Archives for posts with tag: our son

‘It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines;

we would all be together in a sudden strangeness.’

Keeping Quiet – Pablo Neruda[i]

I know you, Pandemic, I see what you’re doing out there. I know your ways, I think.

And I wonder if I stare it down, if I look it straight in the face, it will feel easier? I’ve personified the chaos, in a feeble attempt at agency and my thoughts remind me of dealing with the Grief Monster in sudden widowhood, how the creation of a creature seemed to give us some sense of control.

I have been quiet for a few weeks now, while this new monster rages. I’ve been biding my time, allowing my thoughts to simmer. I worried, (I’m good at that,) that maybe I had nothing to say, no way to express my thoughts of the unfolding trauma. But it seems I was wrong; I was just dazed into numbness by the events. Of course, I’m used to being dazed, I’m used to the lockdown in my head when critical mass is reached and I switch off.

And that’s the thing, it’s all so familiar, this devastation, this savagery and fear. I know this. Sudden loss, a widow and a single parent overnight, I’ve got form. I know isolation.

Yet maybe my mental meandering is just another tool in my kit of coping, it’s a big kit now, heavy, but it serves me well. So, I bring it back down to the personal, to the individual, to the story I know inside out. I look from my window to the quiet streets and feel the ripples of people disorientated, lost, grappling for something to rely on. But where does it leave me? My tiny world, the universe inside me, my loss and fears like the fronds of a fern, are mirrored now, mapped out and scaled up to the global suffering, like the stardust arms of our Milky Way, holding us tight as we cry. Swirls within swirls, tears merging, the individual and the whole, our private pains all part of each other’s. In our anguish and separation, we are never more together.

As I look out of my window, the birdsong seems louder against the quiet streets, the planet readjusting and my letterbox clatters, an unseen hand has touched my post, a stranger in shorts with his bag strapped around him, doing essential work, keeping things ticking. In the almost silence I feel the planet buzzing, the nurses, doctors, trained and strained, working to exhaustion, flooded with compassion but unprepared for this, the community carers, sustaining the elderly, my elderly, my parents supported by others. And the grieving, the unseen, rocking in pain and each digit in the daily statistics is someone’s universe imploding.

And when my newsfeed became too much, I found myself curling inwards, down and out.  My window of tolerance had been reached so I went far away. I took myself off and hid out in Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen. I learned knife skills and in my slicing of scallions and on the perfect plates of his pomme purée, I calmed down. It was a safe place, away from the media and their terror machine, away from the soaring death count. And I rested for a while but then returned.

It’s true to say that ‘critical thinking without hope is cynicism and hope without critical thinking is naïveté.[ii] so I raised my head above the parapet and peered back out in search of balance. I’d realised my quixotic railing at the Government’s windmills wouldn’t help me, neither would wishing for utopian ideals when we come out on the other side.

So then came the search to normalise, now as back then, I scour and plunder, I seek out information on how we might get through this. In widowhood, my coffee table became piled high with teetering tomes of those who’d broken before me, self-care and guidance, spiritual comfort, woo-woo weirdness and scientific rigour of the facts. I’d consume and devour anything that gave me a grip or a foothold in my perilous new world. And now I feel a similar pattern. I’m gathering pandemics on my pc’s open tabs; I’m leaning into the past to see what lies ahead.  The trouble is, it’s just a guide, it’s a consideration of what went before. Like my stack of grief books, they could only hint, they didn’t map my journey, it was mine alone. They might have signposted features of the landscape but my terrain, like everyone’s, is unique, and this pandemic, while resembling the maths and graphs of those before, is still unknown. No amount of planning can prepare you for the event when it finally hits. Like pre-grieving ahead of the inevitable, it’s pragmatic, a dry run in its own way but when it’s real, then all bets are off. I see it now in the Government’s scurrying, scrabbling for resources not purchased in time, in how we turn to think-tanks for the answers, and though they might have prepped and planned, they’re still fallible. They fail.  So, flexibility from the model is essential, hindsight, as everyone accepts, is a glorious thing. But if all these decisions were mine, what would I have done?

So, I travel back to the plague, in the middle ages where quarantines began, where ships were anchored outside the coastal cities, waiting forty days before the sailors could set foot on land. In the 14th century trade and colonization already linked countries, passing wares and sickness around the globe.

And onward to 1918 where the Spanish flu found troops cramped and cooped, dreaming of home, the waves slopping and slapping up the sides, no chance for social distancing as they lay close, and the virus travelled around the globe in months but now with our much smaller world we can share our germs in hours.

But good must come from these dark days now, it will find a way, like the beautiful boulevards, designed and built after cholera, after the open sewers of Paris were purged and swept away.

Still, I have to rail in my Pollyanna[iii] tendency, but it’s as rife as Covid19 itself. It’s our expertise we need to pass around now with the R&D teams across the continents working on a vaccine to protect us all. It’s a chance to share our goals, an opportunity to act for the common good.

I look from my window and watch as the most beautiful of days begins, as a springtime  sun shines down on us, on those waking up crippled by grief under its rays, staff crushed by the sights in the hospitals, the tipping point of people doing their best against nature at its worst. But as the day promises to heat up, the sky turns to a mothering blue, a swaddling in gentle heat, as if to soothe, as if to hush us in our trembling.

Sometimes I think of springtime in Belsen, of blossom falling outside the camps, coating the ground like soft fallen kisses and, whether for a second, for a heartbeat or two, the sun would lift their eyes to the skies, would lift their spirits for a moment.

And we are linked, inextricably, we are one person, suffering, then as now, their pain, is our pain and through this ravaging, hope remains as prevalent as the virus, but its curve will never flatten out.  Awareness of our fragility is laced with resilience and a need to find meaning in our vulnerable lives. In ‘The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology’ Erich Fromm reminds us to ‘find a frame of reference…to escape the experience of utter helplessness, disorientation and up-rootedness.’ but that ‘only through full awareness of the danger to life can our potential be mobilized for action, capable of bringing about drastic changes in our way of organizing our society.’[iv]

And so, the day heats up and we remember when we were free to run, splashing into the surf, giggling in the arms of others, chattering in cafes, pub gardens filled with noise and clatter. And under this savagery, in this necessary pausing we see the minutia of our lives, the reality that we had everything all along. On our shuddering planet, through this global bereavement, it feels as though we took our previous world for-granted, not because it didn’t matter but because we never could conceive of it being torn away.

