Sunday, 22 November 2015

I was just getting used to living life without you around

It's been a while.

I'm still loving my small space. Although I was told by the agent when I looked around that I couldn't keep a dog here, there's nothing in the tenancy agreement that says that, and I have my small Jack Russell to stay as often as I can, which means whenever I'm going to be around enough to ensure he's not left alone for any length of time. It works fine. He is barely cat sized, and when it is just the two of us, or us and Goldie, he is calm and restful company. I love having him asleep on the sofa, and at night he curls into the back of my knees or puts his head on my shoulder. I walk him frequently, since there is no space I can let him out into independently, and when I wake in the night we go out together to look at the stars. Even though we're closer to town here, the street lights go off at midnight, and a side benefit of that austerity measure is a clear view of the night sky.

It's just got cold here. Me and the dog walked over to Ms K's last night in a snow shower. We sat by their fire and ate a roast meal. It used to be me that provided the roasts - frequently on a Sunday I would cook a big meal and invite whoever might want to come along. But I haven't done that here, and haven't eaten a meal like that since I moved. Going to their house means good food and lots of chocolate and intense conversation with their beautiful girl. She is nearly 16 and bright as bright can be, brimming over with ability but struggling to believe  and  navigate the choices she has.

Divorce is hard. I thought that we could do it well, somehow, be good within the wheels of it. But we seem to have got caught up in the spokes, and we're being bruised and stretched and battered by it, as I should have foreseen. But I can't see another way. The divorce itself feels meaningless to me, but I can't go back into that relationship, and that fact, the need to live outside that marriage which has felt like an imperative for me for months, is more real every day. There is no going back. But forward is fairly treacherous too.

There are things to cling to. Yesterday I stayed in bed until at least 8, then went to pick up Goldie and bring him back here. Football was cancelled - a rare and precious treat, so I walked into the market to get some supplies, then we holed  up together under blankets and caught up on the sort of television he feels I should watch. In the afternoon, he went to Mr M's to watch the Liverpool match (they won 4 -1 against Man City! Lots of happy emojis) and I lay down and slept. Those weekend afternoon sleeps feel deeply restorative when there is space for them to happen, but coming back to life can be hard on a dark afternoon. But just as I was waking, there was a flurry of texts - 3 different friends and my gorgeous girl, and an increasingly happy Goldie, all sending thoughts and invitations and ideas and just catching up. I am connected, and I am loved and I am lucky.  

The National Pink Rabbits

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Racing like a pro

For a while, maybe quite a long while, work has felt just a tiny bit too easy, and in the job I do, that's not right. The work is all about people in trouble and need, people with the most complex histories and in the most difficult situations. So I concluded a while ago that it's not the job that's changed, it's me that's disengaged, just a bit.

Luckily, I've been doing the work for a long long time, and there is an inbuilt professionalism, a deeply rooted understanding of the broad issues, which, along with an extraordinary (committed, knowledgeable, self aware) team, has kept things going. And my own awareness of a slight distance has made me extra vigilant, has made me compensate for an emotional disjoint with an increased level of analysis.

This week though, I've been back in there. Managing crisis, changing schedules, getting involved and upset and honing in on what we need to do to make change happen. Talking through a life crisis with a distraught team member while also arranging an emergency mental health admission; feeling that clear, almost ruthless problem solving focus that's sometimes needed when one of the most vulnerable people in the world is put at an increased risk because they are just too easy to ignore.

And I've started thinking about studying again. I didn't really talk to anybody about getting my MA - it was a bit too close to other major life changes - but word's got out, and a few people connected to research have been asking me what I'm going to do next. I don't have to do anything. But I work with a whole bunch of clinicians who are linked to one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and if they think that I can do, who was thrown out of school at 16 with not enough qualification to take me anywhere... It's so tempting to lean in to that recognition, to grab it and commit to another few years defined by looming deadlines and the intense motivation of a fear of failure, of letting people down.

Racing Like a Pro - The National

Saturday, 7 November 2015

marriage is a promise that you don't know that you can keep

Once you're through the Brownies and Girl Guides, and the intensity of school friendships, and if you don't attend a church, then there aren't that many promises in adult life, are there? There are contracts for work and finance, and there's always the possibility that you will be asked to stand up in court with a holy book of some description, but marriage is the only example I can think of where I've publicly promised to do certain things. Till death do us part, I said, and I only made it to middle age.

My previous posts about how we're doing this with laughter and friendship read like hubris to me now. Following a pre 21st birthday visit to the girl, Snake said that he could no longer see me, it was too painful and felt like a pretence. All along in this process I've been aware that I was the one who planted and detonated the landmine whose explosion we're recovering from, and I am going with what Snake chooses in terms of how we get through this. So for a while we haven't seen each other. But last night we met for a drink, in an attempt to work our way back to a situation where we can spend time as the family we still are.

