This week has felt fucking long and rough at times but I’m feeling strangely excited by the new lockdown; a tonic to my chronically overwhelmed and over-wired ADHD brain.
Like you I’m sure, I’m wildly oscillating between heart-pumping gratitude and severe anxiety; the kind where my world is about to start falling apart and my feet are bound together as I fall off a cliff. But as I fall I can see tiny flakes of gold falling and I know it’s going to be OK, somehow.
Ugh, sums up 2020 pretty much doesn’t it? Let’s start with the positives, shall we?
It’s Friday, both kids are at school for the first time in three weeks. I’ve wrapped up work and I’m sitting in a newly-decorated living room with the fire on and food in my fridge and, quite possibly, for the first time all year, nothing urgent and no tradespeople to make tea for.
I’m considering a weekend ahead of making bread-based goods; one of my highlights of lockdown V1.0 was making bread, every bloody day, just because I had the time! Flatbreads, pitta breads, 24 hour pizza dough, focaccia. SO GOOD. I BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF BREAD!
I started the week feeling pretty shit though. Mood on low. Working in various cafes because we had no loo. I wanted to escape the chuntering and muddy footprints and the kitchen worktops that were constantly stained with circles of the endless strong and sugary tea that builders drink. I grab my backpack and head to the out of town shopping place that’s just a few minutes walk away.
Firstly I call at the cafe in John Lewis, figuring it’ll be well-sanitised. Rest assured it is, dear reader. It’s a place filled with people wearing buckled-up quilted jackets, smart shoes and posh handbags and it smells of expensive highlights and perfume. Not really my kind of place I think as I make an absolute show of myself squirting the foot-pedalled sanitiser all over my scruffy high-tops.
Going inside feels a bit like entering a theme park after a solitary week in the woods; display after display of all things Christmas related. This show of conspicuous consumerism feels harsh at a time when many are struggling to feed their families; this thought stabs me right in the heart.
I try M&S Cafe next, searching subconciously for some more homely comfort. It’s nice and light and spacious despite the rain.
An older couple at the next table are wearing deep beige puffas; I can’t work out if they are deliberately #matchymatchy. They pour tea from individual teapots and look out on the rainy car park below, sharing a slice of fruit cake in silence.
I wonder what the stories of their lives are. Are they separated from their families? depressed at the idea of another lockdown? Or have they just run out of things to say? Do they still have sex?
They – excuse me, “they” sounds a bit rude – I’m going to call them Nora and Jim.
Nora and Jim do that sporadic-commentary-on-their-surrounding-environment thing without having an actual conversation, like many couples do when they’ve run out of things to say.
Nora: “We got here at just the right time, eh, look at the car park now.”
Jim nods but doesn’t look out and is looking with one eye closed through his glasses at his phone. After about three minutes he says:
“I bet you’re glad you brought your umbrella after all”
Nora barely nods, and instead picks up the last few crumbs of cake with her stubby but neat fingers and then rubs her hands as if she is sanitising them.
It’s the involuntary movement of 2020 isn’t it, rubbing your hands even when you’re not? A bit like when your kids are not tiny anymore but you still rock and sway in the supermarket as if they are attached to your hip. Anyone else do that?
The grey raindrops blob harder and more frequently against the dimly lit glass.
I want to give Nora and Jim a huge hug and see them lit up again, take them back to their heyday to make them smile together. But, social distancing and my own internal filters stop me, so I get up to leave.
I go down the escalators and spot a soft brown and cream striped polo-neck that my mum would have loved had she been alive. I find myself stroking it, day-dreaming and fantasising about buying it for her – how she would admire it and look in the mirror, turning this way and that, as she gave it her seal of approval.
Fairy pools of dusty sunshine light up her bedroom in a way that’s still so familiar to me all these years since she left. “It’s so soft” she would say, delighted and grateful and she’d choose a favourite pendant necklace to go over it – one of the pretty stones she had – and she’d smooth her hair down and walk down the stars to put the kettle on for us.
Reality strikes and I realise this nostalgia is exactly what the Portuguese call saudade; a deep, emotional state of nostalgia or profound melancholic longing for an absent someone or something. Fucking helll, 2020 is all about this for me!
It’s been a year-long journey to figure out who I am, and this diary is the output of that. A place where the lines between reality and fiction are blurred and I want to explore that further.
There’s a line I love in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of walking the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild, that says: “We spend our lives finding our lives finding our way back to the people we used to be.”
It’s this place where the past matters, I feel more different about my future than ever before, and I need to go inside to keep on working it all out.
I’ve spent hours lost in old family memory boxes. Gently thumbing through old photos without the knowledge of the stories of the people in them. There are faded pictures of smiling sailors, Victorian ladies in grieving dress. People long forgotten because their stories got washed away untold with the generational tide.
I don’t want to end my life without telling my stories.
Sending you huge love, Ruth xx