Nothing teaches you about fear like becoming a parent. Nothing.
I recall the first night we brought our baby home. We took it in turns to stay awake through the night as she slept. Just in case.
And I recall that same night, around three am, when she wouldn’t sleep unless snuggled next to me as I fought to keep my eyes open and then, little by little, failed to do so. I remember how I berated myself for taking such a risk! I admit, I had an awful lot to learn.
Today, she has a rash. Red patches that can settle on neither spots nor splodges and leave me dashing to google for a diagnosis. She is fine.
Ultimately, I am terrified of losing her and it takes almost more than I have to keep that in check every day as we deal with all the big bad world dares to offer.
But the fear I have found is so much more than this. It is a fear of myself and all the damage I will undoubtedly do. I dread the thought of breaking her.
And the only thing that scares me more is that thought that I might not be around to see just how misplaced all my fears might be.
Sat across from you I desperately began my search. I was longing for a different life and you felt like my last chance. But I was still unsure.
I tried to trust you, to trust myself. Inevitably, it felt impossible.
Week by week we waded through my thoughts; thick, tangled, twisted. Alongside you I allowed myself to face the darkness. My darkness.
For so long I had feared what I might find. Was it the truth? I am still unsure.
Fragments of feelings flashed burning and bright rather than the dim and distant memories I dreamed I might discover. They hurt. They still do.
And what am I left with? What might I make of these broken parts? How will I fix them together to form my future?
“Just relax, breathe, and focus on the next five minutes. You can get through the next five minutes, right?”
He was right. Of course he was. I could lay there, safe and warm and still next to him for a few of those said minutes then get up, walk the short distance from the bedroom to the bathroom, turn on the shower and, by the time I got out, that would be it; my five minutes would be up. But what about the next five? Or the five after that?
Five minutes can be a long time.
Long enough to watch the drama unfold; the headlines, the breaking news. Enough time to win the game. Or to lose. To make it just in time or all too narrowly miss it. Disappointment. Relief. It’s long enough to meet someone new. To find yourself face to face with a stranger and wonder who you have to be. Or how you might even begin to be them. A new friend. A lover. Your own child. It is enough time to say goodbye. To speak those simple words without ever realising that it is the end, the last chance. Long enough to get it wrong. To say something or do something that ruins it all. Or get it right and realise you might not be ready as you start to doubt whether you ever will be. Whether another five more minutes will ever be enough. Long enough to see the truth. To watch it spill from someone’s lips and realise that you might just drown in it. Or to spill it yourself. Long enough to be forced to face to consequences.
Life has taught me that five minutes is all it takes. All it takes to change things forever.
And I not sure I can get through that.
An army of brand name buggies encircle the tables located in the prime position; equidistant from the parent and child toilet and the mini microwave next to the till. Each is accompanied by a high chair that was, upon entry, acquired by a blonde girl under orders from the tall woman in her late twenties who now waits third from the front of the queue. From this position she employs her best signing skills (picked up and practised to ensure her first born could communicate long before that much anticipated first word) to clarify whether the women want cappuccinos or lattes, skimmed milk or soy.
Sat around the table the other women are already chattering. They pull plastic pots from padded bags and test the temperature of pre prepared bottles as they reply to emails on their iPhones. But the talk never stops. Some share self soothing success stories whilst others offer top teething tips. One dares to enter the debate on controlled crying by detailing her own dilemma. The others avert their eyes. They talk in fragments. All fail to finish sentences as, instead, they are torn away to distribute organic carrot sticks or spoon pouches of purée into gummy mouths. There is a flow of faces as they take it in turns to lift their little ones and traipse to the toilets. On the table a mountain of torn wrappers and used wipes has grown long before the order even arrives.
Looking on are two retired women, weighed down by bags, whose eyes scan the room in search of a seat. A man dressed in a cheap suit stands in the queue and clutches his panini and packet of crisps. It is clear his aim is to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. Couples huddle along the side of the room and sip their too hot tea as they plan weekends away. Sometimes the women’s eyes can’t help but wander.
And, in the door way, struggles another mother, torn between her desire to pass half an hour in peace and her ever growing desperation to have another adult hear her voice.
I had carried it with me for longer than I could remember. I clung to it before I was even aware of what it was. Or what it might become. I was unaware of the potential danger. I guess, I needed it more than I knew.