As people plan to pop out in the sun, to experience its rays in their gardens, in a small way, without a boot full of beach balls and towels, as our appreciation and gratitude for the tiny things grows alongside the death toll, I find it so familiar.

I know this place, this smallness, revelling in the human moments, recalling the heartfelt hug of a friend, the sun stroking the side of your face, a shared joke or being held as the pain raged up through you. It was always about the individual acts of connection, the unseen intricate web of us all. I feel it as I stand by my front door in the cool of Thursday evenings, as I clap and tears roll in the comfort of strangers, in the solidarity, on our socially distanced doorsteps of home.

Human spirit, above all other considerations is the way, to lift up, despite Covid19, and because of it. It’s that bond between the individual and the universal, the threads that bind us tight through the centuries. As humans we have immense capacity for lifting each other up, while we hide away, ‘self-islanding.’[v]

The dissonance between the joy of springtime sun and the realities of the bleakness in the wards seems to underline our fragility, our fleeting space against the force of nature. I remember walking home in sunshine in the first spring since my loss, and how I objected to its glare and the chiffon people all around me while I tried to drag my granite form back home. It seemed improbable that the sun could shine and now, on these blossoms filled days it seems to tease, to remind us of when we lived without the fear of now. But outside my window trees are turning sap green in hope, and every bud is a reminder that this will pass, and something else will come. Leaves will stretch out and each one seems to wave to me while I sit inside, saying wait a while, just stop, hold tight and hold on.

I remember speaking with my counsellor, in the early months, in the dense fog of sudden bereavement. I told her that that I could not move, I had ceased to have any forward motion and from the point of view of the outside world, I was stationary. I told her of the Taoist principle of Wu Wei,[vi] creating action through in-action and of the uncarved block, of something left to its natural state. She didn’t seem to comprehend my stillness and why I felt comfort in the stopping. She referred to herself as a Bereavement Visitor, and she perched on the edge of my silent sofa, in her coordinated colours and oversized wooden beads, peering into her small diary at the end of every session. When she asked ‘would you like to see me again?’ I always answered ‘yes,’ despite our occasional breaches and misses, where our world view had collided. But she insisted that I had been active and so I let it ride, I let it go. One of those moments, so frequent, when someone said or did something that jarred, words that screwed me up on the inside, but I learned to let them pass. I knew in my stillness, in my isolation from the churning world outside, that in my pausing I would regain, I would catch my breath against the tumult of emotions.

And I am reminded of Wu Wei now in our global stillness, while the virus rips though towns. This pausing, like trees in dormant winter, appearing to be static, waiting, biding their time until it’s safe to reveal themselves again. Like the split second of stillness between an in and an out breath, and the fact that silence ‘remains, inescapably, a form of speech and an element of dialogue.’[vii] This enforced opportunity for hush is dialectic, relational to our culture of incessant noise.

But we’re not too good at waiting right now, yet ‘waiting isn’t an in-between time’[viii] although it feels like it, in these instant-add to basket-on demand days. We like prompt resolution, immediate answers, on double speed YouTube vids because we don’t have time. But now time is all we do have, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for isolation to end, for permission to run free again but as Wordsworth states, sometimes solitude can be gracious.

‘When from our better selves we have too long been parted by the hurrying world.’[ix] Like the structure of Hindu temples a progression of rooms reducing in size until the smallest with the statue, a communion, an essential stripping away of all distraction. And so, we come face to face with ourselves, highlighting our work-in -progress from which we try to hide. It is with hope like a glisk[x] that ‘we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth into the enchanted place.’[xi]

But it’s that sense of impotence against it all, now as then. So, it’s back to baby steps, the phrase used liberally by the widowed community, a mantra which we pass around between ourselves when reality becomes too much. That’s all we can do. So, we’re indoors and we have food and Wi-Fi and that’s enough. I’m powerless against the chaos and carnage in the hospitals, I can clap but I can’t fund the shattered staff.

There’s a sense of being at war with this microscopic enemy, unseen but ever-present behind our daily life. I think about my parents, children in WW2, air raid shelters in the back yard, sitting out with flash lights waiting for the all clear from the bombs. I imagine they must have grown accustomed to that on-amber feeling, as I have done. My familiar foes of hyper vigilance and anxiety are often lying in wait for me, skilled assailants in the art of ambush.

 And I think of my grandfather and the assailants in his world. He was a caster, a miner, in the unrelenting harshness of his days. As a young man in his teens he fought in WW1, but he never spoke about his time as a prisoner, the images from the Japanese camps were locked away inside him, while he raised a family, toiled the allotments, providing daily veg for his three girls. And I think of my grandfather with his voiceless memories, his calloused hands planting sweet-pea seeds, bringing beautiful blooms back to their two-up two-down terraced house. It’s these moments of value, of joy amongst the suffering that resonate and call out now.

Before the pandemic separated us all, a good friend gave me sweet-pea seeds. I was never much of a gardener but I will plant these out soon like my grandfather did, and remember the resilience in my genes, our careful contouring[xii] and our inherent pull to hope.  I will feel gratitude for these moments of stillness, this enforced retreat from the speed of our world, a chance to reconsider how I live.

But I can consider this from my sofa, and we have Netflix, we have food in our first world cell. And I think of others in Brazilian slums, huddled under cardboard and tin, families living on top of each other, with no gardens to watch the birds, no space, no sanitation, no antibacterial wash to clean their hands. Yet I’m reminded of our alikeness, that they’re just different versions of me and our son, people like us but clutching cups of water instead of scrolling on iPhones.

As Marcus Aurelius points out, ‘it has long been shown that we are born for community’[xiii] so evident now in the swathes of people signing up to be volunteers, reaching out to strangers, groups of helpers springing up like the trees coming into bud.

And there’s something calming in the understanding that we’re all the same. In this illusion of separateness, from slums to sidewalks, refugee camps to condos, my grandfather’s tiny terrace to our home, we are all linked.

