Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'When Mat left me, I had no idea that the future could be such a wonderful place, full of surprises'
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The Independent Online

There is total silence. The ground is slightly muddy. The grass is wet from summer dew. Small spirals of mist rise up from the trees. Like the early smoke of a forest fire. The mist elongates, from the spiral into a straight line, rising homeward to join a family of clouds. Everything feels so saturated, so dense, wet, almost subterranean.

In front of me is a perfect blue square, not totally square, but far more square than rectangle. It is a very neat, minimal pool. That gently dips off into infinity. The infinity being a steep gorge that acts like a dry moat between myself and the mountainous green of the fir tree-filled hill. The small mists are quickly dying off as they fast become vaporised in the rays of the early morning sun.

Then suddenly from nowhere a swallow on the wing sweeps at a sharp 30-degree angle on to the surface of the blue, barely touching the water. I follow it with my eyes as it glides up and makes a dramatic sharp return. This time, it is followed by four or five little friends, all in formation like a fighter-jet squadron showing off at an air display. One by one, they sharply descend into the pool, each one skimming or slightly diving as they hit the water. Now, from almost nowhere, a giant circle of tiny birds rotates like an amazing aerial ballet. More and more of the swallows join in. Twenty, 30, 40, maybe 100, maybe 200 of the little things cascade into a well-rehearsed magical descent, barely missing each other with each turn of the wing.

I am witnessing something extremely beautiful, something magical, something so uncommon for my eyes to see.

Now it's two days later. I am in a helicopter. The blades are turning, and we are flying high above the Côte d'Azur. I have the pleasure of sitting next to Mat Collishaw, who has strapped his arms into his seatbelt to stop himself from grabbing the pilot's controls and plummeting us to the centre of the earth. Mat really, genuinely, has the worst case of vertigo I have ever known. I try to pacify him by pointing here and there and saying: " Let's count all the yachts." At that, he knits his brow and lowers his head like a condemned man about to be read the last rites. "OK," I say quickly, "let's do swimming pools, let's count swimming pools" – and then I tell him the story of the flight of the swallows.

Suddenly it's 1997, I'm laying in bed at Cooper Close, in my tiny little flat. It's 5am and I'm listening to the birds. There is a tree outside my window. In the tree, every spring, early summer, three or four nests would appear. First, there would be the noise of the to-ing and fro-ing of the nest-making, followed by the chirping and cheeping of the chicks.

Mat and I never went to bed before four or five in the morning, and always wildly out of our heads. Giggling, laughing, fighting, fucking, always intense, always too much, then silence. We would lay there and listen to the birds, and I would say to Mat: "What do you think they are saying?" Stoned and laconic, he'd reply: "Trace, they're saying, 'Listen to them two in there, what do you think they're saying?'" and so it went on. Mat and the birds, me and Mat. Mat even said I should make a small film of the birds flying to and fro, with my own subtitles to the chirpy soundtrack.

When I was alone, the sound of the birds would always echo the way that I felt. Like the Persian 13th-century poetry known as "Voices of the birds ".

And now I'm sitting in the bath, waist high in lukewarm water. My knees are brought up high to my chest, and my hands are clasped in front of me. I am surrounded by beautiful Islamic tiles. Natural forms and shapes repeating and unrepeating. The last shaft of evening light shoots across the floor and, in the darkness, I am left thinking and rethinking about love – new love, old love, strange love, unconditional love. I think about when Mat left me. How I thought I was going to die, and how I nearly did. How I cried from Sydney to Singapore. How I had no hatred, no malice. Just nowhere for my love to go. Nowhere but the future. I had no idea then that the future could be such a wonderful place, full of surprises.

There are a million thousand barriers in this life that are set up for us to break through. I love the way life moves on. No going backwards, only forwards. And, six years on, I am in a helicopter with one of my best friends in the whole world and we are laughing as I have just spotted, to my twelve o'clock, my 10th round swimming pool.

Today I feel extremely lucky.

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