I am in a state of familiar agitation. It is a place I have visited frequently, I suspect since adolescence. I can hear how Dad used to say to me accusingly and with a sigh: “Hannah, you have got it on you.”
I am not sure what “IT” was for him, but here it is again this evening, and it is on – and all over me.
My daughter gets back from a holiday in France tomorrow. She has been away with her Dad for 8 days and by all accounts has had a lovely time. But we both knew we would miss each other terribly. At the moment, we are both wearing a stone heart around our necks. Before she went, we sat together on the sofa and folded our hands around each other’s necklace and pushed as much love into these hearts as we could – enough to last the wearer 8 days of missing. We talked about how we would hold the hearts to get some “Mummy Love” or “Daughter Love” out of them if we needed a top up.
I know she will be in my arms tomorrow and I am really looking forward to that. It is funny though, whilst I have the strong feeling of homesickness I first knew as a young child, it isn’t an Eleanor missing that I have this evening. First and foremost, I am missing the things I haven’t done this week. I am missing the unspent opportunity to have tried painting again. I am missing the time I could have spent sorting out all Eleanor’s toys. I haven’t touched my wilderness of a garden and I am also feeling bad about the tax return spreadsheet I should have done (but who could actually miss that opportunity?). I am certainly frustrated because I just don’t know if the song I have been working on is finished or not.
Laying all this aside, I know this agitation goes deeper than that. This week was known in advance to be a lengthy stretch on my own. I knew that I could arrange lots of social events to go to: meetings with friends, even perhaps an “on the town” evening in Bristol. I knew my parent’s would have welcomed me at the homestead, my sister in her home 20 minutes away. I could have worked. But I was aware that a gauntlet had been thrown down for me to learn something very important this week. Something I have been afraid of.
I wrote a poem in 2010 that described what it is I am perhaps most afraid of. It was written on a long weekend spent alone in the house, after several weeks following a DIY obsession that had seemed to take hold of me. When something is shifting for me on a deeper psychological level, I seem to move furniture around and need obsessively to make my home more cosy, to display books, oddments and instruments in the most favourable light. I become fixated on bringing these objects into some sort of artistic “relief” to salve this sense in me. For some reason (which even my therapeutic training hasn’t helped me figure out yet) I tend to dream of wounded hedgehogs that get literally under my skin somehow. Perhaps the less interpretation of that I offer, the better! Anyway, this was the poem I wrote that describes this feeling:
I have cleaned all the rooms of my house.
I have painted the grimy sills, moved books,
Moved furniture, planned my House of Belonging.
Each elimination of grime, each bleach-led act of purification
A misguided attempt at rubbing-out insecurity,
A defence against my self-appointed Aloneness.
My mind is trapped in a deep net of future purchases.
Projections of how things will look, how much better I will feel
When the floor is of wood panels, nailed forever, laying side-by-side.
My shrinking self knows the sabotage it is creating. It knows,
Painfully and with a palliative dose of fear,
It is most scared of the lost “US”.
That US the best effective defence against the world.
An US finally shrugged off as unneeded protection. The coat it felt too hot to wear.
I am scared of the space, but defiant in the face of it. Surely I can master this?
Surely I can find my anchor in the garden somewhere? Or in a new fireplace?
But I jump at a thought at the skirting boards, my paintbrush in Hand:
“Hannah THIS IS IT. This is how it will be.”
I could be gagged or tell my stories to a pristine room.
I could grow old alone and not have my “sigh” interpreted as an acceptance of another cup of tea.
I could live in an immaculate, hard-won House of Belonging of one occupant.
She a lost woman, rattling round, duster in hand,
Quoting poetry than no-one will chance to hear.
So...in my pacing agitated state this evening, I re-read the poem to see what might be different in it 2 years on. It was an interesting experience. What I realise at the end of this week’s term of self-appointed aloneness is both hopeful and weighed with grief. I AM still scared in the space, still defiant in it. I still miss the lost “US”, the protection of a full-time and good relationship that has grown over many years: that feeling of being at home with another person, who shares all the parts of your life. I am still deeply worried that I will grow old and not have someone to make tea for, with, or to accept from on a full-time basis.
But I haven’t looked in the garden to find my anchor. I haven’t painted my windowsills or scoured the skirting boards. There have been no bleach led acts of purification (unless you count cleaning the sink, which just needed it for sanitary purposes more than anything). I haven’t moved furniture around. This strikes me as deeply hopeful and a sign of growth.
Instead I have read a few books, watched some films, seen three friends, done a moderate amount of housework, slept in late, written two songs and recorded a bit, written my diary once.. and I have just taken it easy. Blimey. More impressively, I have allowed myself time to sit with my fear and the accumulated grief of the past few years. I have accepted that grief is part of life and even allowed myself to sob a few times. More than ever, I have made better friends with the solicitous “Other Hannah” whose shadow I can sometimes find leaning against the wall, looking at me quizzically when everything else is silent for once. She is the wise one who has walked next to me every day and has never felt abandoned. Core Hannah.
This week, I have practiced finding that rather than “this is it”...”this” might just “be fine for now”...or “this is how it is, and that is ok Hannah, because this is YOURS”. Victory comes in the strangest of forms, but I am proud of myself. Agitated still, but proud. I also know that one day, I will relish every minute of time to myself.
I have still dreamed of hedgehogs and their prickles under my skin though, but you can’t have everything.