I know this place, this waiting, this sense of homesickness while still at home. That familiar searching for a feeling of safety that you get when you close the front door. But you close the front door and the feelings are still there, that marrow deep yearning for it to be a different world. And as we creep into another week by ourselves I remember counting back then, in bereavement’s bleak beginning. I used to note the tiles in the splash back behind my oven. There are twelve of them. I used to count the days, then tiles turned to weeks and months, stood stirring something, noting how my metric had changed and the tiles which represented so many hours, then marked out many weeks. Now I’m still marking time, a prisoner in my mind, ticking up not down.

I hope we’re not still here in many weeks, I hope enough has changed but now, as then, a new normal will emerge. I’m so used to waiting, to just being, and the solidarity with the unseen, the philoxenia,[xiv]a balm to our wounds in the kindness of strangers. Hour at a time, minute by minute, stepping with care into our changed reality and whatever lies beyond.

The blossom waves to me from outside my window, so joyous, ‘all froth and flutter, like swathes of taffeta’[xv]around a bride. The birdsong bookends our days and they sing out, emphatic. I wonder what they’re saying? They’ve seen it all before, maybe they’re trying to tell us that we’ll be ok?

Despite our hiraeth[xvi]we gather strength, we come up with a new plan. We have hope. Always. And we thole on.[xvii]


[i] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/28/keeping-quiet-sylvia-boorstein-reads-pablo-neruda/

Accessed 17/04/2020

[ii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/09/hope-cynicism/

Accessed 17/04/20

[iii] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/pollyanna

A person who believes that good things are more likely to happen than bad things, even when this is very unlikely.

Accessed 19/04/2020

[iv] https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/03/22/erich-fromm-revolution-of-hope/

Accessed 17/04/20

[v] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “isolate” – to place apart, to stand detached from one’s surroundings.

From the Italian “isolare”, “to reduce to an island”; itself from Latin “insula”, “island”.

In Welsh, “self-isolation” is “hunan ynysu”, literally “self-islanding”.

04/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[vi] Hoff, B. The Tao of Pooh, 1989, (Mandarin Paperbacks, London, UK), p68

[vii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/06/the-aesthetic-of-silence-susan-sontag/

Accessed 17/04/20

[viii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/12/17/jason-farman-delayed-response/Accessed 17/04/20

‘Waiting isn’t a hurdle keeping us from intimacy and from living our lives to the fullest. Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans in the messages we send. Waiting shapes our social lives in many ways, and waiting is something that can benefit us. Waiting can be fruitful.’

[ix] Storr, A. Solitude 1997 (Harper Collins, London) p202

[x] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “glisk” -sunlight glimpsed through a break in the clouds, a fleeting glance at a glittering sight, a brief glow of warmth from fire that’s burned low, a sudden flash of hope in the heart.  (Scots) 06/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xi]   https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/28/keeping-quiet-sylvia-boorstein-reads-pablo-neruda/

Accessed 17/04/2020

[xii] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “contouring” – when traversing steep or unsure ground, picking a path that holds its height.

On the hill, as in life, a means of staying steady, of keeping level even when the going is rough, the world falling away to one side or the other. 05/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xiii] Aurelius, M. Meditations 2006, (Penguin Random House, London, UK) p41

[xiv] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “philoxenia” – lit. ‘friendship to/love of strangers’ (Greek Φίλοξενϊά). Kindness shown to people unknown; hands opened in care to those in need; tenderness offered across time & space. An ancient virtue for modern times. 08/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xv] https://www.janeylfoster.com/2020/04/17/white-cloud/

Accessed 17.4.2020

[xvi] https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/09/18/dreaming-in-welsh/

‘To feel hiraeth is to feel a deep incompleteness and to recognise it as familiar. Mae hiraeth arna amdanot ti. There’s a homesickness on me for you.’

Accessed 19/04/2020

[xvii] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) ‘Word of the Day: “thole”- as a noun, the ability to bear hardship. As a verb, to endure patiently, to slog through tough times; “to thole on” (Scots). 16/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

Early December 2019 – Hard Frost.

It’s very endings out there, very closings and while I’m tucked up warm inside I can feel the weight of people rushing and stressing but it’s not for me.
I am a winter baby and how many times in this work will I have mentioned this and how many times do I stop and feel thankful for this fact?

There is a resonance with my cycles and with the seasons and now, pivoting at the end of a decade, I feel full. I’m ready to wear monochrome clothes, to mirror the weathering and huddle down to wait for spring. But spring is a distant concept as we shuffle forwards towards Christmas. 

I’m so lost in number right now, so imbued 
with the elegance of maths and it comes from our boy. Our boy, the man on the train in this winter’s morning, heading out to where derivatives lie and he takes the integral between zero and infinity because he can, as it flows out from him like a song, like a melody that he has written in his sleep. But I can’t sing. I clunk and chug with number but I am drawn into it like a child, nose squashed up against the toy shop window, hot cheeks against the ice and deep inside, the toy maker carves his wonders. And I want to hold them, I want to be allowed inside to rummage and explore. I want to build and construct, to play with the forms in front of me but I can’t, not yet. I am outside the Toy Shop of Number but the door is open and a rounded man in red invites me in. 

I can do fractions now, I am learning and it’s very Me, very let’s take on something I don’t understand, like grief. Of course after a decade, well almost, of learning to breathe as a widow, my knowledge is deep, my enforced wisdom cocoons me and I know enough. 

But I’m a little too full to be honest as I try to tease out the threads of this work, as I stumble around my mixed metaphors but it’s alright, it’s now and I send an out breath into my quiet kitchen and up and out with the steam in the frost. I feel myself tiptoe to the summit of some vast mountain and I want to peer over the edge, I want to look behind me and see the footsteps we took to get here, crevices hacked into the snow, and how my hands ache from the cold, how they bleed into the ground, forming pink rivulets of ribbons marking out my path and here we are. 

At the edge, on the top, with the decade behind us, teetering with just mist and unknown lands beyond our sight. 

I sit down on the mountain and let the iced air trace its way down through my throat, my windpipe, to my lungs and feel its chill. Out in the mist, our boy melts the snow beneath him, uses equipment I don’t understand, to heave, then stride along and I can breathe. My breath dances out before me, rippled and white like a veil of grief that leads the way, that spirals up and out, dissolving in the chaos of sunlight as I sit here. And then the next breath and the veil rises and floats, expands and disperses and I’m so used to this. 

