"psychogeography - the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals."
“No matter whether one is flying over Newfoundland or the sea of lights that stretches from Boston to Philadelphia after nightfall, over the Arabian deserts which gleam like mother-of-pearl, over the Ruhr or the city of Frankfurt, it is as though there were no people, only the things they have made and in which they are hiding.”
W.G. Sebald - The Rings of Saturn
My daughter was born in our local hospital, about ten minutes walk away from my own front door. She did not die there. She died in another hospital, in a different town, about fifty miles away.
The first hospital is so physically close, so much a part of my life, that I have started to tune its presence out. I used to walk past and feel the air dense, a haze of hopes and fears emanating from the coarse render, as though my daughters and I were replicated in every room on every floor. Now it hardly registers, a grey rectangle squatting on the horizon. The memory of my daughters' births overlaid now with a dulling patina of time.
It is the second hospital that haunts my thoughts, the one where Georgina died. It is an old building, a former work house and then an asylum. A strange, twisty place, full of echoing halls and outmoded gadgets.
My haunting started early, even before my daughter died. In the windowless NICU parents' kitchen, amidst the labelled pots of yoghurts and stained coffee cups, I phoned my friend to tell her what had happened. I suddenly felt myself whizz up to the ceiling and then higher still, saw from above my distress call emanating from the gizzards of the building, a flickering patch of bioluminescence amidst stone and cement, a synapse firing helplessly in an uncaring nervous system of concrete and discoloured gloss paint. Tap tap tapping. And I knew that this place was one which would not leave my mind easily.
The room in which my daughter lived was a small one, a side ward with a blue linoleum floor. There were four bays, the twins were in the two spots closest to the door, Georgina to the left hand side as you entered the room. This place where my first born spent the majority of her life, where she took her final breath. A room I subsequently spent a great deal of time in. I failed to recognise the incubator in which she had lived when it came around again, or to locate the room where she finally died, where her heart stopped beating. My husband knew them, the incubator he pointed out, the room he would not, but they had already left my memory. This made me feel as though I had betrayed her, that I could not find these two small spots of contact between my daughter and the earth that remained behind her.
Image taken from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL
I should like to go back into that room and stand there, now that it is empty of people, at nighttime perhaps? I don't know what it is that occupies that space now. An office? A different type of ward with larger occupants? I know that it is no longer a neonatal intensive care unit. That time has passed. The NICU is now located in another hospital on the other side of the town. I don't know what it is that I hope to find there, in that stillness, in the depth of the night. I always had a creeping sensation that there was something happening in the NICU, something hidden away behind the scenes. Because the plastic boxes and alarms surely couldn't be real. Too terrible and strange, surely a facade or a trick. Perhaps I hope that she is still hidden in the walls somewhere. Or maybe I am looking for pieces of her? Or shards of myself? Those that flew away with such force that pieces might still be embedded in the walls, those that crumbled away gently to such a fine dust that they could never be reconstituted, those I ripped out with my fingernails and cast away with a shudder of revulsion. Look, there's the part of me that cared when your boyfriend dumped you. That small pile of fluff in the corner, there's my certainty that everything will, in the end, be ok. That small translucent snippet of cellophane, a discard from some piece of medical equipment, the part of me that looked around eagerly for help, turned to higher powers for assistance and aid.
There is only one other place where I can feel her so close at hand. Rather unromantically, it is the final toilet stall at my place of work, the one that adjoins the cleaning cupboard. In my dreams, the two places combine, to form a strange lurching amalgam of places where I might find some left behind pieces of my daughter. I turn away from her incubator to find myself in the toilet cubicle, although in reality these two places are miles apart.
I used to kneel there, by that toilet, clutching at the bowl, nausea roiling through my stomach. After she'd died, I walked back into the small, smelly cubicle for the first time in over a year and sunk to my knees again. I suddenly felt solitary and alone although it had been a long time since I had been a being in triplicate. I balled myself up amongst the cleaning supplies, laid my cheek down on the industrial size packet of toilet rolls and ached for her. "She was here," I murmured. "She was just here." And as I lay there, I momentarily felt that I could reach out, grab the empty air and twist it through ninety degrees, to send her hurtling away from her death and back to me. But, sadly, that proved to be just an illusion, although it is testament to my own desperation and craziness that I tried it. I had to check that it wouldn't work.
Are there any places that remind you of your baby or babies? Or where you feel a particular connection to them? How would you, or do you, feel about re-visiting these locations? Do you feel that you are looking for something?