I am lost. It’s as if I am a sleepwalker woken up in another room. Even the face of my waker is a stranger to me. Nothing is where I left it; my books closed and unread, abandoned in piles at my bedside. This Autumn, a season of such unexpected warmth and sunshine, has left me in darkness. I am constantly cold. Some days I leave my coat on until my daughter comes home from school. I tear it off and shove it into the closet when I hear her footstep at the front door. I bake and I cook but I don’t eat. While my family swirls in and out of this little house I am left standing at a center that I cannot hold. But, I am trying, so very hard. For the first time I am so separate from my children that sometimes I don’t even say goodnight to my daughter, embarrassed that at 8:30 I can’t keep my head up anymore. She is in her room, chatting, working, singing Christmas carols in a high, sweet soprano, and I am in mine, a single lamp puddling light on a book that won’t be read. I am homesick and I can’t go home.
There is the before, and then there is the after: when I broke up with my high school boyfriend and fell in love with my husband, very nearly 33 years ago, when I had my first child, when my mother died over twenty years ago, when we moved to London, when we moved back. These are all befores and afters that were, each in there own way, a rupture and a re-sealing. And, in the rupture there was a time of fear and unsteadinesss. In the re-sealing a time of gathering in and then reaching out for a new kind of life. There was a loss and then, somehow, a gift: something so entirely new and different that all you could do was open your arms wide and grab at it. Now, my hands are fisted and cold, my arms constantly wrapped around me, my back bowed.
Look, this will pass, too. This will be the space between the before and after. I will figure out how to find my way again. As my friend in London says “no one died.” And she can say that because her before and after frames deaths so wrenching that any after she has is so hard-won as to be positively heroic. For me, no one died. No one is ill. No one is in terrible trouble, not really. But here’s the thing, I cannot help longing for something that I have already had. I’m lucky, you see. I was once safe and whole and lived in a house that rang with laughter. I know what it feels like to be absolutely certain (smug, perhaps) that, barring hell or high water, my life is rounded out by love and care. After all, Cabana Boy was there to make sure we were settled in, safe as houses. Sure, I miss the babies I once had (although my 23-year-old had to be collected in his pyjamas just this week to be taken to the doctor, so consumed with flu and fever I saw a tear stain his cheek), I watch the summers slide by too quickly, I remember the Christmases when Santa left his footprints in the flour scattered under the chimney. These are all markers in a good and full life. No, this time I miss me. It is myself that has, I guess at least for now, moved out. I will find that forwarding address and track myself down. I will convince me that although things will never be as they were, (this is my after, after all), they will be OK, just different.
I have a friend who always tells me “It will all be OK in the end. If it isn’t OK, it’s not the end.” I am waiting for the end.