I imagine my struggle is between the rigour and logic of number, of its construct that underpins our world and the magic of its revealed beauty. And we count down, sleeps to Christmas, then days to the End of the Year and the media throbs with the lists and reviews, scooping itself up in a riot of memory, highlighting how we’ve aged and how we’ve changed. 

As we opened ourselves up to the new decade back then, we were safer, more certain of our worlds or were we just too immersed in our smallness to see the unfolding news? I suppose that’s my learning, and how linear everything was back then, how holidays were planned ahead and there was expectation and prediction but we didn’t predict widowhood – well you wouldn’t. And then thirteen months into the decade, linear graphing ceased. 

There were no formulas to map the areas under the waves which my life created, no way to simplify the expressions, to substitute out the difficult parts and craft a solution to its integral. There was nothing to be manipulated or calculated, there was just the number 2. Me and our boy.

And then time happened and then clocks just did their thing and that’s the problem. It’s all number-ticking-number, hours and months and years. I acknowledge it, I roll into it but sit outside and watch. Watch the chaos in the country, the Westminster circus, the pantomime in Europe, the unfolding uncertainty swaddling an aging planet, a turning solar system and then there’s us.

Me and our boy on a mountain top in the snow, in the coldest of days looking out. 
He carves calculus into the white with a big stick that he’s found while I photograph the icicles in a world tuned upside. 
And this is our mountain and we have climbed it.

And here in my one hundredth post I count in moments, in the abyss, in the joy.
One hundred times I’ve sat and tapped and poured my mind out, and ten years we have travelled. And 9 of them we have survived and inched in grief. 

It’s only number, it’s only time.

I need to stand up again and brush the snow from my cold legs. The sun warms us, melts the impacted white as we trudge on. 
Fur tickles my face, photons glint on our cheeks. 
The mother, the writer, the boy, the mathematician. 
Birds circle, sing above us.
Numbers change and we go on.

PS

December 31st 2019

This time last year we were in Hamburg, a re-imagined city, a Phoenix like ourselves, built on the remnants of how it used to be and we had sailed.
We’d sailed out on the same ship that held us close on our first journey, in the fractured chaos chronicled by my first post. And last year I took a book with me, Mary Wollstonecraft’s – Letters Written in Denmark, Norway and Sweden and she travelled with her baby as I travel with our son.
And now one year later as our boy welcomes in a new decade with his mates, I write through the silence, miles from our fireworks over Hamburg and I look back.
December 31st 2018
‘But eleven days of weariness on board … have so exhausted my spirits to say nothing of other causes’ she begins and dear Mary tells me she ‘adheres to determination to give observations, as I travel through new scenes,warmed with the impressions they have made on me’ and I breathe. I am in good company. 
Her words take me back to the start of my writing and in my first post, in fog I wrote. ‘Eleven years ago I could not walk, an unstable pelvis hampered my plans for a natural birth’ and there I sat and wrote on this ship, on THIS SHIP, in my younger pain -worn body and I was there in my unstable world of widowhood with our ten year old boy at my side. 
And you see why I am full. Seven years and three months have past in this unpredictable land and we are here again. Noting the structure, the shape of the rooms and whilst Mary has her baby with her, I have my baby, grown. Our tiny boy with the luggage he’s learned to carry is now 18, a young man by my side, with his father’s eyes and we weave down long corridors, we sway but hold onto the sides. 
How can this be? These cabins are the same, refurbished decor but the mirror surrounds reflect a solid me, a stoical me, a me that has soldiered on, like I always did, like I do and just beneath the reflection I remember her face, hair thicker and longer than now, features on the edge of what he knew. She ripples past me like the lyrics of a favourite song, like a passing wave and then gone. Here – gone. There – gone, bobbing, remaining, twirling around me and she calls out to me, pleads to me with her eyes, with her out stretched hands. 
‘But how do I live? How do I do this?’
And I say ‘hush, hush now and just breathe. Hold tight and hold on.’
xxx

 

The glass in the sink is full, the tap drips shaking the surface tension of the water as it rocks. It seems to say I’m here. The venetian blinds shatter and reform, shatter and rebuild and they’re the only movement. The sounds change as the drop hits the surface, sometimes a ding, sometimes a tink and I seem the be the water. Still and smooth, then ruffled, then agitated, then quiet, settled. And this how it is. I am contained in the glass for now.

And next to the sink is my tomato plant, I’ve watered it well over these last few weeks and how it’s grown. How tall and willowed it seems now.  In recent days I’ve thought how it’d outgrown its pot, and every day I thought I must repot it, give it more room to spread. But there was always something else to do and so it remained in the pot that the seeds had been planted in. 

But it still grew. It’s too tall now to keep indoors and I can almost hear it calling out re-pot me, please re-pot me and I almost did last night. But not quite. This morning though, the day and the weather is perfect.

This morning the grey weight of clouds bandages our town like a sense of a mother in the background of it all, at a distance, keeping watch. And I will repot the tomato plant today as our boy makes his way to his last exam before the summer unfolds for him, before his sky opens wide and turns to blue, before autumn expands his horizon. And he will stretch out long and tall and wide, his roots anchored deep in familiar soil but there will be such space, a new pot, vast with potential, rich with extra compost around his wriggling feet and he will spread.

I need to repot my tomato plant today. The window is open.  The vague breeze trembles its young leaves, as if to say hello to me, as if to summon me to the soil. It needs a bigger pot and then its steady solid growth will burst up and out and it will flourish and later there will be fruit, soft, round and full of sweetness on our plates.

And we will be nourished by the things we’ve grown. The things tended and cared for and how glorious to watch fruit ripen in the sun, roots secure and leaves and new shoots reaching up. 

The tap still drips into my glass, its tiny tinkling sound repeats, as if a steady clock still marks time. And clouds drift, and things grow. A silent bee on foxgloves nuzzles into pollen. The day wakes up. 

My glass is so full now, I’ll use it to water the tomato plant, to settle it into new soil. It’s early. Our town is quiet, our boy is ready, he picks up his graphical calculator as I open the drawer to my left. 

