The first time I met my father, he was dead. After that, I got to know him. When I died, thirty years later, my father was born. I knew it would happen that way. I expected it, you could say.
When I was born, was I young or old, compared to the life I’d left? When you die do you go back to zero, or do you carry on counting?
But let’s begin at the beginning. That is what is called for at moments like these, when your life flashes before you. Chronology.
Zero. One. Two. Three. As I inhaled for the fourth time in my life, my eyelids split open and my mind was invaded by a dazzling white glare. This was my moment of introduction, my personal entrance to the stage.
Five. Six. Seven. Without warning I was struck forcefully from behind and I realised that I was being dangled upside down. Something was severed and fell, wet, to the floor. My bag of blood and sinew was shocked into a sequence of jerks, making me lose count of my breaths. Pain curled up inside my legs and I heard myself shriek unbearably loudly as my bloody fists thrashed in the air. There was no going back now. There was no escape.
Images and sounds swirled in and out of me. The textures were all cotton and biological slime, and the colours were white, silver and scarlet. A lot of bundling took place. The air scraped my skin like sandpaper and the sounds were deafening. Measures were taken to safety-pin me into the chaos. First, I was clipped around the wrist with what I later understood to be my name – ‘Tenzin Monlam, born 04:37pm, 26 March, 2005, parents Tenzin Menla, Tenzin Osel.’ Then I was ‘bonded’ with my mother – after being pushed out of her womb, I was pushed back into the smothering softness of her bosom so that the natural processes could take effect.
After a while, my mind telescoped the chaos into silence. Everything became distant until there was only myself and my mother in the world, a tiny island. As I lay in her arms, I made an effort to identify which limbs were mine and which were hers. At first I came to the conclusion that they were mostly mine; then the realisation dawned that they were mostly hers. Beneath my body, my mother’s breaths were deep and hoarse; in comparison, my own were like tiny gasps. But neither were we fully separate – I could feel the pumping of my mother’s blood as strongly as I could when in the womb. For a while, I enjoyed the limbo state. My identity was shifting, growing to encompass the whole world, and to the size of the tiniest atom shrinking.
Throughout my life I have thought about that moment many times, and wished that it could have been different. If my wandering mind had been blown towards a different womb, a different foetus, a different world, everything would have been avoided, all the troubles that were to come my way. But at that moment, lying there with my mother in the cool hospital air, I was blissfully happy. I had no idea where I ended and the world began, and there was nothing to fear. If I felt threatened I could simply shrink myself to the size of a speck, making myself unreachable, or expand myself to merge with the whole of existence, making myself all-powerful. I lay there for a long time, playing with the appearance of the world. These first moments were the most enjoyable of my life – they didn’t last long.
© Jake Wallis Simons 2005. All rights reserved.