Wednesday, 11 July 2007

they're marching now

this is a response to the war memorial parade i attended recently. it was the same day i got gallstones or the polyp, whatever it was that made me ill.

They’re marching now.

All I can really feel is pain. I think it is because I am stressed, and have been stressed about this day for so long. Yesterday, reading the lines that represent to me my stressful past, I felt happy, and the pain was, to be kind to it, mild. Minimal. As I stood nervous behind the microphone, hand shaking and voice cracked, it was with a surge of triumph. What was once a symbol of hurt and anger and thwarted desire, now represented to me a purging of what had been before. As the words fell from my mouth, they marched triumphant in a bold assertion that I have feared, I have fought, and now I have conquered. The applause is shrieking, and I smile, relieved, and look down at the page and I look down on my body and I think, yes, this is mine now.

This is different though. I can’t remember if this is a new fear, or just an old one resurrected, and I wonder what I am afraid of, when those around me today have feared for their lives and looked death in the eye. And I have had that fear once, I think. But not to the same terrific extent.

I step out of the tube station and rush to buy a greeting’s card, hoping that I won’t be found out, and when I leave the shop I see them standing there, waiting ready. They are dressed smart. He is wearing the medal I saw once when I was a child in a box, never taken out again, and I suddenly feel small and silly in my blue summer dress and grubby flip flops, thinking, I’m wrong, I look wrong, I’ve gone wrong. Clutching my belly, I smile and twirl, but beneath waspish sunglasses I hold my eyes steady and unflinching and feel like I have to start turning hard as rock.

They bump in to someone not seen for twenty five years, and the wife asks his wife what she’s been doing for the last quarter of a century. They don’t recognise that it is not the same woman, and I wonder how much of existence is to be airbrushed out today. One. I count to myself. I smile in what I hope is a warm and expansive manner, my responses are frozen. I learnt to perform this dance many years ago. It was vain to hope the steps wouldn’t be needed again. Clutching my belly, I walk next to my stepmother and this wife, and my brother walks next to my father and the not-seen-for-twenty-five-years-acquaintance. I notice this because I find it strange how we turn to this gender divide that was never present at home. Why do I automatically fall in step with another woman, why do I automatically join the wives by virtue of wearing this blue summer dress.

I hate central London, I think. I want to go back to the boys’ house.

He’s made me cry behind my huge waspish sunglasses (‘why do you want to hide your pretty face?’) and I clutch my belly. I have committed the crime of mentioning the part of the past not on display today. But, I think, I’m on display today, and I am a visible manifestation of that past. Dressed wrong, thinking wrong, but on display all the same. I wonder at how easily it is done. Quick denial, pretend this doesn’t exist, didn’t exist, never existed; and suddenly my past is erased. And I think. Is this how I am thought of? Do you not want to recognise from where this moment came from, what has been to lead up to us standing on the Strand in the thin sun, talking right now, saying these words to one another, as I cry behind my sunglasses and text my boyfriend to ask him to come and see me when I get back home because right now all I want is for someone to hold me and let me know that my existence is all right. Two.

I fall back in to step with the women. It is safer there. They aren’t part of all of the shared past. I clutch my belly. It is getting worse now.

If this is a day to remember the past, I think, if this is a day to remember those involved in the past that were forgotten, I think, then I was right to speak up. But who knows what memories are wanted, and maybe this is a day to remember only what each mind desires.

It is getting steadily cooler and the pain is getting steadily worse, as we stand up begrudgingly to welcome the Royals and they start to march in. The camera focuses on Blair talking to Thatcher, and I joke that they are discussing how it is fine to stage an illegal and unpopular war because, look at them, they’re marching now.

We are here to remember the dead.
We are here to remember the dead.

We are here to remember the dead who died, so we are told, to keep this last bastion of imperialism safe, to keep this land British. In tears, the lady on the screen tells the widow on the screen that he in the photograph did not die in vain. That he saved her and her daughter and the land they loved. And I think perhaps now is the time to fuck politics, to ignore the nagging voice in my brain that warns me that almost without exception all the problems and wars in the world today can be traced back to Western imperialism, and the question that rings to why Britain should own the land anyway. Because we are here to remember the dead.