I pull on my gardening gloves and step out onto the patio. We need a bigger pot.

xxx

 

April 16th

It was bitter in Paris, the wind sliced across our faces like a knife but it was Easter, an adventure, of sorts and everything was giddy, new.  

I’d stared through the window watching the propeller on my first ever flight, as though I alone kept the plane in the air, as though sitting by my fiancé and opposite the air hostess, my only job was to control the wings. 

It was twenty-one years ago, our second holiday and it sparkled and danced like the lights across the Seine. 

Despite trawling around Tourist Information Centres on a heaving Easter weekend, we were ok. Despite our desperation for an upgrade from the dilapidated B&B and the hauling of our luggage down the rues and boulevards to the new one that we found, we were still fine. And ushered to a cramped room by a spherical hotelier who beamed and pointed to the spiral stairs to breakfast, we settled in. Carefree with croissants and we unpacked.

We ticked off attractions like you do when you’re invincible and the icy wind didn’t bother us. It took pieces out of us thoughas we crossed the square to Notre Dame and battered us as we stood with everyone else, waiting for the warmth of her arms.

And we shuffled and we inched. In the darkness and smell of ancient wood I lost myself. I remembered the floor in that sacred silence, the air that hummed and buzzed with rustling tourists, I remembered the thick smell of dust and sweat and little more. Wrapped up in Our Lady I was taken ill, I was helped to sit down somewhere away from the crowds and I saw feet, lots of them, the shoes of my fiancé and those of a strange woman whose name we never knew. 

And this morning while ash settles in the streets there, while people lift up their eyes to view the savage route of flames, I think of the lady who came to help usAnd she’s a memory of a warm patterned skirt, oranges, yellows and browns, swirls and circles like flames around her feet. She sat while I regained myself, called us a taxi and stayed with us until it came. I never saw her face but had a sense of her on my left, she wished us well for our marriage, blessed us with healthy children and was gone. 

And I think of our lady today, I wonder where she is in this moment, if she thinks of Notre Dame and the couple who she helped years ago. Does she remember the young women, who only saw the stone floor of the Cathedral but who is tied to it now, somehow. There in Paris, in the coldest of Easters, the ancient monument became a gatekeeper to their life.

The light falls over the place where the Spire had been, and deep inside there is the echo of a woman sitting. And she will be rebuilt and carry on. 

Post Script

April 17th

We married one year later and as I wake to thick fog, it engulfs my town, my road, my mind, like the smoke engulfed the Spire and I am tumbling down into the structure, cascading in the edifice, sparks and flames mix with blossom, with confetti. They float around me, glorious, transient, burning up in the atmosphere of the day, in the flickerings, the fleeting gasps of time.

Twenty springs have passed, twenty bursts of blossom and it is full now, resplendent, magnificent. It swishes around in my peripheral vision like swathes of ivory taffeta, like a girl. And it will age, fall and flutter to the ground, to become part of the soil that feeds the tree. Until next year and she will be back to bloom again.

Time itself, our companion on the journey, folded into Parisian rubble and the strength to rebuild, striving, resilient, fragrant with hope.

Always – in the memory of blossom. 

xxx

 

 

 

September 17th

Our son is waiting for the 7:51 to town along with all the other morning faces. It’s 8:04 and everyone looks to the right in anticipation, they fidget and flick through their phones. And I’m waiting in today for balloons, the huge ones that arrive in a box, the silver numbers that will fill our lounge with their shapes.

Eighteen years ago, we were waiting. I remember I’d had a bad night, was helped to the toilet and then onto the bed, contractions had set off the spasms in my back and in the morning, this morning back then, while our son waits for his bus in the now, in the back then I was hanging on a little more. It was a Sunday then and the surgeons were away and so, after four days of waiting, when I’d let go of all thoughts of a natural birth, when I craved the theatre and our baby in my arms, I had to wait. One more day, just one more.

And now our son is on his way, the bus heavy and swollen with early workers, waddles its way into town, hot and heaving, lumbering to its destination, ready to spill its contents at the station, to release the people to the day. And our son will be there, birthed from the bus into daylight with the others, hurrying up the hill.

And so, it goes. Another day. The day before, the memories filling up and bursting, then filling up again and I prepare.

And our son, nearly there now, with an algebra test ahead of him, with his world spreading wide, makes his way to college.

And I can’t find the words and that’s my puzzle, my test that I am frowning over. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. What themes will come up, which metaphors to use. What to reveal, what to keep to myself and I’m stuck. Right now, I’m bound up in the webs on my window, I’m spun in silk and cannot move. But it’s ok.

How can I find the right words to express what I feel, and yet it is ok? I keep reminding myself of that. Like the beautiful form that was curled tight inside me, like the potential waiting for air, it waits. The thoughts and feelings and words nestling low down, not quite ready for the outside world. But they will come.

Just one more day. I must be patient.

I watch the spider on my window frame. She knows what to do. And every day she starts again, every day she fires silk from her hard-outer shell and weaves again.  New, fresh webs to hold the food, while her babies wait in a sac, warm and protected from the outside world, looked after until they can do it for themselves. And she spins, every day, a new pattern, adapting to the weather and the places where her web was torn apart. She builds again, with babies safe on her back, their tiny legs wriggling until they’re ready to come out and I watch her move.

She’s waiting for food. I’m waiting for balloons and our son is waiting for the test to begin.

Tomorrow will come.

September 18th

And I watch as he strides off, his longer hair whipping in the autumn bluster. The long hot summer seems to be over today and I’m glad of clouds, of battered leaves. As he waits for the bus, I see moments of me, as they try to get the needle in my back, fragments of us flip and clatter up the panes and it’s so familiar somehow. Our son, on his busy day, with little time to think until tonight and me with baking and wrapping ahead, like I always did, like I do.

His bus is late again (like I was back then, two and half weeks to be exact) and now, eighteen years later when I look at him, when I look into his eyes, the eyes that looked at us for the first time, I see every hour. I see our lives reflected back, our stories in the sparkled flecks on steely blue.

I lie and wait back then, faces all around me, a succession of people to help me on my way. I’m still.

And now, he sits on the bus, with multi various calculus in his mind, he integrates and differentiates and under the gravitational constant his possibilities open up. And while he works on proofs, I see us in the comfort of autumn, in every leaf, I see a second of our life. Leaves fall, my weather changes and we go around again.

