Surprised by Joy

I’ve always been accident-prone. It was a label that I carried about with me from as early as I can remember. Just before my seventh birthday I remember wondering if I’d make it to my teens. Summer camp that year was difficult; I’d almost drowned; jumped head-first into the gym horse; walked into doors; the usual tripping up, falling over and choking on my lunch, and now, my calf, cut with glass – a scar I still have – that the nurse was patching together while my sisters explained to her that this was par for the course. I had been acting the eejit in some show-off display of tomfoolery and now I was paying the price. No one was laughing anymore and I was genuinely deeply concerned for my future. But what could I do? Danger hung over me like a dark cloud; my saving grace was that I forgot easily and so my childhood, while peppered with injuries, was still fun for the most part. How I never broke a bone is anyone’s guess. I was then, and remain to be, the person that causes other normal people to scan the room quickly for any obvious obstacles when I appear. When I start to tell a story, some quick thinking person will gently push my glass in towards the centre of the table and away from the edge, a safe distance from my waving arms.

Dramatic was another label; dramatic, accident-prone and free spirited; that was the diplomatic term for whatever I was. I’d like to say I grew out of it but I still fall down stairs and I’ve burned myself so many times that we keep the burn-aid next to the hob. My daughters can’t watch me chop vegetables.

“I didn’t ask to be this way!” I cried – only yesterday, as my husband sprayed something soothing on my wrist – although I’m proud to say, I didn’t drop the dish as I took it out of the oven. That’s progress right there. That’s maturity. My family sighs for me, sure what else can they do? Once the bleeding has stopped they’re rendered useless.  But yesterday that frustrated seven year old was back, biting her lower lip outside Newpark summer school; nothing has changed, I thought. I’m still a danger to myself every waking moment; if it’s not an allergic reaction to something, I’ll have pulled a muscle, or picked the iron up the wrong side. I don’t know; I just do it. Chaos follows me too, generally – whatever path I follow, it will never be straightforward. I’m a girl with stories.

What, you may ask, has this to do with the story of my pregnancy? Well, for a start, if anyone were going to get pregnant, it would be me. My husband Geoff says that the reason I’m so prone to accidents is because my mind and therefore, my attention is elsewhere. It’s true. The only reason I no longer fall down the stairs is because I count the steps as I walk. I find this is a very mindful way of moving safely. So, although I was appalled that I had gotten myself pregnant, I wasn’t exactly surprised. It wasn’t going to be regular straightforward pregnancy and it wasn’t even a straightforward birth. Of course it wasn’t. One minute I was sitting there watching the sun rise and the next the student nurse was reporting that the baby was distressed. I was wheeled off dramatically while my mother was out of the room and suddenly there were seven or eight people around me.
“You’re going to have to have a caesarean section,” a nurse told me.
“Ok.” I said politely, thinking “Typical.” And “FUUUUUUCK!” The words I heard were
“The baby’s distressed.”
“She’s three centimeters.”
“Emer, we’re prepping you for – “
“But she’s only –“
“She’s fully dilated, the BABY’S COMING NOW!!!”

I’d like to say I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect but I’m not. It happened just like that. Literally five minutes after a nurse told my mother I was going for ‘that test again’, the baby was born.
A boy.
A boy!
Everything’s fine.

Two years later, Geoff and I had brought our tango of flirtation to a first date; he took me to (but now I’m showing off) Sardinia. Yes, an overnight stay on an Italian island where the most beautiful humans on earth reside. We sat people watching in the evening sun, before enjoying dinner in an empty restaurant served by the grumpy owner who seemed as put out by our leftovers as by our being there (after all, It was Italia 90, the World Cup and Italy was in the process of winning their match.) It turned out he was the most delightful of men; we sat drinking some kind of local hooch after the match, speaking some kind of pigeon Spanish-Italian with a smattering of mime. He offered us jobs the following summer and drove us to the airport as all the taxi drivers were drunk. I was impossibly happy in that moment but I thought it only fair to warn Geoff it couldn’t last.
“Trouble follows me,” I told him. “It will end badly. You should probably get out now, while you still can.”
He’s a handsome man, but that night I fell in love with his hands. I couldn’t look at anything else. After two years of unimaginable heartbreak, I’d assumed I would never be happy again. I wasn’t even expecting it.

I can still remember the first moment I realized that my baby boy wasn’t on my mind. I was in work, on the packing line, of all things, a Zig and Zag video. Our company had produced it and it was all hands on deck with the packaging. If you weren’t doing anything crucial you were in the studio shoving the paper sleeve of “Nothing to Do With Toast” into the video box. The moment took me by such surprise that I actually exclaimed out loud,
“What?” Someone said.
“Nothing.” I said, all my actions slowing now as I realized he hadn’t been on my mind. I remembered the Wordsworth poem ‘Surprised by Joy.’ It had never made so much sense to me before. Wordsworth became real, a man, a broken hearted father, instead of some long dead Romantic that had no connection whatsoever to modern life. I can recite that poem with genuine understanding but I can never finish it without catching my voice. One half a second not thinking about my son. An instant of relief, even happiness. Zig and Zag were funny and we were most likely quoting them. I laughed and I forgot.

And here I was in an airport in Sardinia with a gorgeous kind man. The moments of happiness between remembering lasted longer these days, but they would never go away, I was sure of that.
“I’m trouble.” I told him earnestly.
“It’s okay to be happy.” He said. “You’re allowed to live happily ever after.”
I looked at him, and I believed him. He was right; it was okay.
I had no duty to sorrow.
I could enjoy life.
Was I punishing myself? I don’t think so.
Trouble didn’t have to hang over me anymore. With a thought, I could release it back to the wild.
Geoff literally opened the door of my cage; I stepped out knowing that while I’d never forget the trappings that had caused me pain, I was free now to get on with my life.
Dramatic? Moi? Accident prone, yes. Free spirited, sure… happy?
Most definitely forever after.

Surprised by Joy

By William Wordsworth

Surprised by joy – impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport – Oh! With whom
But thee, long buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind –
But how could I forget thee? – Through what
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? – That thought’s
Was the worse pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

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