And how can I judge the living. For they believe that it was the right thing. And I was born too late to question that. I am young, I am foolish, I cannot ask this of them.

I did it because I believe it was the right thing to do.

Isn’t that what he says?

And for some moments I feel proud of my father today. And I feel proud of my mother today, watching on the television, in her airbrushed out of this moment here now today world. I shush my feminist pacifist, and I shush the angry little girl who is still reeling in fury and pain from him making her cry; and tell them both to let them have their moment, for what they suffered and what they saw.

I’m watching them march and I think about those who came home to get their medals and I think about the things they must have seen and I think about whether they wonder at their marching now, what they are marching for and what they marched for then. I think about how these times and these men have shaped so much of my past and my present although they never knew me, they never knew of my existence, and whether they thought they were doing it for babies like me soon to be born, or whether they didn’t think that far ahead. I try and decipher all the words and the point of singing fucking Rod Stewart because I want to know, I demand to know, if this is a celebration, because I don’t want to be celebrating. I don’t want to be celebrating. I want them to remember. I want to be remembered.

I want to be remembered as existing in this moment, because to have existed in this moment then something must have lived and thrived those years ago that need not have been so crassly brushed aside as I cried behind my sunglasses.

The pain has reached the point where I can barely stand through the National Anthem and no amount of clutching my belly makes it any less. Everyone is emotional but I am white as a sheet and all I can think of is how much pain I am in. I want to scream and scream and scream because I don’t know how I can travel the one hundred and twenty five miles to my nice soft bed when I can barely place one foot ahead of the other.

As the song comes to an end, we watch them march.

6 comments:

Chris Heppell said...

"I suddenly feel small and silly in my blue summer dress and grubby flip flops, thinking, I’m wrong, I look wrong, I’ve gone wrong"

You've gone wrong, you've gone wrong in your mind pan. I couldn't help thinking of the Mighty when I read this ;) Sorry. Serious comment to follow.

sian and crooked rib said...

you're wrong...

Rabid Pounder said...

Watching war memorials on tv (especially the ones with the really old vets covered in medals) always makes me cry. On the one hand you've got these incredible friendships/bonds borne out of the most horrendous circumstances. On the other hand you've got the most pitifully pointless waste of potentially great lives. This piece pretty well captures the confusion that I feel when I think about this stuff.

My favourite bit is "Do you not want to recognise from where this moment came from, what has been to lead up to us standing on the Strand in the thin sun, talking right now, saying these words to one another, as I cry behind my sunglasses and text my boyfriend to ask him to come and see me when I get back home because right now all I want is for someone to hold me and let me know that my existence is all right."

I'm sure a lot of those vets have exactly the same kind of emotions as they stand there to "perform this dance"
Good stuff. Emotional but not over indulgent

oldlady said...

I offered you my grandmothers dressing table today, then came across your post and was reminded of my identical feelings about my place in a family with step-parents, as though I embodied a world now being denied. I wonder did my grandmother share those feelings too, a century ago, when her mother died and her father remarried to someone she did not get on with.... thanks for the thoughts, keep writing!

Grumpyfish said...

I loved this, you write beautifully and with such emotion. I felt I was there with you, feeling what you were feeling. I am sure some of your writing may be lost on others, preferring to challenge your views - don't let them, it's right that you feel what you feel, let other's deal with their own feelings of the time. You definately haven't 'gone wrong'. Keep writing.

sian and crooked rib said...

hi grumpy fish,

thanks for the comment, im glad you like the story and that it had such effect. this story has been causing some controversory, so it means a lot when people like it and understand what i am trying to say (i have been shouting "it's a metaphor!!" for weeks now!)
and will be keeping writing, better to keep going and offend a few people on the way, then just stop and aviod controversory!