Our baby, our son, this man. I blinked and he grew up.

For the mathematician on the bus. Such love. Such pride.

xxx

 

 

June 18th 2017

I prepared his lunchbox for the last of the school days, the penultimate exam, the final full day and I secured the sandwich in the tired out plastic box. And as I did, I recounted the changing faces of the vessels over the years. The turquoise Thomas box bought at a day out with a friend when the steam made our eyes run and we chuffed down the rails and after the Reception class came Spider-Man in primary coloured nylon as he learned how to write. Year 2 was Lazy Town, a soft cover which caught the crumbs before a Year 3 army camo box with a matching water bottle. Year 4 saw us chugging up the hill with Toy Story, with Buzz at his side, falling with style and it was this lunch bag which I stuffed with cold fish fingers when we rushed back to the relatives room, to sit and wait, to watch the walls close in around us in Year 5. And afterwards his Sponge-Bob garish lemon shape turned up, it grinned at us for the rest of the year when our muscles forgot how to smile and into the final Primary walks with a tin box ordered from Amazon, flown over from the USA with Star Trek on its side.

Then Secondary came without the merchandised logos, without the beaming smiles and we settled on the lime green nylon that supported him through the days, right up until this final year when the blue-black lunch bag was the way. I’ve just turned it inside out now, given it a symbolic good clean, old crumbs and straws tumble into our sink, the residue of things past and as it dries out I make one last sandwich and recall.

I remember dropping him in the Reception class and leaving him kneeling on the floor with things to piece together, a new track, a new map to construct and I walked away. I looked back, his hair was lighter then, his head bent down busy, engrossed as I left and I walked as the trees blurred in my path.
And now I iron the penultimate shirt, aware of the years and minutes. Feeling the hours that bought us to here.

June 19th 2017

Next door’s scaffolding should come down soon. It watches over me, grey struts at odds with the soft spikes of my bamboo, with spears that have grown over time. A bluebottle dithers, disoriented but stays outside and the garden is poised in the sunlight. It will be warm today, the soil where the roots and weeds used to be, heats up, beaks poke, legs crawl and I can see my garden to come, when the work has been finished. How like a meadow it will look with lupins with salvia and an area to walk, with places to sit and watch but for now it is waiting. We are in the lull. The old has been ripped away, bagged up and hauled onto their van but when they return, when the fence becomes solid, when the trellising goes up, then the grass seed will come, then the mulch and flower food. How dark the compost will be, rich with nutrients, particles to bind to roots, to wrap around them and hold as they grow.
And the shoots will come, sap bright, saturated with a need to pull to the sun and they will flower. There in our garden when the pond is complete, when the water flows without restriction and the stones bring balance, bring clarity.There in our garden colours will grow, earth will sustain and rain drench us all.

A magpie clattered down the roof of the summerhouse and perched on the edge. How strong the contrast in his feathers, how they pushed out, bold in black, in white, through my green and away. He paused before flight regaining himself, judging his next move. Like the old man I see on our lanes most days, with his cap and zimmer frame, out every day despite the weather, to make his journey to the shops and back again and he keeps going, keeps pulsing despite his obstacles.
And the old man on my summerhouse surveyed his land then flew, beat wings into the day with grace and power.

And I am waiting, it’s not long now. Our son head down again today.

June 21st 2017

The shadows stroke the trees, like a hand across a head, like a soothing touch against the day and pupils wander through the gates – the young ones with rucksacks almost too big for their small shoulders, the older ones, term weary weighted down by tests and work and then our son’s year – the veterans with end of school hair in their eyes, with rag-taggled uniforms  hanging on to the last. And they have the air of resignation after the build up, after the heft of expectation, they are almost there, almost done and now it’s a process to complete, a final hoop to jump through. And there goes our boy through the gates we used to know, for one more time, one last moment to follow their rules, in their system before the giddiness of the open door.

And as he sits at the desk, pen poised, waiting for the words ‘it’s 9:09, you may begin,’ I sit at my pc and pause. Outside in the park behind our house I hear the workmen’s radio and the distant throb of machines. The play-ground is being renovated and as the cement whirrs in the growing heat, they dig and prepare. There used to be bouncy tarmac out there, to soften the fall and in the places where I brushed stones from his knee, where I kissed hot skin better when I could, is a pile of silt now and the space where the climbing frame stood.

And in our home and garden as the curtain billows at the open door, I see flickers of our boy, of his countless faces, turning and changing, of his voice peeling out, giggling higher than it is now and he fills the space around me, he saturates our garden with all the children he used to be. There, as the light moves across my new bird feeder I see him running towards us shouting ‘charge!’ I see his pristine primary sweatshirt and, right now I see his broader shoulders as he marches off with all his mates.

its quiet, apart from the tweep of fledglings, apart from the flutter of wings and under the hum of machinery, I anticipate his end of school face at the door.

For our son – beyond proud.

xxx


In the quiet morning, when the day had not yet decided if it would be warm or if it would rain, I watched his legs. From the window I could see them as they walked the path to school, as they were coated in spring leaves, dappled on his black trousers and then the branches came and covered him and took him into the tree.

A moment later, higher up and further along the path, a flash of black in the gaps and then he turned right, to our subway, to the one I painted years ago when brush strokes, not words were my way. And it will echo to his feet now and then he turns left. I feel his journey though I cannot see it, the hill he has to climb and now the brush of traffic. The cars full of aftershave, the makeup tweaked in rear view mirrors and everyone has motion, needs, relentless nature turning and by the railings with his mates, with friends, he’ll start on the cut through road.

I know these roads but never walk them with him, only sometimes on the way to a fayre, but these are his streets, the dips in the pavement and the old school we used to know. And as he passes it now, we are there years back, younger, smaller with sparklers in our hands and friends who don’t live near now, whose hands have turned round clock faces like ours, who’s changes have carried them away in time and we all hang in the air, like a scent of jasmine or lavender, like the not quite forgotten lyrics of a song.

And at the junction near the main road the cars pick up steam, they knit and weave between each other, giving way or scowling and in the far off greens behind him, the rolling downs fade up through lilac and grey, under flat bottomed clouds, cropped just for him today and a sky we used to know.

