Our lodging is the attic room of an apartment in Oxford, a room we know well, having stayed here several times before. There is a low slanted ceiling, a narrow window overlooking streets and back yards, a few quirky little attempts at décor. There’s not much space in here, but it makes me feel enfolded and secure. It’s like a child’s room. I think it’s that slanted ceiling.
It’s our first night here, and I have slept the deep sleep of the exhausted, with powerful dreams that I can’t quite shake. In one dream, I saw my father, dear and yearned for, and I had something to tell him, something crucial, but he vanished. In another, I was searching for my mother, who was inexplicably somewhere in Texas, and I felt worried and responsible. Marlene and Eddie appeared as well…can’t dream far without my beloved siblings who died so cruelly young.
And this, it turns out, is how the trip will be. Wherever you go, there you are…right? And wherever you are, there too are your stories and the whole cast of characters. I have brought them all to England in my head. I’ll be reckoning with this in the most unlikely places.
It rained in the night, but now clouds are giving way to sunshine, and the day holds promise. We walk a block or two to the Cowley Road. There are homeless people asleep on the sidewalk or leaning against the doorways of unopened stores, with their shopping carts, blankets, and dogs, seemingly oblivious to the growing traffic and quickening pace of the street. Folks are heading off to work or school, confidently pedaling bicycles, striding along on foot, riding in cars or buses, an endless procession, gathering steam.
Our destination is a favorite coffee place where I order a latte and sit down, jotting fragments in my journal and watching the people hurrying along outside. The day is turning beautiful. The light is clear and bright, and yellow leaves are trembling (“like something almost being said”, as Philip Larkin put it), everything shining in its moment.
The espresso is strong (as I like it) and the music being played is Van Morrison, nothing but, and most of the people in here are the age I was when those Van Morrison songs were new. I can so easily picture her, that girl I was, looking out from within, thinking she had so much time, thinking she would always be intact, but of course she doesn’t exist anymore, having been undone and reconstituted more than once.
Well, maybe there’s an essence. I don’t know.
And I’m still thinking about those intense and troubling dreams from the night before, and how the travel had exhausted me but revived and energized my old ghosts who were haunting me with new twists now, and unusually vivid. I am trying to decipher those dreams…what did they mean? What is my subconscious telling me? What am I supposed to learn, and why is it taking me so long?
Meanwhile, there’s that soundtrack of Van Morrison, and a murmur of voices with English accents, a clicking of computer keys, the noise of an espresso machine. I was a brown-eyed girl once, skipping and a-jumping, slipping and a-sliding and suddenly I’m an almost-old woman in a coffee shop, sort of free associating with Van Morrison, floating into the mystic, a stranger in the world. Remember that album Astral Weeks?
From the far side of the ocean
If I put the wheels in motion
And I stand with my arms behind me
And I’m pushin’ on the door…
Then for no particular reason I think of my poet friend Dan, my accidental mentor, and I feel certain that he would tell me to forget about those dreams and focus on the light and the way the leaves are trembling.
And that’s what I did.
I don’t know what anything means. But it was a beautiful morning and I stepped out into it.