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October 19th 2017 

And as our son’s train leaves the platform and he heads off with his mates, I find myself.

I find my mind has drifted to this city and the first time I came down. I remember your tall friend who criticed the way you ate asparagus and we wandered down through West Gate and out towards the Cathedral. It was June or July, the afternoon was warm and the streets were full of entertainers, crowds shoving to get a better view. We must have stayed a while, chatting but your friend has blurred into a mist of that weekend and her flat at the top of town and her party games when we were brand new. 

Our son’s train has arrived now, I checked his progress on my phone and as he wanders off with his new friends, I see the light lift here and I go back. 

I bought you a book years ago ‘How to Read a Church,’ though you didn’t use it at the Cathedral. It’ll be on its side in the bookshelves somewhere, stuffed in amongst all the others. I keep thinking about the Cathedral, how its silent shape has been a backdrop in my life and tomorrow I’ll be sitting there, waiting my turn to go up but my mind falters. It bounces back to Millenium Eve, and how my feet ached from the walk down from the top of town. My New Year’s Eve shoes, shoved into my bag, my flat pumps easing out my soles and we stood. We’d sat inside with the hundreds of others, on the left at front, in the cold. And under the silence of stone, in the wisdoms of those who’d sat there before us, we wrote notes. The huge tree with open arms flooded the space with pine scent and ushers collected up our words with all the others and then hung them on the tree. We sat watching the century end, linked with the warmth of strangers wishes and sent love and health to our unborn son.

Afterwards, outside there was a quieting, a murmuring hush of the crowd waiting for something to happen. And in the dark we hung around in the mizzle with our umbrellas and our smiles. The century slipped out, gentle, graceful and as the Millennium sauntered in with little fanfare, with a distant fizzle and sparkle of lights, the crowd laughted. We were there, before the big doors, heavy coats and deep pockets in the first seconds of the new year. There was no sense of anything having changed, just continuation and my tummy swaddled inside my clothes, with a heartbeat we’d yet to hear.

And then I flip further back to the day before our wedding and your Mum, whisked away by my parents to wander around the Cathedral, to give me some time to prepare. And while I glued the last of the silk roses onto the name-cards, they walked over the slabs my feet will cross tomorrow. 

And now a text from our son, busy in town, having lunch and while they laugh and test out their wings, I see us at Christmas, at markets and our friend who will join me tomorrow, is there. She holds up our boy on the ice rink, it’s packed, it’s hot and cold at the same time and everyone smiles even the people who bruise your leg with their skates.

Inside the changing area we struggle to free him from the metal clasps, but our friend is an expert and she helps amongst the rucksacks and snow heavy socks and with damp ankles and wet trouser legs, we make our way to a cafe in town, under the twinkling and huddling, in the soothe of hot chocolate we sit around. And as I see our boy bookended by her sons, he wears a red and white top that wouldn’t fit him now – he texts me from the train, he’s heading home.

And home is where we’ll leave from tomorrow, like we did years ago. When I took our son’s hand and we marched down the high street, a few weeks before Christmas with the lanterns that we’d made. The delicate tissue paper tributes to a world, to a vivid place we couldn’t hold. And as the Cathedral loomed up nearer, I stood for the first time by the same railings, feeling the pull and tear of a parallel world. Someone took a photo of us for a tourism website, I can see it, me looking side on, almost a smile as some distant children’s creation bought a joyful moment in the pain. But I looked so drawn, so small and smaller than me then was our son, stood to my left, wearing a deep green wooly hat and a fluorescent snap circle around his neck. He’s almost hidden in the dark but I can see him, illuminated by the band of light around him. 

And tomorrow I have to go back there, I need to go back and I want to. But I’m so sodden like our snow caked socks, so heavy like the lantern pole to light our way, so full with the hidden times inside me. 

These moments that are lining up now, like I’ll line up tomorrow, each of them a story of how I came to be and as I sit in the silence of stone, as I wait my turn, I’ll feel the Cathedral fill up with us all – my children, my girls and the women they became. I have such a sense of being followed, of swathes of females on my path, tomorrow they will spread out, they will chatter, they will dance and there at the front of the Cathedral they will join me, invisible but vital, as I stand to shake a hand. 

