Another perfect day was that Wednesday. The sun was blistering, end of September shine. I put on my rose bikini and stood in my room with that weird sensation of swimwear in unusual circumstance. Also I was hung-over.
I had arranged to meet with the friend of mine who shares my name, Mimansa. She and I were going to the water. She had appeared in my life around the time my mind turned west. Months of unfamiliar beliefs had leaked into my world and I thought that I had been selected for greatness. One morning on a weekend break near the seaside, I had witnessed Neptune rising out of the waters, trident glinting, his beard shedding salty water. After that, I saw coincidence everywhere I stepped.
She had been first to see the signs of my illness and responded with kindness, hearing out my complex theories with unusual patience and a gentle steer toward the normal. Despite this I spiralled downward and at some point along the way I had forgotten how time and space were distinct. I felt that I could pass my own death, take up a different position in time, as easily as strolling down a long familiar corridor. I felt that after dying I could easily reverse time and return to a point before my death, to a position of being alive. To test the belief, I had wandered into the Atlantic Ocean one day and swam out to a point beyond my physical ability to return. I woke up three days later in a Welsh hospital, my mother sitting close by, with a furious look on her face. Mim had sent me a card showing a school of grinning dolphins. Inside was a message, explaining her love for me “no matter what.” When I left the hospital and returned to the city, we became roommates. My symptoms faded and became history under the pressure of anti-psychotic medication.
That September day, she met me beside the African market and we caught the train headed north. We walked sipping cans of fizzy orange pop called Miranda. The startling brightness and warmth made everything dreamy. As we turned onto the fields the first thing we saw was a huge circus tent spitting out garlands of rainbow ribbons and a pair of oatmeal and blonde horses nibbling the grass. It was so infant and woozy.
We walked alongside a pond and into woods and she told me she was having therapy. He had taken her one night to get help, after tears and end of tethers. I love how she talks, playfully with words. She understands the look of a conversation, tells a great story. She said that her therapist was pleased with her progress. She was happy about this. I didn’t have enough to say to sustain the conversation, but I knew she was well. She could care so deeply and I knew that she would be applying this to herself.
We strolled alongside a large sloping lawn where a flock of school children played sports academically. I said these North London children, these are the people who will grow up to have amazing lives. We were lost for a while but then found our destination. Arriving sticky with sweat, we inched down a little wooded alleyway, to a bungalow and a deck beside a big round pond, heavy with autumn leaves and speckled moorhens. We went into an open roofed area to change. Ladies all around with flesh and shapes, all smiles and wrinkles. I peeled off my clothes and said, is there a locker? “No,” a big pear lady said. She had piles of brown hair bundled on top of her head and was smiling. “We just trust each other.”
Simple, we just trust. In that moment I found it so comforting and striking. I had to relearn the shape of trust all over. I had felt gears slowly grinding in my brain as I took on notions of safety and predictability and practiced them with Mim over and over for a year straight. Checking in with her, when I wasn’t sure if I had created the right idea in my head, when I didn’t know if I was dreaming or awake. She meticulously reassured me and was a human barometer for my world.
She and I crumpled our clothes up into a moveable shape and went out to the decking. We stepped onto the ladder, half submerged, and climbed down into the murk. The water was biting, freezing cold. I winced and screwed up my face and held on tight out of reflex, then turned myself right around and plunged in. I took deep breaths and swam out into the water, probably squeaking and gasping; the memory is blaring cold. She followed more slowly in her blue swimsuit. It felt great to be in.
I noticed the yellow leaves in the pond straight away – some were floating on the surface, some were floating just beneath, held at a specific gravity, indecisive, as if the pond were jelly. Some leaves couldn’t be seen — I could only touch them with my feet as I swam past. A giant could float through space, and galaxies would be these leaves, spread out and caught in a net, and the giant would feel them brush past her feet and would watch yellow worlds float on the surface.
I wanted to swim as far as possible, swim out and out. There were five or six older ladies in the pond with us and there were five or six lifesavers flush with algae. It remained cold for a long time in the water, but was always refreshing. When I came close to her we giggled and chatted, swam to the furthest point in the pond and back again, only our heads visible to one another. We got out and lay on the lawn. I took off my bikini top and baked in sun. She kept hers on. The warmth in September was bliss after a cold dip and I wanted to feel my skin heat up and up. We left and ate Lebanese food. I loved her so perfectly on that day.
A few months later, I recognized a sliver of my former self as a dusty, old ambition returned to tickle me. I purchased a one-way ticket across the world and felt a swell of capability through the process. I voyaged alone to Laos and found a community of people living experimental lives together on a small self-created farm, where intention and compassion ruled. They invited me to join their group and live with them. Of course, I accepted.
Against this fresh backdrop, weeks and months gusted through like warm breezes. On them fragments of my character blew in and settled all around me. With each day I witnessed a familiar form of myself emerge.
One evening, we travelled en masse to the hot springs. The South Asian air was thick as honey and scented with Eucalyptus. Mosquitos played out their micro-lives hunting carbon dioxide clues and slurping human blood. Perched on rocks beside pools of sulphurous steaming water, we sat down and had a picnic. There weren't enough candles to light the meal, so we ate groping and laughing, using our fingers as forks.
This evening was part of a different life from the day at the pond, as if I had travelled across a universe between the two places. Everything before was far away, inaccessible and distinct. But even at a distance, she was a lifesaver bobbing on the surface of me.
After eating, I boiled myself in a tub built to catch the water from the natural hot spring, swigging from a bottle of homemade red wine. The juice stained my lips, but nobody could see my smile in the darkness. When I got too hot I tiptoed down to a nearby stream and stepped in. That biting cold again. I lowered myself down onto the carpet of smooth pebbles under the surface, feeling the ice water wrap around my waist like hands. Slowly and with winces, I lay back, closing my eyes, fully submerging myself. I knew I would rise back out of this place, I trusted myself now, but for a moment I allowed the indulgence of meeting the water so closely again. The stream roared alongside my body, this little brook had so much power. Under there, in the black, with the sound of a clanking stones and rushing bubbling liquids, I dreamt I was being carried away like luggage.
//Becky Prosser is a woman from London, living half in Detroit. She makes films about drug dealers, dances to any music, including supermarket tannoy shuffling, and is wondering what's next.