And at the lights again in the push and shove of morning ready, for the almost starting day, he will be there, bag getting lighter as last lessons come and go, his lunchbox lid has spilt across the middle, a diagonal tear in red plastic and it hangs on. Each day the split grows more but it will make it, the lid he’s held for years is almost at its end, like his own phase. And it’s tucked away in his lunch bag, next to his exam pencil case which he will need today.

And through the gates now, I imagine, with the heartbeat slightly raised, there, passed the drama rooms he use to visit on Saturday mornings when we sat in the coffee shop downstairs.

The blossom is coming out on the tree outside my window, like every year, like years ago on the early walks to primary with hot hands and book bags and the spelling hill to the roundabout – and now.

Now even his blazer is getting small and I watch the leaves on the tree outside my window, so still today, so quiet as though it’s holding its breath, as though it’s wishing him well and in every leaf at a cellular level it buzzes, particles whirr like his neurones and in every atom I see the image of him growing and forging out through time.

Our son, preparing, and today every leaf and every insect wing, every photon of light knows his name.

xxx

 

My friend’s husband retired last year. She talked about it the last time we met and how she felt it would be strange, how odd to have him there all day, every day, getting under her feet and tripping up the routine that she’d made her own over years. I listened. He was always into trains and, without doubt, would take the time to wander down to the stations, to stand around and watch and note the numbers. He would tinker and mess about and finding himself with the hours, would reflect on his years, would adjust to a new way of life. And my friend would make adjustments too. Arguments would come and go, redrawing boundaries and negotiating space in the way you do when you spend your life with someone. I’ve been thinking about her recently, wondering about her world and how they relate now as their children grow up and they face old age together.

And when my parents retired I remembered a lounge full of boxes, of china birds and paperweights, of cards and the smell of orchids and as I type, a blackbird darts in front of my window, wings stretched wide so that I can see each feather and the sky is so heavy today, solid, thick grey as if it’s holding in so much and there is stillness.

Our son left for school an hour ago, knee deep in revision, challenge all around and I think of your mother pulsing out new life back then, creating lungs that filled with air, that bought me to here, that bought our son to the edge of the man he is now and I wonder.

I wonder about our other world, one where you left this morning, where we teased you about the day. And you’d feel strange, such a mix of emotions. All the years of dealing with their blue sky thinking and politics in their air conditioned rooms. And the names and faces that came and went like Colin with his manicured nails, easing you out to your next job and suave Bob Clarke, grateful for your endless knowledge. We used to drive near the building back then and you pointed it out as we drove past. And the ship builders that came before and the East of the County who came after that.

You had two cars in those days, a company one you didn’t use and then we met. I know where the card is that I sent you, when I still lived at home, your interview on the horizon and how the new job formed our world, the commuting and my trains trips down.  I wore a Santa hat and waved to the directors and their Christmas parties came and went, corporate games in a different town. And the work that came later, near to home and our new son with the hours, the frowning as they tightened budgets, the gravitas, the stress and the respect.  It feels like a favourite book now, a story covered in dust, on your bookshelf, tucked away though I know it’s all still there.

And how strange it would be to wave you off on this day to know the relief to come, the stories and gifts, bottles of wine and then what next? And we’d laugh and make plans like we used to do and after you’d caught up on sleep and reading you would drift in to charity work. I’d be a teaching assistant by now and our son would be marching to school (as he does,) but in a different world, with balloons on the door and alternative potential in our minds.

I wonder how my friend is getting on in her new world, when the routines laid in stone came to a stop. And we would have been similar I imagine, rearranging our priorities to fit our changing needs. I’d look forward to tea and a meal in the oven when I’d come home, the only one at work and you’d have humoured me…for a while.

But I’m not a teaching assistant and our son prepares for GCSEs in a parallel world where we keep on keeping on. And while I type and listen to the silence of the house, I see us all in that other Eden,  flat bottomed clouds, cropped to fit our view, nettles you could roll in, under our rainless painless sky.

There in another universe, with a different road ahead. There in your office, with your colleagues joking, they slapped you on the shoulder, they shook by the hand – in the other land, today, where you retired.

xxx

 

 

 

 

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February 27th

It feels like November today, any sniff of spring has been blown off course by these squally showers and as I watch the fields through the raindrops on these windows, I think of back then.

My boots still smell of the farm, the hay sodden around my low heels and I trudged. The grain made my eyes water as I followed through the mud to find the sheep. And here and there low murmurings, deep bleating and they huddled and bundled themselves up. The new lambs are still unsteady and they trample around their mother’s teats. Some shy away but most are interested in the presence of the strangers.

And I am such a stranger, I tiptoe through the sopping mud, it laps my boots, it cries out for wellies as I watch. The farmer says they’ve bought the sheep into the barn because the weather had turned bad. He apologised – as though he should have controlled the sun, as though lambs should only come out to the smell of fresh grass with the rays warming up their plastered down fur. They nuzzle, he points out the next one ready for labour and she stretches her neck out, she paces and pads the earth.

She has found her spot. Once they’ve chosen their place they will not move from it, he says and they nestle down. She sniffs at the new borns in the next pen, keen for her own and I watch.

The herd wander around with little plan, like my thoughts, like the mess of images in my head. They jostle for attention, compete for food as I think of my friend on her beach at the start of her journey and me and our son stepping out then, on ours. I remember writing words for the service while she spun in chaos far from home. And there we were, unknown to each other, on that day being birthed  from the safety of our respective worlds into a land we didn’t recognise, blinking on new straw.

There was something so brutal about the farmland today, so essential, the irresistible force to push on and out and I felt it in the bristle of the mother’s tongue, in the grasp of the farmer’s hand as he eased out more new life. There in front of me dazed and bewildered, finding its feet in this pulse of nature, as I think of my friend, as I think of my preparations back then.

Nature charging on regardless, relentless and driven.

 

February 28th

I’ve been watching the clouds again, how they’re pulled into a vortex to my right, the shadow trees were waving at me this morning as I passed by and now the rain is back. It’s dripping cold onto the farm pastures, the animals are inside and I arrange flowers back at home.

