Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Looking for the Obvious

My friend is writing this in the third person because my friend does not want to cry in public and she is sitting in a woodland cafe.. Though, you’d think she’d be used to it by now. Tears are always burrowing up and under and out before making their way down her face at a march, at a plod, at a sprint. Some cross the finish-line in ones or twos whilst others get caught up in a bottleneck then are all spewed out together. Sometimes she shakes at their escape, sometimes she wants to vomit with the strength of them but often she doesn’t even notice them until she licks one off her lips. She doesn’t mind the crying per se.  It usually heralds a revelation, some greater understanding of herself, a hitting of the nail on the head;  an end to pain. It dissolves the dull, aching of her head which has obscured work and thought and sleep.It allows the solution to flow through the bars of the keep and make its way out of nose, eyes and ears, leaving nothing behind but blessed emptiness, exhaustion,and hunger.
There is a key to the headaches, to the inability to motivate herself, to this unending cycle of weeping and pain, release and fatigue, but she can never remember where she put it. The motto on its fob says “If it’s nothing else, then it must be the obvious’, With a small adaptation, this also works for things you’ve lost
“If it’s nowhere else, it must be in the obvious place’, never fails. It allows you to return to where you know the item should be several times before discovering it was there all along. Let me demonstrate: If you have lost your favourite mug and it isn’t beside your bed where you drank your last fennel tea of the day, and it isn’t in the bathroom, where you put it down to brush your teeth, and it isn’t in the dishwasher, then it’s in the mug cupboard without a shadow of a doubt.. No matter that you’ve looked in there six times before, no matter that you only just had it in your hand. Move something aside, squint from a new angle to the dark bit in the corner –the mug’ll be there…I guarantee it.Or rather,my friend will guarantee it. It’s the same with her headaches. The remedy for the headaches is not a migraine tablet, nor a hot water bottle, not even (as her osteopath had assured her)  Cold! Cold! Hot! - a cold flannel on the forehead, a cold flannel on the neck and a hot water bottle on the tummy, all directing blood flow away from the head. It wasn’t avoiding chocolate, embracing a hot bath or indulging in meditation. No, it was hitting the nail on the head and having a bloody good cry.

So, she searched her head while The Obvious played a game of Hide-and-Seek.. It obscured itself behind petty squabbles, faint niggles and Big Questions She examined the events of the past few days and weeks, which put her poor, aching head under more strain. Sometimes, she thought she was getting warmer, when in fact she was very cold indeed.  The absence of tears was telling her she'd been looking in the wrong place.
Let’s go back a few days to when my friend stood in a perishing autumn field, watching her son play football for the first time in 2 years. Why she doesn’t do that more often is for another day. Now, it is enough to know that on Sunday, she was a football Mom. She was cold, but she was proud. She watched his long legs looking goose-bumped and wiry and noticed that the new boots he’d bought with the £40 she’d given him were exactly the same £20 boots that he said he wouldn’t be seen dead in when she’d described them over the phone from TK Maxx. Her boy; her lovely, handsome, blond, clever, mother-loving, grumpy, slightly whiffy in a (nearly) 17 year-old sort of a way, son.  !7! Sheesh!
She realised that she very rarely got to participate in his life and the things that meant something to him. She was having  a rare and privileged glimpse into his world and she realised as she clapped gloved hands together on that patch of green, that once another two years had passed, she’d have lost him to university. Everything would be irrevocably changed. She shed a tear. No mystery there. A mother grieving for a son not yet lost. She had already grieved  the loss of her first born baby; a daughter who had turned 18 a few months beforehand.
On the Monday after the Sunday, my friend fulfilled her role as a child. She is a Youth Advocate. She harnesses the wishes and feelings of children and then attends meetings that last all day with the child’s family. She stands in for the child, ensuring always that its voice is heard. Usually that family is at war. It’s a fraught job and an emotive one but ultimately satisfying. Often, she notices a headache on the day she is to attend a meeting, or the day afterwards. She knows she gets over involved; over identifies. Sometimes, such as this time, it leads her to be thoughtless towards adults, so anxious is she to make them hear the child for the first time. She knows that’s the child in her, asking to be recognised. Afterwards, she feels the need to be punished for insulting her elders. She calls herself stupid. She feels the familiar sway of vertigo; an ungrounding, an anxiety…an obscuring of her vision in the middle of her right eye; a misshapen fly in the ointment.
Luckily, a GCSE presentation that same evening, kept her occupied. Afterwards, she thought about the family-at war and the children with the long eye-lashes and the wicked stepmother. She didn’t want to see them in her sleep and so stayed up too late watching TV. No surprise then, that the migraine was between stations when she woke up. Regardless, she managed to speak to several children in crisis and  tried to look after herself. She bought herself a pure new wool-and-cashmere coat in a second-hand shop between visits. She ate Paracetamol and Ibuprofen as though they were Smarties.  She drank coffee because it was worth a try.
That evening, she tried to explain the headache into dissolution by chatting to a friend. This almost always works –giving the headache a voice of its own. But still, the pain lingered as they chatted on about work, damp proof paint, gigs and football matches. By this morning things were much worse because they were stuck. Sinuses were blocked, her head was filled with barbed cotton wool and she was dragging her body around the house as though every limb were filled with coal. Her bones ached. She reluctantly cancelled work for the day to give herself time to sift through the obvious places of her mind. She was in crisis.

The woods have always been like a warm bath to my friend. They release her mental blocks she tells me, and provide her with clean air and support. Once, she said, she held onto a leaf that sprung from a hazel, as though she were a child holding its mother’s hand, and cried until there was nothing left for pain to stuff itself with. Today, she was relieved to be among her woody friends. She walked in silence and breathed deeply… still nothing; not guilt, not the anxious children of her working day. She wondered if she could afford to give up this type of work. She couldn’t go on with migraines, no-one would expect it of her. As it was,my friend wondered how she was going to pay the bills when her maintenance dropped and tax credits halved? Would her three babies have their childhood home to come home to?  Her nose tingled and she felt the wax melt in her ears. The sinuses gave up their grip on her breath and now she knew she’d been looking in the wrong place. She thought of her son leaving home and the tears tunnelled furiously upwards through blocked canals. She thought of losing the home her children grew up in and the tears exploded like a geyser; cheeks and gloves  covered in snot and despair. She thought of how change had come for her children and their mother. She waded through mud, sobbing. She clung to her life yet grieved for its loss.

 She hadn’t let herself notice that the first year without her daughter would be the last year with her son. A journey filled with loss was about to begin and she didn't want to go. She knew not how to save her house which was fed on alimony. She didn’t think she could earn enough. To lose her home and her children would be unbearable.  She couldn't navigate this new world all by herself. She had been looking in the wrong place.

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