On Time: One Year’s Diary of Small Truths
by Jasmina Tesanovic
Memories like drops of blood, carne della mia carne, me, the one and only me, and only possible me, the best of all possible mes. I had so many great meta-memories, that entirely escaped ink and paper. Thoughts about memories, poetic fragments, flitting half-remembered things, premonitory hints. I should have been a more disciplined writer, I should have pounced like a panther on every one of them, because none of them are in this little book. They are not even memories anymore, just memories of memories.
No troubling theories about time today, just observations of daily life. Things that sound-out, like the pressing of doorbells.
When I was 14, I read St Augustine, who was noted for his sacred writing about time. Almost fifty years later, I can say that I am grateful to him, in my non-grateful fashion.
It is through the religious tradition that I know what “epiphany” is. I have been known to have those. Once, as a child, I was simply standing in the street, when I saw myself from the outside. I was the doppleganger witness of a little girl, with short bangs, in a child’s summer dress.
Also, I saw an aura around myself. It was some kind of mystic firewall, like divine protection, but isolation, too. Although there were two of me, the subject and the witness, I was alone, alone…ALONE.
It was indeed an epiphany, because I have always been alone in that way. I associate a fiery heat with that moment, it must have been a very hot summer day… I felt swoony, like the vertigo of Saint Theresa. But I was also a witness to my own presence as a being in the world, and that felt good.
St Augustine’s Confessions told me a lot about confessions. He may have been my first guru as a confessional writer. He was revealing his inner self in those confessions, a man and sinner struggling for sainthood, give me chastity and continence, only not yet. This was enthralling enough to get a fourteen year old girl to pore over obscure Latin terms, on dense pages with tiny print, with undiagnosed astigmatism. Chastity and continence were Augustine’s shields against aspects of the human condition that would come to mean a lot to me. Love was waiting for me.
To be fourteen is very young, but as I grow older, my younger self seems younger. I have a picture of myself handy from 12 years ago when I was 52.
I didn’t much like that picture, I thought I looked like some haggard woman-of-experience. Now I see myself as quite pretty, an ingenue with beautiful eyes and a tender, confiding gaze.
Maybe I’ll persist to be a centenarian, more like a scrawny tree than some temptress Pompeiian girlfriend of the chaste Saint Augustine. What will the world see of me, and when I turn my ancient, clouded eyes on myself, who will I see there?
Once I had a bag stolen from me, that held many personal souvenirs. I’ve never gotten over my burning rage and sense of injustice at that theft. It was a pretty purple bag, I quite liked it, but the bag, and its contents, and the money it are long gone now. It’s not like I buried the bag; it’s not like the loss of my mother. But I can’t let go of my indignant fury; it eats away at me, and I live in dreadful fear of having another purse snatched, although, since I’m a traveller, it happens rather often.
Still, I can’t get over it. To lose a mother is one thing, but to lose the precious evidence of a mother, that loss is cruel and severe.
A warning memory surfaced this dawn in Ibiza, while I was watching the streetlights wink out, replaced by daylight.
I remembered myself as a child, sulking alone in a room, or rather, petrified to forsake the room and be out in the noise of the world. I was stubbornly afraid to abandon my own private thoughts and meet other children, while grown-ups, of course, were much worse. I was in a catatonic state, without any knowledge of what was happening to me, or any words for it.
That’s an unpleasant memory, to be pouncing on me here at dawn on an island, because now that I know I have been in that stark condition, I also know I could be there again. I could slip into a profound state of isolation, too agoraphobic to open a door. But that was me, all right, and it makes the course of my life clearer to me. It’s a pillar among the monuments of memory; a stark warning sign, maybe, but at least I see it clearly now.
Me and my troubled love life. I knew what the emotion of love was, I knew what pleasure was, but I was afraid too often. I was made to be afraid too often, pleasure had too much of the taint of threat, violence, punishment. Fear made me long for protection.
An emotional and physical dependence, the state of being sheltered that was what I called LOVE.
I dreamt of my first kiss, under a lamp-post. It was like being wrapped in light.
The past shrinks itself to be packed into memories. Huge rooms, that towered over a small child, become tiny. Dreadful scoldings, just human remarks. The adored older generation, just another set of people. That huge terrace with a looming tree in Cairo, just a terrace in Egypt. My dad’s towering anger, just my dad expressing some worries. My mom’s beautiful fairy tale green gown, just a dress of the era.
And so they dwindle, the people I adored or feared, the places I inhabited or fled. Even the guilt shrinks. Why feel huge pangs about small things? I can’t condemn myself for being human.
And here we arrive we arrive on the planetary merry go round. I started this diary of time a year ago. Do you remember how it started? Now it’s just a memory…
“I have decided to write this diary as time goes by. My small observations as time passes…. New Year’s Eve is just a moment of a year’s time, and I am interested in every moment that a year can hold, for every fraction of a passing second is as novel, in its own way, as the New Year is…”