It happened in Glasgow.
Sitting in a coffee shop, staring out the window, watching the sky change from blue to white to grey.
“It’s raining,” My sister said at some point.
I nodded in that absentminded way of two people watching the rain together.
We were supposed to go to a park. Some big estate with an art gallery and a river. A compromise. I get Monet. My sister gets the sky. But, now it was raining and people had turned into blurs of colour through the coffee shop’s window and the park seemed like less of a compromise and more of an obligation.
“Should we do something else?” I shifted in my seat, pulled out my phone, typed in: “Things to do in Glasgow.”
Top Ten lists and Top 25 lists and Everything You Need to Know About Glasgow lists, and I couldn’t find anything. There were art galleries, shopping malls, concert halls, museums, coffee shops ,and walking tours, but I shut off my phone, folded my hands into my lap, and started to cry.
I feel like this is the right time to tell you this: I am prone to the existential. I never stop thinking. I spin.
Some of the thoughts that I spin around the most are these: What is there to do in the world? Aren’t we just living out the same stories as everyone who’s lived before us? WHAT IS THE POINT OF THAT?
That’s what I was thinking about while my hands were folded in my lap and the rain was jumping off of Glasgow’s old buildings and new umbrellas. The inevitability of boredom when faced with the unoriginal.
My sister stopped looking out the window and started looking at me and the way I was biting my bottom lip and dabbing my nose with a napkin.
“What’s the matter?” She asked.
“I just don’t know what we’re going to do!” I threw the hand that wasn’t holding the snot-covered napkin up in the air. “You hate going to museums, so that’s out of the question. And we just ate, so we’re not going to do that again. And we can’t afford to shop. And it’s raining, so we can’t go outside. What else is there to do—” I looked up at the ceiling, back down, “—in the world? Really?”
My sister sighed the long slow sigh of someone who’s watched me spin before. “Let’s go to the park! It’s not raining that hard.”
I looked out the window. People were huddled under the café’s awning. Pools of water seeped out from under umbrellas lying on the café’s tiled floor.
I crumpled up my napkin, sighed. “Let’s go.”
Outside, my sister tried to cheer me up by being the single most annoying person on the planet.
“You’re really asking the wrong questions.” A pause, two breaths, a twist in my gut. “It’s raining!” She thrust her hand out from under the umbrella, and I watched as the tip of her glove turned dark brown. “How awesome IS THAT?” She looked at me, back at the wet sidewalk. “Isn’t nature AMAZING?”
And, I mean, yes. Nature is amazing. And rain can be beautiful. But, rain can also make your clothes smell and make your toes wet and drip down the back of your neck in the exact wrong way so that all you do for the rest of the day is shiver.
The whole way to the park, my sister held the beautiful and I held the shiver. I looked up at the sky, and it was a type of grey I’d seen before. The street smelled like rain. The train smelled like wet people. The park looked like a park. Green and leafy and raindrops turning dirt into mud and shoes turning mud into mazes of footprints and skids.
When we got there, the sun was already setting. It was the kind of cold where the tips of your fingers turn red and there’s an ache to bending. In your knees, in your wrists.
Rain dripped down my neck, curled my hair, and I couldn’t help thinking, This has all been done before. Even though I was so far away from home that it made my heart beat a little faster.
The park was deserted. There was no one to ask for directions, so we just walked. Gravel crunching under rain-soaked shoes. Fists stuffed into pockets. The sound of the rain sliding off our umbrella.
We found an estate. One with lions on the front gates, gravel pathways curving around manicured bushes, a room made for books and overstuffed chairs, a waterfall. It fed into a river with a stone bridge crossing.
Naturally, my isn’t-nature-AMAZING-look-at-all-of-the-wonders-around-you sister wanted to see it. She walked across the grass, sliding on the mud, steadying. The great grey river pulsed in front of her.
I shifted on the gravel path. Behind me, a stone slab listed the names of the men and boys who had worked on the estate and died in the war. I read each name and wondered if they’d had time to think of home before they died. If they’d thought of this place, with its stone bridge and its grey sky and its waterfall.
My sister stood still on the banks of the river. I decided to walk to her. To stand beside her and listen to the rushing water.
And that is where it ALL WENT WRONG.
Because, up until this point, I had been walking on gravel. And my soaking wet black Converse had understood the gravel. The crunch, the bite, the traction. But, when I started walking toward the river, I stepped onto the slick wet grass and the deep black mud and my Converse didn’t speak that language.
It took me a moment to realize I was falling.
I have this snapshot in my brain. The moment I knew. The greyness of the sky and the skeletal branches of the leafless trees and the soundless “oh” that my mouth made.
This is happening to me, I thought. This is actually happening. Airborne. Horizontal. Rushing water and wind. Oh, fuck.
I hit the ground with an almighty splat. I lay there, silent, watching a bird streak across the grey sky. And then I started laughing. Gulping, snorting, there’s-mud-in-my-underpants laughing. Because, there was. Mud in my underpants, I mean. And up my shirt, in my socks, on my face.
My sister turned around. “Oh!” She ran toward me, reaching out her hands.
I grabbed onto her fingers, tried to get up, slipped and fell back so that there was mud in my fingernails and on my elbows.
I laughed so hard my stomach hurt and my eyes blurred.
“How bad is it?” I asked, when I was finally standing. Cold mud squished between my toes, dripped off my fingers.
“How bad is it?”
“RG,” My sister said. “I am so, so sorry, but it definitely looks like you shit yourself.”
We laughed, pressing our fingers into each other’s shoulders. Because, 1) We were in a deserted park on the outskirts of Glasgow, 2) The only way back into Glasgow was the rush hour train, and 3) I had just spent over an hour obsessing over the idea that the world is full of unoriginal stories and people and feelings, and there I was, standing in a deserted park just outside of Glasgow with mud dripping down my buttcrack, which is sentence I had never, ever imagined writing about myself.
Later, after hiding in the bicycle car of a packed commuter train and walking through Glasgow Central Station during rush hour and purchasing a new pair of pants at Forever 21 and going home to a bath and a warm house, I thought about the stone slab with the names of the boys who had died in the war. And how, for us, it would always be ‘A’ war, and for them it would always be ‘The.’ How experiences may seem unoriginal and unimportant and boring from the outside, but, when you’re lying there in the mud and staring up at the grey sky, it will never be an ‘A.’ How every beautiful, strange, sad, hilarious, terrifying, devastating moment will always be a ‘The’ to you.