To the Library

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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.

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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.

stones

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The Silent Months

leslie and heidi I have been reading (re-reading), Latifa al Zayyat’s The Search: Personal Papers; a fragmented autobiography spanning decades of her life.  The book comprises a series of false starts; sections that are left unfinished and unresolved, up until the last (completed) chapter that recounts her imprisonment under Sadat in the early 1970’s.  Her unfinished sections mark moments in her life unsettled and silenced by trauma; bereavement, her first imprisonment, marriage and divorce, Each of these silences are then picked up as the loose threads of her story that are finally incorporated in the prison narrative of her final chapter.

I revisited The Search because recently I’ve been trying to come to terms with and break a silence I have kept for the past five months since Leslie died. For five months I have scarcely left my home, except to walk the dogs or buy groceries.  I have scarcely spoken to another human being, but especially have not spoken to my family or my friends who knew me before Leslie died.  And the longer it continues, the harder it gets to make that first gesture of contact.  I do not talk. I do not write.  I just drift in silence from one day to the next.  I feel like three-quarters of who I am has been gouged out of me, and what is left is this muted shrieking that I dare not let out for fear it will swallow me completely.

I miss Leslie so much and I want to talk about her, because it’s Leslie that sticks in my throat; along with my grief.  My grief is not so hard to explain, really. My sister suddenly fell sick and died.  I am angry, shocked, sad, confused, guilty, in denial and I want her back.  That is grief in a nutshell.  I want to talk about Leslie, but I do not know to whom, and it does not help that I’ve erected this imaginary wall between myself and my family.  I think I have it in my head that they (particularly my mother, step mother and Leslie’s husband) have their own grief to contend with and for me to talk about mine feels somewhat self-indulgent.  Then, there’s the guilt I feel over my months of silence….

Today I Skyped with my son, Ian, for the first time in months.  I was nervous about it, but it was alright.  I think (I’m pretty sure) he understood how losing her has affected me.  I promised him I’d call his brothers, and I will.  Still, I struggle with reaching out, but I’ll try to push that anxiety aside and get on with it.  I think the time has come to bring down my wall and reconnect with my tribe.  This silence does me no favours.

On a more positive note, I am taking steps to care better for myself.  I’ve sworn off sugar, caffeine, cigarettes and various other evils — all of which I’ve done to ridiculous excess since Leslie died.  It dawned on me that destroying my body won’t bring her back to me, though it might hasten my joining her.  Instead I think it better to try to get stronger despite the grief, think of her, remember her and of course, talk about her.  I’ll probably be doing a lot of that.