Memories of Last Summer

There is a strange, sweet cruelty about Facebook’s ‘Memories’ function: watching the different iterations of yourself go through times of joy and sorrow, which you remember the shape of but not the details. Each post is like a lens suddenly focusing, with sometimes razor-blade clarity.

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It is September, and I am watching myself get ready for my wedding. Six years ago, I am scared of what might go wrong (with the event, not the marriage), excited to see everyone, recovering from the Swine Flu my body so thoughtfully picked up just two weeks before the date. I see everyone’s joy at how beautiful the day was, how much fun we had, how it was the best wedding they had been to. People talk about the music, share their photos. And then, a few days later, I start talking about how I am recovering. My chronic illness, which I made an executive decision to ignore on the day, is taking its toll. I expected this, so I am still sanguine about it.

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Here in 2015, though, I know what’s coming. I know it will take me another two months before I am able to really move properly again, and it will be ten long, frustrating months before I am back to the level I was at the day before the wedding. I know that I will accept this as the price for a perfect day, but that it will be lonely and painful and mind-numbingly tedious. This is the cruelty of these Memories: we forget pain, we blur the edges of it so it can’t cut us anymore, and this simple social media function gives us back the full story.

It is September. I have been watching the Referendum campaign pick up pace. I wondered, back at the beginning of the year, whether I could have made more of a difference if I’d just started talking about it earlier. I couldn’t have made enough of a difference, I know that, but I still wonder. As the summer passed, the joy and hope of last year was a balm for the soul. Remembering that we had so much fun, how I came to be part of this group which is so central to my life now, how we thought if we could just show people what was possible they would join us. We’re reaching the last week now, though, and now the mood has changed. I want to yell back through time, but I don’t know what I could say. I think it isn’t me I want to yell to.

The great fallacy of the Referendum was that it was a choice between change and the status quo. It was never that. It was a choice between two types of change, and it was that realisation which made me switch sides. I was a lifelong Unionist, for many reasons, but chief among them was that the risk was too great. We had a good thing going, and giving it up for an outdated version of irrelevant patriotism was foolish. I became disabled when I was just 19, and the arguments about freedom and pride were nothing when set against the risk to the state on which my survival depended. Smashing the state is a lovely idea when you’re able-bodied and healthy, but when your life depends on a system of social security, risking all the disabled people for a flag seemed murderous.

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Things began to change around the turn of the century. Rather than supportive, it became humiliating to seek the necessary help. People became spiteful, brittle, when talking about the welfare state. And then came the Tories. Whatever their electoral power was, their real success was the changing of the narrative. They turned ‘scrounger’ from a descriptor of a person committing fraud to ‘anyone claiming any assistance for any reason’. They lied, openly, in Parliament – something that surprisingly isn’t illegal. People began to die. In the midst of this, Scotland chose another way. I was hilariously antagonistic about the voting in of the SNP, who I saw as hopelessly idealistic and dangerous. I had no idea. I had no idea. I want to tell myself back then to actually read some research instead of relying on the prejudice I’d grown up with. I want to tell her to get involved then. That they were the only people who had both the power and the will to save lives. They tried to mitigate the worst of the effects, and while people kept dying in England and Wales, we had some respite. The Referendum was set. I was terrified. And then, one day, I realised I had been terrified of the wrong thing.

I was at a talk by Blair Jenkins in the village I grew up in. Someone asked about the risk of leaving the UK, and he, so simply, asked about the risk of staying. I missed the next few minutes of the talk while my world view tilted on its axis. I had read so much about the psychology of decision making, about risk taking, about willpower, about how we see our current situation as safe even when it isn’t and the change as dangerous even when it’s statistically much less risky. I just hadn’t applied it to the decisions I’d made before I read all that.

It is the last week of the Referendum campaign, and I am trying, with every shred of my soul, to trigger that understanding in everyone, anyone, else. I am disabled, and I see what’s coming. I know how bad it is going to be for us, if we lose. I know this is the one chance we have to save the lives of the hundreds, thousands of people who will suffer and die while the UK tries to figure out if it’s going to remember that the NHS and the Welfare State are our greatest triumphs or if it’s going to fully commit to following America into corporate oblivion. I am begging for my life and for the lives of the people like me, or who will become like me.

I want to talk to me a year ago, but I don’t know what I’d say. She is still hopeful, still desperate. She doesn’t know what’s coming. She thinks she does. She knows we’ll be punished for stepping out of line if we lose. Knows the dawn of a new country will be difficult and tense but worth it. Knows that losing means the fight for justice will become a symbolic struggle, that she can’t stop because stopping would be complicity, but that it will be useless in the face of TTIP, a Labour party who has forgotten who they are, a Conservative Party consumed by ideology and willing to sacrifice the lives of the poor and disabled in its pursuit. She can’t imagine how bad it will get. I can’t imagine what I’ll be reading a year from now, in 2016.

She doesn’t know how bad the loss will feel. That we will get so close and then sit and watch the No votes roll in, sobbing and devastated. That tears will come easily for months, whenever the loss is remembered. It will be like grieving. It will be grieving. I cannot imagine now what the Scotland we could have had would be like. It would have been so difficult: we would have been blamed for the oil price drop, of course, we would be in the midst of fighting for our assets, and we would have been scared and tense and it would have been so, so worth it. We would be watching the refugee catastrophe and finally feel that we can offer assistance and that we are no longer complicit with the Empire’s stranglehold on the world. The death statistics would have been published and we would have grieved with the marginalised people and be insistent that it is not the only way to run a society. We would be determined to show that austerity is not good for a country, only for a very tiny group of people right at the top, and that investment in people and services makes a country strong, not weak. We would be arguing, all the time, about how best to pursue justice, prosperity, support, and it would be wonderful, because our arguing would have purpose. We would have a chance at enacting our ideas, instead of sitting in our homes, numb with horror, talking amongst ourselves about what should be done but never will.

I can’t tell her any of that. It’s too late. We didn’t convince enough people in time. Instead, we’ll watch the memories tick past, day after day, blow after blow. I’ll still read them, though. It’s important to see where we’ve come from, where we still have to go. I am mortified by some of my past posts, by how ignorant and uninformed I was. I am thankful that I am learning. These memories give our lives context.

Six years ago, I am on a sofa, recovering slowly, surrounded by the people I love and newly married to the man I adore. Some of the friends who were there that day are gone from my life now, but I have new ones, and life goes on. A year ago I am looking forward to the new country we will build. Like Arundhati Roy, I can hear the better world breathing. Today, I am still adrift, casting about for the path to that better world. Maybe in a few years my Memories will show that we found it. I hope. Still, I hope.

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