Our son is on a detour now, sidetracked by other friends, off for a moment at his old school, to take time, see old teachers and look back as he looks ahead.
And I wonder about all the people who’ve ever sat in the Cathedral and their stories and tomorrow, amongst the narratives there is such joy. A sense of creating, of neurones firing and of an irresistible surge to force up, through the stone slabs – up, despite the granite all around.

I must go now, I need to try on my dress and stop and think of tea. Tomorrow will come and I’ll be there, flickering full of emotions like the candles we held at the beginning, when our baby was centimetres long. And we’ll all walk up together, all the moments playing out, dancing and darting behind the pillars, in between the guests they’ll shimmer unheard, unseen but present, all my women who belong.  

In our Cathedral with our son, with friends  and gratitude for the woman I’ve become.
October 20th 2017

It’s Friday morning, the sun is lost behind the clouds but the bluster seems to carry all the seconds of my life with me and in the fracturing light on the windscreen, in the dappling spots of bright, I’m on my way. 

Children walk to school, heads down, wet dogs on leads with mud caked paws and the chatter of girls as we wait in traffic. It’s the morning of October 20th – I feel like I’m coming home. 

Later

And I sat, I studied the ceiling, the intricacies of the build, the strength of the pillars and as I walked back from the stage with a quickened pulse, with a tremble as though I were made of miniature fireworks sparkling, the sunlight pooled in above us, casting diamonds up the wall. 

xxx

I graduated today – for my husband, in absentia, with love.

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I used to walk a lot in the early days, I’d drop my son at school and then head back across the field near the top of my town. I started writing there, sat on an old bench, avoiding the mashed bubble-gum and smashed late night bottles. The parish council took my bench away after a few months, replaced it with a picnic table, where I leaned and wrote and watched the pigeons on the wire.

And the tribe of dog walkers came, I didn’t know the owners but grew to know the dogs by name as they called out for them, as they ran. My favourite was called Bailey, a daft springer spaniel, who would come up to me and say hello, fuss around me with his damp fur and snuffling nose and I’d think of you. In those days your blog was still quite new, a big part of my week, like it became for so many of us and I learned whatever I was feeling, was similar to others, that we were bound by an invisible thread that your writing underlined.

And I’d sit in the cold, in the rain, in the sun, seasons moving around me as I wrote, and when the landscape had done its job, when I’d aired the feelings that were too big for the house, I’d wander home. I’d hug a warm mug while I edited, and you were there at the click of a mouse, behind the scenes in my inbox, with a solidarity that comes from pain. Your messages helped me carve out the life that I have now and I want to tell you about it. I want to tell you that I’m waiting, any day now, for the result of my degree, I want to chat with you about the new projects I’m working on, but I can’t, not in the way I used to.  I want to hear your news, open up your replies, to read your words and stories.

And today I can feel others preparing, its moving around us, the memories, the triggers from back then, timelines plaited as they travel, to be together because of you.

I think about my walks in the field while you wandered on the Heath but I never owned a dog. I’m too allergic to their fur, but I love them. I love their wild abandon, their joy and verve and loyalty. I think of Bailey back then, charging towards me, desperate for the connection, the need to nuzzle and say hello and just for that moment, I’d take his wet head in my hands and ruffle him up, then he’d spin chaotic circles around me because he knew. He knew I needed to sense his spirit, his energy urging me to live again, to run with him, to stop and sniff some detritus that’s he’d spied and to be free.

And when I sat in my field, nodding to dog walkers, I used to think of you and Boris, his russet coat shining in the rays and you striding out, churning thoughts of blog posts in your mind, and we’d inch forwards together. Stumble backwards, stand still then creep back out again, all of us, with or without a dog to guide us and now we’re here.

Here, in this morning and in the stillness of the house I think of friends, some I know well, some I’ve chatted with and some I’ll never really know and they head out, bound together in our stories and the linking up of hands.

It’s cold today, bright and clear, the tail end of autumn, calling winter. I want to be back in the field, hanging on the internet and blog posts to lead the way. But I’m inside. I’m still in my parka, hat and scarf, I lean up the radiator and imagine myself on my bench. I look out towards the Cathedral as the mist clears and you march out towards me, smiling, lead stretched out in front of you with Boris scampering, his paws kicking up the dried leaves, the sunlight caught in the flecks of dust around you as you walk.

 

With love to your tribe, travelling,

With love to you for the difference you made.

Thank you, Helen, so much.

Jxx

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