maccy d’s apple pie. I sometimes wondered if they were hotter than a volcano or the center of the earth. It certainly seemed possible. They were also delicious and best eaten freshly cooked and not bought cold and made in the morning in a supermarket kitchen. If I had not stopped for royal milk tea, and then taken a detour for goma dango, then I would not have missed my usual train. If I had not missed my usual train, I would not have panicked and got on the wrong train. If I had not missed the train, I would not have had time to walk all the way to the end of the platform so I could get on the last car of that wrong train. If I had not got on the last car of the wrong train, I would never have met my husband.

Just one of those things going differently would have changed my life. No marriage to Mr Charming. My children would have been different. My life would have been different. Perhaps I would still have married a Japanese man. Perhaps I would still have had a boy and a girl. Perhaps I would have ended up happy-ish with four children, two dogs and a house in Chiba. Maybe. What is done is done. What happened happened. Chance, Fate, call it what you will, here I am. Me. Sitting in California with the light streaming in the window and my Boy out for a morning run up the hill towards the brighter side of town. He will return with apples and chewing gum. We will sit for a while and talk. I would not have it any differently. I would do it all again for him: the Royal Milk tea, the dango, the wrong train, the wrong man, the wrong life, the failures and the suffering – all of it.

I wonder what that woman who doesn’t exist who could have been me, sitting in her house in Chiba, with her four kids, nice husband, two dogs and sweet little not-quite-right-life would say if she knew in a different reality she got onto the wrong train and ended up here after all that. I suspect she would be jealous at my freedom. I was never a satisfied soul. I would have to take it all back to the very start and redo everything again to have a chance at being happy. Like Peter Green once sang, ‘sometimes I wish I had never been born’ but that is not it either. I am glad for life, I just wish it was safer and less sad. I wish I hadn’t lost so much. I wish I didn’t have arthritic fingers. I wish I had not failed so horribly when I fought so hard.

The day has quietened down. It is silent outside apart from the comforting city whoosh whoosh of traffic down the hill and the distant growl of motorcycles. Now they are silent! Now they are quiet when I am absolutely awake and ready for the onslaught. Perhaps I will accidentally set a series of events in motion today. Perhaps I will do something that seems tiny, but ends up being vast. The thought of it is enough to make me hide under my sheets and whimper for mercy. How can you live knowing that little choices can cause huge life-changing events. I won’t go to the Chinese New Year Parade in case someone crazy decides to do something lethal and devastating. I won’t go to the grocery store in case I get run over by a run away streetcar. I won’t talk to anyone in case I say the wrong thing. I will sit here in silence and hope that I don’t breathe the wrong way and end up setting something for a crash course to disaster. “If only” is not a phrase I want to use again.

I’ll ‘if only’ myself into an early grave if I am not careful. I guess we have to live and take the breaks as they come, ‘if only’ and hindsight be damned! Eventually Ill thaw out and be able to move, and turn on the music and go about my day and not sit here with my heart in my mouth terrified that something will happen to the Boy on his run. I will not let myself call him for another twenty minutes. He is never late, he always answers his phone and he never gets in trouble. I find myself saying the unreasonable thing parents everywhere say: “It is not you that I don’t trust: it is other people.” Followed by refusals to let the kids be alright and just live. But that is the problem isn’t it? Sometimes they don’t ‘just live’, sometimes the impossible happens, and sometimes you are left with ‘if only’ as a hammer to beat yourself over the head with for the rest of your miserable days.

So, I will call him, I will let him answer the phone sounding only slightly exasperated that I have called him for the third time, and then I will sit by the door like a dog hoping that ‘if only’ will not rear its ugly unreasonable head ever again.

Nothing happening is a huge gift. Stasis is not my enemy, change is. If only I knew that at the start. If only I was not born with that rambling heart that needs to keep on moving down the road, over the ocean, and over the mountain too. If only I was not me.

Perhaps tomorrow the world will not want to explode in sound and fury at 6am, and then I’ll be able to wake up slowly and not feel as if the vultures were circling overhead. If only!

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