That Black and White Hat
I saw the black and white hat in a shop window, as I walked in the rain gleaming streets from the market.
Ugly hat. But my heart stopped a moment, and for a moment time shifted.
Acrylic knit, with a visor. Sort of pseudo hounds-tooth check. It had been a present, along with a red hat for me, sent to England by my mother to my love of the time and me, to keep us warm and cheerful through a British winter. I think my boyfriend actually liked it. At any rate he wore it, back in that autumn, back in that winter, in the days we walked across the heather outside Edinburgh, or around the many corners of London.
In September time shifts for me more than in many months. September's calendar is pocked with little points of emotionality and little stars of "oh, that was good". It is the month of my own birthday. It is the month my parents wed, the month my father died in my arms, the month my partner of now almost 30 years first lay in my arms, the month one of my great loves and mentors was born, and then died, the month of my daughter's partner's birth.
And it was the month we walked around Edinburgh and looked at Blake watercolors in a little library and thought we'd live together and in love forever.
September is the month I said I would travel no further with that love. September is the month I took a job in an unlikely bookshop in a town with less than 2000 people in it and said "I need to stay here".
So, you know the great what-if? What if our ten years had turned to twenty and to thirty and to forty and nearing fifty? I don't usually indulge in these fancies, but the black and white hat took me by surprise.
I know, looking back, what happened with that choice. I look at my children, my roots, my land, the forests I love, the people I care for, the sustenance I get and that I share. I look at trees planted and bearing fruit, at gardens, at a series of griefs and joys and complications. It has been a very rich life, for which I am grateful.
My love of the black and white hat has written a lot of very well received books, and lives what appears to be a good life thousands of miles south of me, with a woman I've never met. Now and then he tells me when a new book is due out, or a prize is awarded.
How we raged and loved, those years so long ago. How I rushed into the night air to walk and walk and walk and calm my spirit. How arrogant I found him. How arrogant I was.
His latest email mentioned, in amongst the dates of future publications, that he is losing weight rapidly. That the surgeons took out his gallbladder, but to no avail. That they are running new tests, but he is off meanwhile to Mexico with his current partner, whatever the results. Living, he says, on gummy bears and pasta.
Just a little "oh, by the way".
Sort of "well, I might be dying, but...my books are coming out". Sure, I congratulated him, and wished him well.
Yeah, we thought we'd live forever, love forever. We were so very young.
(the poignant photo is by a photographer called Dalona)