Sunday, September 11, 2011

Let's hope the next decade is a better one

Around ten years ago, I flew back from Athens with my parents on a late night flight. It wasn't a very nice journey - lots of turbulence, and there were some drunken, loud British men who kept walking up and down the aisles, talking and shouting to each other. I was so glad when we finally got off the plane. My fella, who'd been on holiday with us, had to go to work in Poland, so he'd caught a different flight. I was due to spend the rest of the week pretty much alone until he came back.

The next afternoon, I decided to leave work early and go into town to buy a tv. It was a blazing hot clear day with a gorgeous blue sky, and I remember thinking how nice it was that we were still getting days like this in September. A crowd of people were gathered outside the windows of Dixons. I assumed they were watching the climax of some sporting event that I knew nothing about because I didn't follow sport, but there was something weird about how quiet and still they all were. I took a glance at the televisions in the windows and saw what looked like a disaster movie - the Twin Towers with great yellow plumes of smoke coming from them. It was the yellow that sticks in my head, even now.

My brain didn't process it properly. I walked back to my car, got in it and turned on the radio to hear that there had been a terrorist attack on Manhattan. I remembered how a month earlier I'd been down by the World Trade Centre during a summer holiday. We'd caught a boat over to the Statue of Liberty. Now those familar towers weren't there any more.

I didn't buy a tv. Instead I went home and spent a weird evening, alone, watching tv and phoning my family. My fella phoned from Poland, worried he might be stuck there. He had some choice words to say about the news footage of a particular owl-like woman in Pakistan who was shown whooping with delight.

Two days later I went to Manchester with my parents to receive the laser surgery that I'd been scheduled to have on my left eye. A cute Australian eye doctor gave me valium and kept saying my name over and over as I reclined onto the operating table. He scraped my eye with a knife before switching the laser on. I smelt my own eye burning. It smelt like meat cooking.

As my Dad drove me home in the rain, we stopped to get chips, and the anasethetic wore off. I crushed my mother's hand with mine as an insistent unstoppable pain went through me. I spent the next 24 hours in bed, mostly sleeping, while my mother ironed all my shirts and exclaimed over and over that we had so many, while my Dad sat around bored. We didn't watch much tv.

A couple of days later, while sitting in the bath, I realised how sharply into focus everything had become. I'd needed glasses since the age of 16. Now I could see properly. The world would never look the same again.

Life went on. A couple of days after that, I had my PhD viva. With my eye still recovering from the surgery, the main thing I was worried about was whether or not it would be sensitive to the outside lights, so I asked if I could sit with my back to the window. The viva lasted 2 and a half hours and afterwards I was told I was a doctor.

It was one of the most eventful weeks of my life - I experienced pain, shock, fear, anxiety, elation and relief. At the time, it was difficult to understand the ramifications of that week, both personal and global. And I'm glad weeks like that are rare.

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