Self-pity is a state God arranged closely next to despair, like a cure left beside its disease. -Albert Camus
My new life began unexpectedly, which is to say I heard an explosion as loud as any atom split in a desert basin and quite suddenly became conceived. At the moment of this conception I had a memory, insofar as my entire memory didn’t just start, but became available to me once again, as though I`d been looking through a telescope at the seafront and then a coin had been dropped into the slot (by my father presumably) and all that had ever happened to me came flooding back in.
Biologists will say that even if you were able, as a cell, to begin at the first moments of memory, without language to describe what took place there would be no possibility of truly remembering. But then this is the problem with most of science being so dependent upon the known. “How can I see the microbe if no-one’s invented the microscope?“ asks the boy in Aristotle’s science class. ”Ah,” says Aristotle, ”imagine your virus, boy. Write it down.“
My memory was fully stocked from that first moment because I was already the sum of myself, the repository of a man who’d been completed, rather than the scratchboard of a life just begun. You see, and this is my point; I’m a sequel.
This was not something I immediately understood. Physically, after all, I was little more than a penetrated egg, awash in my own albumen. But inside, and with no idea of where I’d now arrived, I knew quite certainly that I’d been a tubercular forty-six year old man called Albert (the only child of Catherine and Lucien Camus, both dead) who’d been married twice previously and was being driven to Paris from Lourmarin when, at a place called Petit-Villeblevin, the car hit a tree, killing me instantly. Or so I remembered.
The details of it all (the memory of my former life, not the car crash) will be a matter for the scientists to prove, if they can. Whether they do or not, I most definitely remember my second first moment and can clearly recall the events which took place during this other gestation.
The first thing I heard, once the noisy drama of creation had subsided, was the mother person complaining to the father person that, after all, men had it easy in everything and couldn’t he at least show a bit of consideration and, Tom, get off.
It was then that I heard him speaking. Although his sound was understandably muffled by her still thinnish belly, he was saying something to the effect that she hadn’t been so keen for him to get off last night and, anyway, there was at least ten minutes before he had to get up for work and what about it?
I think it’s mainly because of this exchange that I have never harbored the idea, as so many others have, that my new parents were in any way, sexually, immaculate.
Although, as I have made clear, I no longer have much patience with the procedures of modern science, I must here state my agreement with one of the central pillars of Freudian psychological theory, to wit; there is no doubt in my mind that very early, and stressful, experiences have a lasting effect on the infant.
For me, such an experience was supplied some three or four weeks after my conception, and while I was still much amazed at having woken up, an Algerian man of letters after all, tethered to the womb of a woman I did not know and in a country as yet undetermined.
It was then that my mother began to first suspect that she might indeed be pregnant. It was also then that she began, initially to herself whilst ironing, and then in rather cryptic conversations with my father, discussing what might be done if she were ever to become, so to say, knocked up.
These euphemistic discussions got my complete attention and within my still simple subdivisions I strained greatly to hear the gist of their dialogue. In fact, never in either of my lives have I had quite such a feeling of being discussed as though I wasn’t there as I did in those moments.
The surprising thing was my father, who until that time I’d thought to be a rather nebulous and mainly absent fellow, guessed at once that she thought herself with child.
With the subject acknowledged, my mother’s arguments in favor of my potential termination might be charitably seen in the light of her playing Devil’s Advocate to my father’s enthusiasm, however, and to this day, I feel chilled by her assessment that perhaps the time was not yet right for this addition and therefore action should be taken.
That this discussion went on for a full two weeks before she allowed herself to be properly tested did nothing for my lasting sense of security in this world.
It should be admitted that upon confirmation of my presence I heard her tell her mother how pleased she was that Tom really seems to want this child, but her earlier uncertainty, and the pall it cast over a time which should have been free from worry, has remained with me across this second batch of years.