The days leave the recollection of sun and flowers


Me in California when I was 25

It’s freezing and dark and we’re all sick of it: thank goodness for other lives in the dead of winter. I’ve just finished reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which has paragraphs like:

When the ceremony was over we drove to the lodge at Pebble Beach. There were little things to eat, champagne, a terrace that opened onto the Pacific, very simple. By way of a honeymoon we spent a few nights in a bungalow at the San Ysidro Ranch at Montecito and, bored, fled to the Beverley Hills Hotel.

And also

The rented wreck of a house on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. The votive candles on the sills of the big windows in the living room. The thé dé limon grass and aloe that grew by the kitchen door. The rats that ate the avocados. The sun porch on which I worked.


John would wait until I came uptown at 11 or so to have dinner with me. We would walk to Coco Pazzo on those hot July nights and split an order of pasta and a salad at one of the little unreserved tables in the bar.

At this time of year it feels entirely impossible for me to believe that it will ever be warm and light again, and impossible not to continually imagine life being like that once more. If it gets bad I start to Google things like “English summer day” or “Big Sur” or “Japanese spring blossom”. Joan Didion made me want to re-read Elizabeth Smart’s At Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept for bringing California alive (out of everywhere I have been, nowhere beats California for nature and there is nowhere I dream of more in the winter): 

The wild road winds round ledges manufactured from the mountains and cliffs. The Pacific in blue spasms reaches all its superlatives … Round the doorways double-size flowers grow without encouragement: lilies, nasturtiums in a bank down to the creek, roses, geraniums, fuchsias, bleeding-hearts, hydrangeas. The sea booms. The stream rushes loudly.


So many of our emotions are a result of a failure of our imagination or recall. We forget so quickly what has been. I have been pregnant for four months and already the things I no longer do feel like things I never did. When I walk up Charlotte Street at lunchtime and see people standing outside with pints and glasses of wine I just cannot believe that was ever me, I almost cannot believe that anyone does that. It seems delicious and decadent and outrageous and somehow not true. Like I do know that I definitely spent a fair few nights of my life holed up in London pubs on winter nights, the kind of night where you have nowhere to be and nothing to do except what you’re doing, and no adverse consequences than a lighter wallet and a heavier head the next morning. But it seems whole countries away, tucked into the past, like looking through a window at someone else’s life.

This is also the case for: sharing a bottle of white wine in the park after work in the summer. Evenings after work when I used to pop to Topshop and nail a whole wardrobe’s shopping in one hour and not feel guilty. “Getting ready” to “go out on a Saturday night” with a girlfriend and more white wine. And for the tiny pieces of underwear that I found in a drawer recently that were like postage stamps in my palm that I used to 1. fit into 2. want to fit into. Who was this person? Has she gone forever?

Now I am sitting on the sofa and I am 32 and our baby is hiccuping inside me. This physical experience is amazing and a bit irritating and thoroughly unbelievable to me.

In the same way that the past is hard to grasp, the future is impossible (and probably futile) to truly imagine. When you find out you’re going to be a parent of course you spend a good deal of time imagining how this might feel, and the books try and tell you and a million people will try and tell you and the really good writers try and explain it because, as Eva Wiseman wrote recently:

I thought I wouldnt write about this, about babies and birth, but I can‘t not, because right now at least it is absolutely everything.

About the imagined worst bits I collect whole sentences, as if by considering it hard enough I can at least mitigate the element of surprise:

Eva Wiseman: “the crippling, furious, white-faced exhaustion that comes from being awake for three days and three nights, some of those in a room where the lights never went out … that exhaustion that you can almost chew on.” 

Esther Walker: “I am one of those people who became down in the dumps about having a baby for no earthly reason other than I just found it, frequently, exhausting and dreadful.”

Rachel Cusk: “At its worst moments parenthood does indeed resemble hell, in the sense that its torments are never-ending, that its obligations correspond inversely to the desires of the obliged, that its drama is conducted in full view of the heaven of freedom; a heaven that is often passionately yearned for, a heaven from which the parent has been cast out, usually of his or her own volition.”

And the better bits:

Cheryl Strayed: “There aren’t words to adequately describe the love I felt for him. It was, by far, the most shocking thing that has ever happened to me. To love this way. To become, in an instant, a baby person. The relentless totality and depth of my love almost hurt; its tenderness and clarity was truer than anything I’d ever touched.”

Don Paterson:

Whatever the difference is, it all began
the day we woke up face-to-face like lovers
and his four-day-old smile dawned on him again,
possessed him, till it would not fall or waver;
and I pitched back not my old hard-pressed grin
but his own smile, or one I’d rediscovered.

Anne Enright: It is better here, and more difficult.


I wonder if one day I will think that these are all true for me or partly true for me or some more true than others. Joan Didion was talking about death when she wrote “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends” and I guess it is true for birth as well. But somewhere in California there is a jacaranda tree and a eucalyptus tree and Elizabeth Smart’s cathedral redwoods, and spring will break and whatever is going to happen to me is going to happen.

I have been terrified (about the future, about the health of our baby) and I have been euphoric (about the future, about the health of our baby) and I imagine life will have a lot more of that to show me. I am 20 weeks pregnant now, and part of me wishes I could press pause and be in this moment a while longer, getting ready for our little girl. I think that in 10-15 weeks I won’t want to press pause anymore; I will be thinking ok, out with you now baby, and your hiccups and your elbows and your knees. Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.


3 Responses to “The days leave the recollection of sun and flowers”

  1. 1 robgeorge57

    If one of the components of a life successfully navigated is to be well prepared, I think you’re well prepared Chloe.

  2. oh chloe. love this so much. excited and terrified and bewildered and overly-emotional and overwhelmed and underprepared and too full of love, right along with you.

  3. California used to just make me think of Joni Mitchell and John Steinbeck, but I read Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking’ last October (in one sitting – if you don’t count 6 hours of sleep and then waking straight up to finish it). She captures the light and the pace so beautifully.

    She captures everything beautifully, actually. Even the hard stuff.

    You’ve done that here too…

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