I don’t want to go out. I force myself to go out. Otherwise I would keep myself sequestered in the (not really) safety of my little house, away from the imagined gaze of other people, the clatter inside my head of their (also imagined) judgement. Since the loss — before the loss, really, but to a lesser extent — I stay indoors, obedient to a paranoia that fastens me; this nonsensical delusion that every element of pain, grief, guilt and confusion that I feel is somehow emblazoned in every movement I make, visible throughout the entire surface of my body, right down to the clothes I’m wearing. But I force myself to go out. In my anonymous dress, sensible shoes, and a crocheted pullover, too heavy for this weather, I tread, one heavy leg after the other, into town.
My destination is the library. In the two years since I moved to this town, I’ve never visited the library. I am not even entirely sure how to get there, but have a vague recollection that it’ s located somewhere near the opera house. I walk up Roches Road, past St Peter’s Square … the air is so thick and hot. My chest feels tight and I cannot determine if it’s the heavy weather or a low-level state of panic at finding myself out of my safety zone. I turn left at St Peter’s Square and notice I’m going in the direction of the High Street — which I want to avoid — people there. Don’t want to see people. Midway, I find a small lane-way on the right. I follow it. There are shops and a small café along the right side of the lane, and a row of narrow Victorian era terrace houses to the left. I’m intrigued by the houses, imagining myself living on this tiny lane in one of those houses, so close to the town centre. I do this often; look at houses on any given street and imagine myself chopping vegetables in the kitchen, my cat lounging on a nearby chair. In these ‘other house’ lives, my world is colourful, cheerful, safe and serene — as if a simple change of venue would annul my hurts, regrets and this struggle to feel safe in the now.
The lane I travel leads through to Mallin Street. I walk past the opera house. At the end of the street stands the library, a large, narrow, glass paneled structure, only recently built. As I walk through the main entrance, my mouth goes dry. My heart thumps wildly in my chest, my hands tingle and I feel my head begin to swim. I am scarcely inside the building when the panic completely overtakes me. I turn around and hastily walk out the door. Panting for breath, I hurry back past the opera house and towards the lane.
Everything appears slanted. The sun seems unbearably bright. As I carry on further, I notice a group of kittens skittering in and out through an iron gate. Curiosity gradually eclipses anxiety and I make my way towards the gate. The kittens, obviously feral, scamper away to the thick undergrowth beyond the gate. I peer inside and find the ruins of a Church surrounded by gravestones, some so worn down they could easily be mistaken for rocks, all partially hidden by tall weeds, brambles and lilacs in full, fragrant bloom. In the catch of the gate, an absurdly shiny padlock hangs seductively open. I lift the padlock off and hang it on the gate’s railing. As I enter, cats and kittens scramble every which way, one hissing her displeasure at my trespassing, as she darts away with the others.
I sit cross-legged among the weeds, taking slow, even breaths as my eyes scan over the church and across the graveyard. Tears begin to roll down my face, but I do not fight them. I simply allow them to fall. The panic subsides, as does the shame that accompanies it. I stay still and continue to slowly breathe. Calm washes over me. It seems so bitterly fitting that I should find solace among the ancient dead and feral cats. Now calmer, I further take in my surroundings. I curse myself for not having my camera. So many wonderful captures to be had here; the shadows of leaning headstones, the play of light through the ruin’s arches. . . I make a silent vow to return early the following morning with my camera and a bit of cat food. I find myself suddenly struck with feelings of gratitude. I feel grateful for the courage that allowed me to venture out today; grateful for the heat of the sun on my skin; and grateful for the panic attack that brought me here to discover this place. As I rise to leave I silently thank the cats, the foliage and the dead below the ground for their hospitality. I return the lock to the gate, pushing it upwards just enough to look secured, but not enough for the lock to catch. Hopefully, it will still be accessible when I return in the morning.