A while ago I was writing about anxiety, do you remember? During a drought, I was fantasising about giving up entirely, lying on the lawn, opening my veins and letting my life-blood nourish the parched grass, and the idea felt like a relief, a terrible, fiercely painful, heartfelt sigh. I’d finally be treading lightly on the earth: making up for my unjustifiable environmental impact.
It feels as if this was a significant moment, a watershed, a paradigm shift, and ever since then I’ve incorporated anxiety into every moment of my waking or dream life. I know, however, that the brain imposes narrative shape and significance onto events. I’ve probably always lived in a state of perpetual semi-alarm. I don’t feel that anxiety has soaked into, or infused, my being. Rather, I feel that a deep anxiety is woven into the very fabric of my being, and extended into the weave of the whole universe, in my perception and conception of it. It is a necessary strand of the fabric – the weariness, the fever and the fret.
On the other hand, I used to love storms, but, ever since the drought, they’ve frightened me – another example of huge forces beyond my control. It’s around 6.30 a.m. as I write this, and there’s a wind-storm roaring and bellowing outside. When I came down, the front door was wide open. I guess, last night, someone had swung it shut, but the lock hadn’t caught. It felt like some huge, wild intruder had shoulder-barged in and invaded, taken possession of our cosy home, had made it a wild, night-lit, night-stormy space. It was exhilarating, but also frightening. I went around the house checking that no opportunistic passer-by had walked off with the laptops, but really I kind of felt the storm itself might be the thief and he’d stolen something as vast and intangibly powerful as himself, a metaphysical sense of security, or something.
After Jo and I had been together a little while, she started snuggling up against me on the sofa, in the evening, and murmuring “Let’s have a baby”. At first, I think, it was almost a joke, a way of expressing affection for me. Jo has always been determined and unsentimental. But the call became more and more insistent: “Let’s have a BABY!”
My response was always to immediately change the subject and start talking about politics or film. Eventually, though, Jo’s clamour became so strident, that even I, almost completely lacking in self-awareness, had to admit those early 30s maternal urges had hit Jo full in the face, and I was resisting them.
So, eventually, Jo sat me down for a serious talk and gave me an ultimatum: I must provide her with (ahem, ahem) the genetic material to make a baby, or she would have to find somebody else who would, before she was too old. My response? I changed the subject.
So, without ever making a serious, conscious decision, I discovered we were no longer going to be using contraceptives. I simply avoided thinking about it and, of course, sex without all that fiddly hassle is MUCH better, and, for a while, nothing happened.
Then I was diagnosed with, and treated for, Graves’ Disease, an auto-immune disorder that made me very hyperthyroid. Almost immediately, Jo conceived. (Is there a link? Any endocrinologists out there?) When she came home and told me, I ‘celebrated’ by drinking 3 quadruple gin and tonics in around 10 minutes, saying “I don’t feel very well”, and passing out on the sofa.
So, from then on, I was committed to fatherhood. Jo read all the baby books and passed on the information to me. I couldn’t bring myself to even look at one. I liked now. The future made me feel insecure.
And, of course, parenthood, birth, children are astounding – the sudden, apparently spontaneous existence of self-hood and autonomous, visionary consciousness! But I think it’s significant that I didn’t choose it. I used to say “having children was the best decision I never made”. Funny joke, but true: I acquiesced, but it wasn’t my idea. I just went along with it.