We talked a bit about how that trip to see the girl had felt for him, how it had been horrific for him to feel that the four of us together was no longer real. And I was able to tell him that I recognised that from the week we spent in Lisbon in a small apartment. That feeling that something that should be the easiest thing in the world, spending time with those you love most, is an almost superhuman effort of constraint. I felt I was relying on memory to tell me how to act, because the feelings that used to direct me were gone.

And we can talk about things and sort of accept each others point of view, and I am grateful for that. But it's not easy, this uncoupling thing, however Chris and Gwyneth make it look.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

It goes on and on and on and on

My beautiful girl is 21. I remember her being born, and I remember us watching each other. She was bright and complete and aware and a part of me and a complete mystery to me. I was in awe of her. I still am.


I was invited to a meal with friends who we used to spend part of every weekend with, who we had holidays with in their endless renovation in the south of France. Over the last few years we've drifted apart, and it was wonderful to be absorbed back into their warm bright home. Their youngest girl was born just as I was coming to terms with never having a third child and I used to hold her, distract her, make her laugh. I used to feel the small weight of her relaxing into sleep in my arms. Their oldest girl is a contemporary of Goldie's. When very young they had a propensity for getting naked together at every opportunity. Slightly older, this was adapted into them dressing up and re-enacting scenes from Horrible Histories. One summer, the two of them spent hours sitting on a hay bale in the field behind the French house, talking, talking. It looked idyllic, 2 blonde children in a meadow, with an endless blue sky behind them. The middle girl went down to find out what they were doing, and came back despondent at not being allowed to join in. "What are they doing Flo?" "Talking about farts".  That was the year the children repeatedly put Don't Stop Believing on the very old record player and created an elaborate dance routine. Last night, Flo showed me how she can play the guitar, while my lovely baby Syb, now 6 years old, sang me the song she'd written, called Tokyo Mister. 


Very early this morning I had my first niggle of doubt about living alone. So far, I've coped with boilers breaking down, assembling furniture, losing keys, working out bills. All things I probably would have backed away from and allowed Snake to deal with when we shared a home. But there is one situation I hadn't predicted. I couldn't find my glasses. I am extremely short sighted - each of my eyes working at about - 10, and without my glasses, I have little chance of finding my glasses. Luckily, they are rarely lost, because while I am awake they are on my face, so I can see. But last night they had fallen down beside the bed and it took a while of peering, squinting, feeling, shaking the bed out and listening for something to fall, before I found them. 


It was an absolutely beautiful autumnal day yesterday. I didn't spend enough of it outside. Today I am meeting Ms M for a walk and to catch up on where we are, how we're doing. Our plans for making it through the next week, and the next. 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Currently, sort of

I miss the currently link up. It was useful for a gathering of thoughts, and for guiding introspection (rather than it being a aimless slow sinking into my own head).

So, inspired by that, the first 5 currently words that come into my head are dreaming, planning, reading, watching, wearing.

Last night I dreamt about a destructive, very vocal , much loved pet giraffe. She communicated a sort of adolescent distress about her situation, which was not surprising given that she was living in a small house on a large housing estate. She kept going into art galleries and breaking the ceramics.
It is laughably easy for me to interpret this. But maybe I was just imagining having a pet giraffe.

I was up late planning a lesson plan I've been asked to deliver to social workers at a university this afternoon. It's not something I would have considered accepting the offer to do even a few months ago, and if I had I would have been experiencing a sort of generalised anxiety for days. But something has shifted. I'm looking forward to it.

Devices have stolen my voracious appetite for reading. I still read, but I don't eat my way through books in the way I used to. At the moment, I am slowly reading All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It's good and engaging, but still, I seem to be reading it very slowly, in snatched moments. I miss having books I can disappear into.

On Monday evening I was watching Ms K's daughter in a Shakespeare's school festival performance of The Taming of the Shrew. It was an impressive event - 4 middle and upper schools putting on abridged versions of 4 plays. Anthony and Cleopatra was excellent, I thought, and so was the aforementioned Shrew play. Twelth night and King Lear in the second half also seemed to be extremely high quality, but unfortunately I slept through a large part of them. I am sleeping in short stretches at the moment, and any dark, seated space is a prompt for my head and body to try and catch up. Luckily we were tucked away in a box, in our lovely Georgian dolls house of a local theatre.

