I tend to remember certain times, periods of time, by how they felt, or how they made me feel. Certain years in school or college, certain summers, or even certain months stand separate from each other not so much through the different people who moved through them, or the different places and scenery that defined them, but by how remembering them feels. Calm, slow, excited, numb, bitter – some words help to capture it, but mostly it is beyond description, beyond any small collection of adjectives, beyond words.
Although there are many distinct times that feel very different to each other, there are times later when these old atmospheres resurface. Often, it’s just for a day, possibly a week. I will be standing in a train station, or talking on the phone, and suddenly will think – this feels like the end of fifth year. Or Hilary Term in second year in college. Or the Christmas when I was in no year at all. There often isn’t much logic to it, and months, seasons, and settings can be completely off. But something about the combination of feelings brings me back to that place.
Yesterday, the rain came down in sheets, and I felt nothing much beyond an horrific hangover. But today, waking up in Dalkey to a glorious day of sunshine, I feel the ghost of a summer past tapping me on the shoulder. We have a barbeque in the late afternoon, my parents and I, and as I take photographs and we sit in the baking sun eating three different types of meat, the feeling starts to solidify. By the time my parents say goodbye and leave in the early evening to go to a concert, I have realised that I am back in a summer that happened three years ago.
It could be the sunny weather and being in my parents’ house; or that my parents have left the house, as they went to the Netherlands for two weeks that summer, leaving me minding the cat in Dalkey. It could be that I’m re-reading the book I was reading at the time – Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier. But then, maybe I picked out that book to read because I was revisiting that feeling.
It wasn’t a particularly nice two weeks, those weeks in August 2009, but what I’m revisiting now is not the bad parts, but the slow, peaceful, optimistic parts. The parts where I moved beyond caring, and could see those weeks and months for what they were – just one episode in the greater narrative of my life. I have never believed in fate, but sometimes I feel as though I do, and this is one of those times. I feel as though I can sit back and watch it unfold.
After my parents leave and the house becomes quiet, I slip out to take the sea view walk I took every day back then. It’s a longer walk than I would usually take now, a good 45 minutes at a fast pace, but somehow I feel as though I have all the time in the world (although I don’t, the research project beckons). Dalkey is particularly beautiful at this time of the day, this time of the year, when the sun is starting to cast long shadows and the day is starting to cool down and taper off. I had forgotten how much I love this walk; the glittering expanse of the bay, how I peer into the garden of every house I pass and imagine living there, imagine a living room that faces directly out onto the sea, Bray Head lit up golden by the sinking sun.
As I pass the coast and start moving steeply uphill into the trees on Killiney Hill, I pass a middle-aged couple and their dog. As I brush past the woman in her pink fleece, I realise with a start that her clothes have been washed with the detergent he uses. And suddenly, I am back in his house, standing in his front hallway, waking up between his blue sheets, and it is as though no time has passed, even though I have not recognised that smell in years.
At the top of the hill, a French man stops me to ask me where he can find the Edge’s house. A brood of grumpy-looking French children and their mother look on. On my way home, I take the longcut by the Green Walk, and retrace my coast-walk steps, only this time a hundred metres higher and going the other direction.
And now, I sit in the garden looking down at Dalkey and Dun Laoghaire and beyond across the sea to Howth, and the sun moves closer to the horizon. A dog barks, a small girl and her father shout and laugh, the college guys across the road grill steaks. For now, at least, I feel optimistic and at peace. I think I have recaptured my joy in life.