For a long time I hid it away. I didn’t want the world to see. What might they think? But, it was always there. It was once all I had. So, somehow I befriended it. To whisper words of comfort late at night and feed it all it needed to grow. But protecting it was too much for me to bear alone. It almost killed me. It had become more than a metaphorical part of me, it now defined every decision I made and all I did.
So I showed you. I revealed it slowly, piece by piece. You listened and, little by little, learned of my secret too. And then you told me what to do. Gave me the answer I claimed I so desperately needed.
Let it go.
But there was something in this that felt like a betrayal. As much as I wanted to believe it might be better, to trust and find faith in your words, I was afraid. Of course I was.
How could I simply lose something that had meant so much for so long?
I have been a lover of lyrics for as long as I can remember. One of those girls who took the words of a song and went with them; no matter how vacuous, I would make meaning and live by their message. Or try, at least.
At school, my contact book was covered in songs scribbled alongside the names of boys who were breaking my heart that week. As if the words would provide an answer to the problems my life was starting to pose.
I was a fan of the music – the beat, the base, the melody – but that’s not what held my heart.
You see, words are what it’s all about for me. Whilst the opening bars of a song can conjure up a memory to make you smile, well written words play out like poetry. Like a mirror, they help you see. Parts of yourself that are raw, desperately needing nurturing or even waiting patiently to be exposed are presented in the words of another and and you realise that you are no longer alone.
I twitch and I am awake.
There is no blinking back to come around from a dream before rooting myself in reality because I know exactly where I am.
Flickering light half illuminates the room as a long forgotten film plays, almost silently, from the bookshelf opposite the bed.
It’s gone four am and I shouldn’t be here.
Your warmth radiates through the duvet and pulls me back, closer still. You are also awake but you don’t say a word. We both know what you should say. We both know I wouldn’t listen if you did. So, instead, I stay.
You smile. You sit up and turn on the bedside lamp before rearranging the cover to accommodate your new position. I shift my stance and sit up too. The bedside clock tells me that time is ticking by but still, not a word. We won’t be rushed. I take a sip of last night’s wine.
An eclectic selection of books are scattered on the floor amongst day old t-shirts and half drunk cups of sugary tea. Words read together that seemed to seal our fate. Shoes wait alongside an empty wine bottle, watched over by the shut door. The air is stale; stuffy and still, the stench of cigarettes and too much time hiding away.
You kiss me and I know this means I will have to go. You are right. You often were.
I close my sleepy eyes once more in a desperate attempt to cling to the night. A time when the world would stand still and all there would be, all that would matter, is you and I.
There is something strange, yet magical about the world when you awake in the middle of the night.
Far from silent, the sounds seem amplified and enormous in the otherwise still space. Cars pass headed to who knows where. A train rumbles by. The house softly groans. I feel the same way. My rested brain is more intent on interacting and yet the rest of the world is rightly reluctant. My mind drifts to dream of all of the people in all of the places with something to do other than to simply lie here. Still. The world seems to want to keep the action far away and out of reach and yet remind me that it is always there.
Minutes feel like a lifetime as you are left alone with nothing but your thoughts. Time to think is always a killer. The clock becomes an enemy and even an off hand glance in its direction is too much to bear. So I lie perfectly still and straight and hope that my mind might find it fitting just to fall…
The sound of others sleeping is a funny sort of comfort. A reminder that rest does exist. Frustration and reassurance come with each steady breath. And yet, I have come to almost enjoy this space.
I am free from obligation. I can breathe. I can exist and simply be.
Imagine how, if you had lived in darkness for as long as you could remember, any light, no matter how dim, would come as a welcome relief.
Like the dull, reassuring green glow of the numbers on an alarm clock when you awake from a nightmare long before dawn.
You would stumble around for a bit. Find your way. Step by step. And, eventually, you would learn to see. It may even begin to feel ok. Normal, if you will.
But, after a while (who knows how long?), you would crave something more. Something greater. You would long to see sunrise; natural, beautiful, true.
And, with that, you would become aware of the darkness once again. A black sky suspended in time. Something all encompassing that seemed never ending and impossible to break.
And you would try with all your might to believe that dawn would come once again.