The gentle dawn rain pattered as I lay in the rising light of the new day. Birds scattered their songs like ribbons between the brittle creaks of the trees, which were stretching, shaking off the night. The dew-dropped grass stooped like great boughs over nesting insects, who stirred upturned in their earth-lint beds, scratching their soft soil ceiling with their feet. Early morning life.
And I was dying.
I think what made me realise that I was dying was the fact I couldn’t breathe anymore. That’s usually a dead giveaway; not breathing anymore. I attempted some desperate sucking as my faculties slowed to comatose nothingness. Nope. Nothing.
I’d cloistered myself in the two-man tent overnight with a psychotically taut zip for fear of being eaten alive by mosquitos, but turns out that cider turns a girl to unwanted tang and they weren’t after my blood after all. Suffocation was to be my end. Hayfever + Storm Humidity + Actively Shutting Out All Oxygen = Death.
I sensed I had about twenty seconds left to do something about this. Twenty seconds to live, give or take. I chose Life.
I unzipped the gnat-defying fortress and flung the tent ‘door’ open with a dramatic flourish. “ARGH. I’M DYING. I’M ACTUALLY DYING.” I exclaimed to the dewdrops and the twigs. That was my contribution to the morning’s soundscape. Loud, self-involved, tedious drama. Nature tutted at me.
I dragged myself by my elbows out of the tent, tumescent with the moisture of the storm, and sucked in air like a rich Rockefeller drags at a rare cigar. My lungs filled. Air took pity. I lived.
In addition to saving my own life, I also heroically saved the life of my companion, my life wench Sarah. She too had been afraid of death by suffocation but had been too polite to wake me. We had both been lying there tight and still as sardines in faux sleep, dragging at the last remaining oxygen and timing our noisy inhalations to coincide with the others’, so as not to be ‘the annoying one’. That’s what love is. Killing yourself for someone else.
We might both of us have died there in that little pod of carbon dioxide in a Suffolk field if I hadn’t acted. It was my gallant action that saved us. My valiant rape of the morning’s tranquility. “ARGH, I’M ACTUALLY DYING.” (Splutter, cough, such heroic spittlings as went on in trenches and ‘Nam.) I hadn’t known I would be a hero that weekend, camping at Latitude Festival, I thought I was just going to get pissed and swear at some strangers, but I’m really glad that I got to save someone I liked and not some stranger choking on a bus or something. You can’t always choose who you save. Sometimes humanity is a gruelling moral test. I know at least three people I wouldn’t try and find air for if they were slowly deflating. I’d just watch and make vague noises of regret. “Ooh. I don’t know where all the air’s gone. Sorry.” (Actually – maybe four.)
Sarah is not one of them. She’s my life wench.
They say the true test of friendship is if you can assemble a tent, sleep in said tent, and then dismantle the same tent without (deliberately) killing each other. Our friendship has found itself in many situations, and to my knowledge we have never got sick of each other (if my column disappears next week, she may have killed me – how gloriously unexpected). We will be the kind of old ladies who sit on benches not needing to say anything much but with an unending technicolour inner movie of all the stuff we’ve done together beaming and clattering on great spools of memories inside. It’s like marriage, but better. We don’t have to live in the same house.
Life with the right gal can feel like one big adventure. Building tents and businesses and making silly plays and going on trips and camping and breathing and living and saving each other and laughing and being too polite to ruin the others’ sleep and finding your way to wherever, and eventually…Adventure’s end.