I am wearing leggings and tights and long tops and dresses. The day before my marriage ended I was in London with the girl, and spontaneously bought a pair of heeled boots. Not massively glamorous - they are good, chunky DM's. Still, this was out of character in many ways, and in retrospect symptomatic of inner turmoil - I don't like shoes or boots particularly, I don't buy spontaneously, I am 6ft tall and don't wear heels. I don't spend that amount of money on anything for myself.  But I love them. I love being even taller. I love the solidity and painless of them. They are very good boots. However, they aren't great for moving fast and are only worn on days when I don't have to cover long distances.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

All alone, all together

Today was my mother's 80th birthday. Celebrating both that and the end of months of 3 times a week chemotherapy for my father, they are spending the weekend at Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk coast.

(I was about to say it's my favourite place on the Suffolk coast, but in fact I love that whole stretch for its variety. Southwold is the place to go for a proper 50's day out - sand castles and ice creams, beach huts and games on the pier. Dunwich is the mystery of a lost city and for collecting mysterious stones that are said to hold the stories of the drowned. Walberswick is for literary reference and sophistication mixed with marsh mud and crabbing buckets. Aldeburgh is public art and a musical history and paper bags of the best fish and chips in the world)

We joined them for lunch and celebrations. Snake came, and Goldie. About half way through the day, I realised that, given the circumstances, it was actually quite weird that Snake was with us. A little while later I realised that part of the reason he was there was that for many years he has acted as a layer of protection between my parents and me, and that the reason that it felt weird was because I don't need that protection any more. And the reason I don't need that protection is because as a result of our marriage ending I have been forced into vulnerability with my parents for the first time in 30 years.

My parents are the result of war time and post war parenting. They were brought up by people who were brought up by Victorians. I know that my childhood was easier than my parents childhood, and that theirs was easier than their parents. Still, I grew up less protected, less understood, less listened to than was really necessary to keep me safe. I left home young in a ragged, slow to heal way that we sort of recovered from, but not fully. When I resumed contact it was with various unspoken understandings and conditions. I wanted to be recognised as an adult. We wouldn't touch. We would be friendly, but polite.

That hasn't always worked out. There have certainly been times when I have been plunged back into early childhood or adolescence, but on the whole that has been the established pattern - respect, affection, but also distance and reserve.

With my father's cancer diagnosis and treatment, I've been thinking of how I need to re-establish physical contact, thinking how I'd regret missed hugs, missed chances to show I care, if there came a time when it was too late. But those circumstances somehow didn't allow for that leap. My role in his cancer journey was as a practical support - a provider of lifts, a hospital visitor when it was too much for my mum, a calm and cheerful and adult presence.

It is this separation, this fuck up, this (in their married-for-50-years eyes) huge disappointment that has finally allowed those 30 years to melt away and allowed me to lower my guard and show a need for affection. It's an admission that I'm not so clever and I don't know it all, after all. Finally, I can reach out and hug them on a murky seafront, just in time to show my mother that she is loved and valued on her 80th birthday; just in time to show my father how delighted I am that he has a reprieve from the all consuming illness of the last 8 months.

I don't need Snake to stand between us any more, and in fact, in him not being in the role he's been in, there is space and incentive for me to reach out over, what is, when it comes down to it, only an arms length of distance.

Ada - The National 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Touch gloves, it will be alright.

We seem to be doing things differently, Snake and I. We're through the initial explosion that occurred when we stepped on the land mine I'd planted. We're talking daily, sharing thoughts and ideas and hopes. We're being friends and parents and a new type of family.

Within this, I am happy to be living alone, to the extent that I sometimes forget that living alone isn't everyone's ideal. I have plenty of friends who, however happy they may be or however necessary it was for them to leave a specific relationship, clearly see their future as being with someone else. And maybe in a few months, a few years, I will too. But for now living alone, with frequent overnight visits from Goldie, feels absolutely right. I think that's hard for some people to believe. It seems like it's one of the things that I am doing differently.

We can't be unique in talking and laughing together through a divorce, but again, some of the reaction we have suggests that there is something not quite right about how we are together. Neither of us have doubts about the divorce any more. Snake is an artist who works with symbols and the widest range of materials imaginable. Somehow the fact - the action - of divorce is meaningful to him, and in understanding that I've come to see that it's necessary and potentially beneficial to us both. 

And I'm refusing to see my marriage as a failure. And that seems to be somehow a controversial or defiant statement. But we were together and happy for 25 years, and we provided an environment and the relationships to grow and nurture two amazing young people. I feel strongly that in this complex, long lived (if we're lucky), questioning and changing society, there should be another definition of a successful marriage beyond it being one in which you are still together when one of you dies. 

My television habits are guided by my girl, and for the last few series I've been an avid watcher of Gogglebox. Last night Snake and Goldie came for a meal and we caught up on the latest episode. There was an element of sadness from Snake that I could feel, in that maybe we will never be Leon and June with their quiet, bickering affection that has lasted through 60 years of marriage. But you know, most of those people sitting together, laughing, sharing views, they aren't conventional couples either, Most of them are friends. And I can see that in our future.