First Draft‘s Producer Abi Hynes gives her response to this month’s event theme: In Retrospect.
I want to take you a few years back in time…
I’m 22. I’ve graduated from my MA course in Theatre (yes. Yes I know.) and I’m working at Caffe Nero. Obviously.
It’s late. It’s dark and cold outside and I’m humming along to pop songs as I clean the coffee machine. The cleaning powder I’m using for the coffee handles has a uniquely sickly-bitter smell that is deeply and shockingly familiar and…
I’m 8 years old. I’m in my grandparents’ house in West London, which smells exactly like the cleaning powder though I don’t know how that’s possible. I’m climbing the stairs to the attic on all fours, my feet and fingers making grooves in the stiff carpet that’s striped in the same colours as my Grandpa’s oil paintings. It’s been about a year since he died, at the time of remembering – the first of two major second-hand bereavements in the space of six months. I don’t yet know that I’ll never visit that house again. My limbs still remember the exact number of stairs.
In the cafe, the scars on my hand – trapped recently in the panini toaster – are new and pink, and the nostalgic-smelling chemicals are making them sting. And I’m 12 years old and I’m looking at my mother’s hands and she’s telling me how she got her own scars – trapping her fingers in a machine in a London museum when she was a little girl. I’m surprised, because I’d never seen those scars before. That was just what mum’s hands looked like.
And I’m angry because my own hands are marked now, because she used to tell me they were beautiful. I’m very angry about a lot of things. But three years from now – and there’s no way I can know this – a new friend will turn to me and ask me for the story and for the first time I’ll be glad those lines are there. And I won’t worry about scars anymore. It will be the start of a truce: of my body and I learning to forgive each other.
The present and the future feel as if they’re ours to control. They’re the places we try to live in, because they allow us to act on them. We have no power over the past: it acts on us, whenever it chooses.
I’m a writer, so I like to edit my own history. I retell it, over and over in different guises, obscuring some moments and illuminating others. I think about my own narrative arc, like I’m watching myself through a window – I wonder how it must appear to strangers, and to friends who’ve heard it all before and know, sometimes, when I’m lying. I paper over the wrong cracks, and tug the edges of the right ones so they gape like wounds. I write notes in all the margins.
And I’m 7 years old and I’m building a sandcastle on the beach in Cornwall that we return to every summer. My family moved ‘up north’ last year, and we’re suffering from a collective homesickness that keeps us going back to this familiar holiday spot – despite the seven hour drive with a rickety caravan and two queasy children. I’m building a sandcastle, and making a lengthy journey from our windbreak to the sea and back again, trying to fill the moat with water. It’s a task I know I’ll never finish. The sand can swallow my efforts much faster than I can stagger back across the warm sand with the little blue bucket.
We needn’t fight it. The big, wild, reckless past is coming. It will consume you. It knows everything you are, because it made you – it started making you centuries before you were born. It is both dear friend and deadly foe, and it is coming for you.
Join us tonight (Monday 16 Feb) for our In Retrospect event at The Castle Hotel