The truth is that I could never consider myself surprised to have lived to one hundred and fifty years old. The lie is, perhaps, the more interesting of the two sides of that syllogism: that I may consider myself at all. Whether that really is the lie, or whether there are many, or whether there isn’t one is not the crux of the matter. I can’t know if it’s true; you can’t, certainly. That is why they are called lies. And lie I did, for a span which I do not care too much to turn my mind to, if it exists. That said, that kind of lying was mostly down, in the rain, with sporadic turns upward on the barometer.
All said, I had all manner of ways to spend my life stretched out on one salient promontory, jutting as an arrogant Edwardian stonework chin from the balcony. The building from which that scrollwork precipitated up on high, the fourth such war-era apartment block on the street to be built, seemed nevertheless lonely for the sesquicentenary of its life. I could not but be unhappy with my lack of decision in sharing limited ledge space with a gargoyle. Garrulous creatures. Nothing of value to be said anymore looking down at the township. In fairness, by the end of my tenure it was my township. Glorious she was, at one time.
I have had many persons alongside myself, sometimes waltzing, sometimes dragging foot-wise. Of all that is to be sad about observing with clarity the fogged tumble of after-images forming a succession in human lives, it is to see abruptly the final image and then following, nothing. One such man who proclaimed to be my owner talked to me often. He sat, scratched behind my ears, and we spoke together, looking outward past the town spread in dusky slumber to the glass harbour. That watery mirror was punctuated equally by bobbing red buoys and blue musings of philosophy, drifting from our little balcony in cigarette smoke.
There are two milestones to which I can credit my self-proclaimed owner. He was the first to point out to me that the fiery, coloured orchard which sprang into the stars each New Year was more beauty than solemn signifier that a year may never be gotten back. Where I had ignored the annual light show early in my life for fear that it revealed time that could never be recovered, and the regrets therein, he showed me chances to have nothing more to regret. There are, in my opinion, no better people than those who pull us up to their height, and on their shoulders, that we might see what we had considered a sad thing to be instead fireworks. Fascination became ritual: we watched year by year, talked year by year. Each occurrence seemed shorter, almost, though they were all enjoyed with a wry smile and scratched ears. One year we did not watch. It was only me. I saw the final image of him abruptly and then, nothing. He faded in the fog of cigarette smoke. As they all had.
You see, the second milestone is that he was the first to teach to me that my memory is measured out in funerals: years and friends that may never be gotten back.
Strange as it sounds, skyscrapers, subways and stadia seem more as scars than wondrous monuments to society from my field of view. They are to me monuments to an era each, layers that were imbued with the tumbling after-images of people in a liminal time. When the eastern ward hospital was still an unshaped mass of concrete and cranes, the Sephardic couple in the apartment below me lost their first child. When the hundred-year flood arrived and the waterfront stadium filled up with people out of home, that was when our building postman, another claimed reliable owner of mine, left me without word for another city, and was reliable no longer. When new ships were built to take more pyrotechnics out into the harbour for festivities, that was the year I watched the fireworks alone for the first time. Where those I once knew no longer were, the features of the city stayed. The permanent became a monument to the impermanent.
And so I lay there: years, decades, longer. Waiting in the rain for finished eras to roll back to liminality, back to before the threshold of regret. By the sheer count of time spent watching the spires ascend and scar the township, by time suffered and in happiness, I considered that I had been there longer than anyone, had seen more new years than anyone, and considered the town mine. If I may consider myself at all, it is by happenstance of narrative. Or perhaps, as I have already mused, it is a simple falsity. For if I think, then first I must be able to say therefore that I am. Few have lived to the years I have, few have seen what I have seen. But then, few are statues of a cat carved from stone and fitted to a balcony railing.
My existence offers the sole advantage that, on the cusp of a year old and new, or indeed at any point in one’s personal history, I can never turn back to see what is behind, but can only see the changing world in front of me. It seems to have lasted forever, and so it seems it will last forever, but that is not so. One day, as with all things which pass, I too will crumble, I will see abruptly the final image. And then, nothing.