I bought alstroemerias, they look like tiny lilies and as I shuffle and tweak them in the vase, the rooks and the crows take flight, they cut up the air in such haphazard patterns. They look like they don’t know what they’re doing, absent minded winging on the winds but they’re guided by instinct, by nature and far away from them, in the warm, in our home  – so am I.

 

March 1st

There was a stillness down on the farm this morning. it wasn’t cold or warm, no biting wind or early rain, no spring sun, just a grey heavy cloud cover and a sense of the land waiting. The crows circled and landed, poked about and waddled in the mud, they’d found a puddle to drink from and gathered like old men at a wake, heads bowed, arms folded behind their backs and they nodded and paid their respects to the earth. They sipped and pecked around for food, then took off in a scattering, zig zaged black in my view and then the seagulls came in. They flew across in a broken badge, in a triangular twist with such purpose and I watched them pass by like my thoughts, like my feelings of back then.

I didn’t see the farmer today but his wife rushed out, their daughter was stuck in the mud, her truck revving up, going nowhere and she waved and laughed. I noticed her pony tail, hair scaped up for the day’s business and her practical clothes as she jumped from the cab, a round reinforced girl, fed from the land, unattached to the animals she raises and then eats. She didn’t mind being stuck, it happens and sooner or later you get out. She clambered back in the truck, plumped down on the the ripped leather seat and reversed out of the ditch.

Sometimes you have to go backwards before you can go forwards again.

xxx

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I used to love chicken, with a hint of salt, the way it melted in your mouth and whenever I went out to lunch, which to be fair, didn’t happen often, I would order a chicken salad sandwich and peer inside in case any of the meat dared to be pink. I could only do white meat, not grey, or darkened near the bone. If I was feeling reckless I’d have a Cajun chicken salad and pick my way around the bits that were too hot.

I can see the white ceramic bowl from the first meal in the Fat Cat restaurant where we checked each other out over my drizzled rocket and basil. And the radical chicken carbonara that I ate on one of the early visits up the motorway when we went to a new place by the garden centre that I’d found. I found bits of bacon in the creamy sauce and was surprised at how much I liked it.

And when I’d relocated South, Saturday mornings became the trips into town, a visit to the book shop (obviously) followed by a baguette stop in the café on the long main road. We looked out from a window seat, on high stools where I would have sliced grapes and green peppers in my packed chicken salad roll. I can see us leaning into the melamine, spotting strangers. I wonder how their lives have changed by now, those abstracted people we never spoke to. They wandered past, oblivious, heads in the air, wrapped in their own universe, unaware of the couple in the cafe looking out.

And far beyond them, up the road and miles away to a Christmas table, precision laid with finely sliced turkey in a lean-to on the edge of the hills. A gong still reverberating to summon us to the table and the best cut-glass glinted as we sat with napkins on our laps waiting for dessert.

I seem to have anchor points in my life secured by one foul or another and they lined up with me recently as I stood by the deli counter, waiting for the nylon hatted assistant to rip it from the bone. I thought of the cottage pies, the diced turkey hid away under my best leek filled mash, how it scalded your mouth if you bit in deep too soon and in those days we had table mats, procured from various places, usually scribbled on in crayon with images of trains and random birds.

And then the tasteless chicken came, the thick white bread stuffed with something rubber on a platter, in the visitor’s room, when other people said that I should eat – when I’d fainted on this day back then. I tried to eat chicken but couldn’t swallow, so I sipped water and stared out into space.

***

It’s raining today, an ambivalent, half-hearted drizzle. It feels like it wants a downpour to clear the stale air, but it can’t. Waves of cool drops come in then leave, the patio is dark grey and in my peripheral vision the robin nips in, grateful for the earth I’ve turned, hopping amongst the fresh seeds.

At the deli counter the other day I stood staring at the samosas, the premium quality scotch eggs and hunks of meat. How I used to relate to the image of a carcass, in the early months and years, something left over from the creature it used to be, something strung up on a hook with its insides hanging out. I’m more a piece of reformed meat these days, changed and reconstituted, shaped into something different, fit for purpose and as I stood on their sanitised floor by their gleaming glass, I thought of my absent face years ago at the same counter, going through the motions, ordering food. An assistant who I half knew said she hadn’t seen me for some time and had I been away? I remember staring blank at her moving mouth, not really caring what she thought, not being able to form words and I made some attempt at an answer then held it all in and rushed home.

I rushed home the other day too when the foyer of their store was full of a school trip with staff I used to know. An even though I was wrapped in my best hat and scarf, even though I was the best version of myself that I could be. I couldn’t walk up to them and say hello, I couldn’t even hurry past and nod but then I wasn’t having the best of days. Instead I took my reformed shape and hid behind the clothes and bags peeping at them through the 20% Off bright red tags. And when they moved down the shop I took my chance, I chucked the basket back outside and ran for home. My short shopping list could wait. It was a day when I couldn’t handle the old world pushed into my face.

Today it’s quiet, inside and out, it’s grey but my hyacinths are being delivered soon, I look forward to their pungent smell and buds searching out for the sun. My road beyond my windowsill is often full of vans, plumbers and Outreach men, fiddling with wires, landscape gardeners who live nearby and my neighbours’. Their extension is nearing completion, the huge grey wall out the back will he be rendered in a white finish. And although it hems me in, I see such potential. I will hang garden mirrors to reflect the light and I will grow clematis and buddleia for the peacocks. I will sit in the bee-loud glade when summer comes but for now it’s still my winter. All the vans are away today, the building work has stopped and the road is empty, it’s almost as though they know I need some silence, as though the dankness of the day is just for me. Memories come and go like the showers, I top up my earl grey and wait for my flower delivery. The only sound is the whirring of my dishwasher and the chuntering of my head.

At the deli counter I chose roast turkey. It felt appropriate, the finely sliced pieces, carved and weighed, wrapped in thin paper, neat and contained in my basket. But how I empathised with the bird, with the assistant’s hand inside it, and she wrestled and ripped, her hand full of giblets and I winced as she tore and looked away. How I wish I’d asked for a scotch egg instead.

So, it’s lunchtime on the 15th, my mind playing its little games. I drink tea and write as the rain falls, now a chicken goujon in the memory of my carcass. And so it goes.

xxx

hyacith