Friday 2 September 2005
Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column
'I text. I call. But it's one of those days when not an entire soul I know lives on this earth'
I used to have a fantasy about an international man. I imagined we would meet in such weird locations, like the disabled toilets at Frankfurt airport. I used to believe I would feel a tremor when he flew above me. All his suits and shirts would be made in Hong Kong, and he would miss me and really love me.
There's no room for fantasy. I'm lying on the roof surrounded by the London holiday silence. I text. I call. But it's one of those days when not an entire soul I know lives on this earth. I actually feel like I could cry.
For a combination of different reasons, I've just had another holiday on my own, surrounded by friends who care and really adore me, to the point where I almost get away with murder. But I'm still somehow on my own, and that's because I know when I enter my house and close my door I will be alone.
A few weeks ago I passed through a town where a friend of mine lives. My friend is in her late seventies. I had some time to spare, so I called her. On the end of the phone, she sounded sad. I said: "What are you up to? I'm passing through - let's meet."
She had been sitting in Marks & Spencer's having a cup of tea on her own. We arranged to meet at the harbour half an hour later. The town was full of life; there was some kind of crazy festival going on. I was with Eric (just for the record, Eric is black, tall, thin, and one of the best-dressed, most stylish men in Christendom. In fact, when I think about it, in the whole damn Alpha Quadrant), and every now and then, he'll say something like: "Hey sweets - what's candyfloss?"
As we strolled along to the harbour, we watched 1950s-looking men on the beach, diving from 50ft diving boards into a tiny bucket of water. The crowds were ecstatic.
My friend was sitting on one of the stone benches. She looked tired, but very happy to see me. I went and brought her some jellied eels and myself some cockles. Even though he's from San Francisco, Eric seemed quite amazed by the jellied eels. I sang a few cockney numbers so he could get his bearings. "On Muvver Kelly's doorstep, blah blah blah."
Eric decided to taste the delights of fish and chips for the first time, so off he bravely trotted to Pete's fish and chip bar. Left alone with my friend, I could see the sadness in her eyes. I had to do everything I could to stop my voice from sounding too brittle and snappy, because I hated seeing her like this. Not because I'm powerless to help her, but because I had the ability to help her too much.
She said that when she was having a cup of tea in Marks & Spencer's, she had looked across to the door and could see couples older than her coming in holding hands, chatting, laughing. And as I looked at her, tears welled up in her eyes. Looking at me, she said: "Tray, what have I done so wrong? why am I so alone?"
Yesterday, I was in St Ives, filming my TV programme for Channel 4 on female artists. There's nothing like a Dame, like Dame Barbara Hepworth. Before visiting her house and her studio, I can quite honestly say I was wrong about her; but now I know the woman was a full-blown diva, partygoer and workaholic. A mother of four, she was surrounded by a network of loyal friends, but was often left carrying the responsibility of the baby. Or should I say babies, as far her and Ben Nicholson's triplets were concerned.
She also changed the face of British art. She was a league ahead of her time. She spent the last 25 years of her life living alone, unattached, and she eventually died at 77, in bed, puffing on a cigarette.
Walking along the beach in St Ives, apart from wondering whether I would ever become a Dame (hee hee hee), I kept thinking about whether I would spend the next 25 years alone. But for me, I wouldn't even have a child to hold my hand. These thoughts were exhausting me, because I knew that in a more confident mood I would remind myself that I have been privileged enough to choose my life.
I've had two abortions - both, strangely enough, with the same person. I might have had twins of 15 now, and another child of 14. But you see, I never would. I never wanted those children, and I never wanted those abortions, but I felt I had no choice. In those days I was not mentally strong enough to bring children up alone. And for me it would be extremely hard to have a baby with someone who didn't love me. Even if I die alone, holding my own hands, praying alone for some rotten salvation, I will always thank God that I never had those children.
This is for my friend: don't feel sad, you were brave to have your children alone, much braver than I could ever be and the legacy that you give to the world is a wonderful independence. I love you, and that means you're never alone. And don't forget - you have a great sense of humour.
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