Back from a trip to the midlands at the weekend, ahead of a week of travel and transport, I’m thinking of the word juxtapose. How randomly different things rub together to create something new. Some new effect.
Sounds academic. But the effects I’ve felt over the last few days haven’t been intellectual, I’ve just felt them churning around inside.
I’ve come home from seeing a particular group of friends while having others on my mind hour by hour. And thinking so much of those in Bedford this weekend, while looking around the table at a family of friends that, like Mark and Sarah, also goes back to the beginning of our adult lives, I just wanted to tell them how much I loved them. How much I think we need eachother. How much I wanted to run around the garden with them in daft hats because of the many different pressures represented by all of us in Ian and Fiona’s welcoming big home. And elsewhere.
Thinking back over the last twelve months, we’ve had to be emotionally pragmatic a fair bit. Managing our feelings on the same list of Things To Do as all the other practical challenges, as best we can. It makes the list a tricky juxtaposition of things to internalise – some brain-taxing, some physical exertion, some seismic emotional moments. It’s been a lumpy gut-bag of objects to carry around. But you have to just push on and get through the list. Find a point on the horizon and make for it, hoping there’ll be a small grassy spot to sit down and empty out a few things. See how they fit together. See what they make.
Part of that emotional pragmatism is, I think, an uncomfortable need to quickly change your emotional dress for different moments – even if you find a dark suit hanging from one hand, and a Robin Hood costume in the other.
You have to be where you have to be. Where you’re needed. Doing what’s needed.
Driving up from Santa Maria to Rome, as June rolled towards its end, we had finally survived the narrow-lane, close-fendered circus of Campagnia’s motorway system to emerge onto the rather more cared-for traffic arteries under the Italian capital’s wider influence. Three lanes. Tarmac. A few road signs. A couple of hours in, our journey had left the layby rubbish mountains of Naples and the views of Vesuvius and was cruising towards the end of our time alone, the giving back of our big-assed hire car and the big hugging of my mother at Rome airport.
It was a sunny day and the roads were clear. We had the usual dreamy Brazilian swing lulling us along as we thought about two and a half weeks of emotional recuperation slipping behind us. We were sad but grateful, contemplating the road ahead.
Then, in a calm single moment, in the haze of the afternoon warmth as the motorway slid underneath us, the car’s windscreen became a panoramic cinema screen.
We happened to be in the middle lane in that moment. We had overtaken a car on the inside lane, and a Punto or similar had just overtaken us on the outside. We were approaching a large, articulated lorry, a couple of car lengths ahead of us.
It simply swerved into the two fast lanes. Like a muscle jerk. The cab pulled hard left in a blink and turned the whole length of the trailer across the motorway, tipping it over gracefully in the shimmering heat.
As the cab smashed the concrete centre wall and spilled rubble and glass across the other carriageway, momentum turned it’s lumbering line like clock hands on an axis, dragging the truck’s front backwards along the jagged break, tearing open a fuel drum and bringing it to rest almost pointing at us. All in a slow-motion moment. As the car in the outside lane was swallowed by it.
As I leaned on the break pedal and pulled to the inside, I simply thought: “Okay, our plans our changing today. Today, we’re pulling some people out of some wreckage.”
The fuel drum was spouting diesel in great glugs onto the tarmac. The other car had embedded itself under the trailer of the lorry as it had flattened on its side. Cars behind us were pulling up.
Adrenalin is a funny thing. It can make you do superhuman things when you need to. And it can make you see things very calmly. The chap in the flattened car dragged himself through the post-box window and jogged across towards us, hands bleeding from the effort. As we approached him, I looked at the cab. Someone had run from it across the other carriageway, alive. Motorists had already swarmed from their cars around the cab, pulling at the windsheild.
I spoke no Italian. Someone approached me as I stood in the road and made it clear that I could do nothing, that the police would not want us in the way. Traffic began to drive around us, streaming past the huge wreckage.
The car driver seemed oddly calm. We gave him our water. We gestured and wished we had more of the language. People joined us. I realised our car was simply in the way. We could do nothing.
So we drove on.
And we met mum at the airport. And we got on with our weekend in Rome together, helping Mum have a good time. Doing what was needed in each moment, as best we could. Grateful we had not been on the choked roads in the south when the lorry in front of us turned over.
Six weeks on, there was much to celebrate around the table this weekend. An imminent birth, an engagement, an anniversary. And twenty years since many of us first met. Twenty years. And still we feel a need for eachother’s company. Even being prepared to weather eachother’s kids to get it… And loving how the family has grown. It’s never sat far away in my mind from everyone else in our family – people we’ve known even longer in some cases, people we see more often, people we’ve been through defining experiences with.
In all the different ways we connect with different enduring friendships, I marvel at how it feels to be able to turn to someone who’s known you through many different chapters and is still prepared to turn to you. Sometimes.
And I also wonder how some of us will cope with the next chapter. How our different experiences will collide and create. How we will be able to help eachother. What we will be able to see together.
What we will survive together.