Thursday, September 25, 2014

Autumn In The Mirror

Iris was sitting in the garden enjoying the warm autumn day. This was her favourite kind of weather - when the heat was all encompassing and wholesome. The summer heat from the earth was still lingering, and as it rose up and met with the descending day's sunshine it melted beautifully into the bones. Iris thought the heat was kinder in autumn. Autumn heat is not sharp like heat in spring, where the sun is just starting to pierce the remaining chill of winter. In autumn the heat is gentle and relaxed; no need to try too hard. The sun's work for the year is done and now it's just easing itself off in search of new surroundings.

Iris didn't much mind seasons changing... she'd seen enough of them not to become too concerned about the temperature adjusting one way or the other for a few months. Once you reached a certain age you picked a jacket you liked and wore it all year round regardless of weather. It was just easier.

Iris liked to imagine that in winter the sun had another home it went to live in. As she and Colin would have done had they had the money and the fearlessness. She thought the sun probably enjoyed the break from the English gridlock. It was kind enough to leave it's wintry hologram up there to light the days for them, but Iris knew that it wasn't the real sun. Neither was the summer sun real to her; the summer sun was too grandiose, too imposing... too eager to show off to holiday makers and doubters. She felt the summer sun showed off like a teenager whose parents had tolerant friends over - the sort who might coo over a mantle piece performance or two. It was the autumn sun that she liked best; when the campers had trailed back up the M5, the Spanish students had gone home to their Spanish desks, and country life was back to normal. Then the sun seemed genuine... it seemed to relax - content to give it's best few weeks to people at home in their gardens. Late evening BBQs and frantic veg patch preparation could be done with this friendly orange face nearby to say, "Well done, we did it. Another year's busy season done."

As she sat on the green canvas, reclinable chair the thought crossed Iris' mind that sun worship didn't seem so daft when you really thought about it. There was much stronger evidence for a causal link between the sun and prosperity than there was for a God. She'd always thought it lightly amusing that people had once offered gifts up to a ball of gas like the sun, but now, as she sat with only the sun for company, she realised that actually she had a lot to be grateful to it for. She and Colin had always loved the sun... sought it out for holidays, made the most of it in their own gardening, and added a conservatory as soon as they had realised conservatories existed. After Colin died, the sun had been the first solace Irisfound. His death had brought dull panic to a life she quickly discovered had been emotionally privileged to the utmost. She'd felt routinely crushed by the daily bouts of realisation that this new life was permanent and that all the empty spaces opened up by a lack of Colin, were now constant. For the first time in her life Iris had wished for children - begged the heavens to let her wake up having had a child with Colin 40 years ago so that now she'd have another version of his face to miss his old one with her. But every day she'd woken up childless and alone in a house that felt too big for the love she had left for it. Her own attention to it couldn't fill the corners any more and the visitors who shuffled round kept leaving tupperware dishes of good intentions that would sit in her fridge for days while she stared at them. She didn't want to reheat a lasagne portion and eat it in front of the TV, she wanted to chop an onion for a soup while the pips played on the radio and Colin chose that exact moment to wash up and get under her feet.

She'd felt wretched without him. The sort of heartache you thought you'd left behind in your teenage years could still find you despite your wrinkled disguise. Iris hadn't been totally sure if she was allowed to cry and wail and stay in bed, or if people would think that odd. She felt an unspoken assumption that if your partner died in old age, you were supposed to be ready and prepared for it. The fact that you knew it was coming and had already spent a life together, meant you didn't have many hard feelings about him going now. Iris didn't have hard feelings - she'd had wet feelings; mushy and limp feelings. Feelings that made her want to keep her eyes closed because thoughts didn't settle so firmly if you were looking at the colour lights on the black of your eyelids.

She clearly remembered that the sun was the first thing that made her want to bother being Iris without Colin. She'd been hungry, and a panicked loyalty had overwhelmed her brain so that she couldn't bear the thought of eating anything but Colin's tomatoes. She wanted to show him how she still loved him - she wanted to fill herself with something he had put so much time into. She wanted any tiny, miserable way to be with him. She'd slipped out the back door, up the step, along the path and down to the grow bags at the front of the greenhouse. Then she sank to her knees and began piling tomatoes into her mouth... red, round... green and hopelessly unripe... yellowing... she pushed fruit after fruit into her mouth. Not letting a single pip fall from her mouth to be wasted. Then she sat back down onto the grass and just cried. A tear for every second she had loved that man, and an extra one for every long minute she now had to 'get on with it' without him. She cried until she was exhausted and then just lay back on the grass and drifted off to sleep. When she woke, her first thought was how pleasant the burning sun felt on her skin. It was like fingers massaging into her cheek bones. As her drowsy thoughts came awake and she remembered why she was lying in the garden, she realised that for the first time since his death her first waking thought had not been Colin. The sun had given her a few brief moments of respite - the smallest insight into the possibility that one day there would be more thoughts that weren't of a lack of Colin. The sun had given her hope.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

You and your lations.

I went swimming today and, because I can't swim so much as I can deftly lollop through the water like a cramping barrell, I was using the slow lane. The slow lane in my local pool contains three different types of people:

1. Elderly women who are less interested in swimming and more interested in standing in the shallow end having a nice chat. One can only assume it's nice for them to know they are wet for a reason and not just because they can no longer handle the witty repartee without Tena assistance.

2. Hairy yet very attractive men who are pretending not to look at the other hairy attractive men.

3. Uncomfortable people of middling age, middling weight, middling swimming ability who desperately want to be in the medium pace lane but are worried they'll upset someone. These people haven't really swum since the days of school swimming where the one chunky girl in the class inexplicably got a week off every month, and everyone got over excited at the thought of a free play swim time instead of endless lengths.

As I turned around at one end of the pool, someone smiled at me and asked me how I was getting on. I said:

"Oh, it's ok. I hate swimming actually. I just hate swimming slightly less than I hate running so I'm here."

She laughed, which was great and I've subsequently added it to my comedy CV for sending out to presenters. I continued...

"I'm getting married next year and I just wanted to work on my figure a bit before the dress fittings."

Her: "Congratulations."

Me: "Thanks."

She swam off and I continued my lengths with ever decreasing levels of finesse.

Had I had something else to do I would have not thought about the exchange again. But I didn't have anything else to do... all I could do was continue swimming behind this nice lady and wish I could in some way catch up with her and say "By the way, I care intermittently about the health and appearance of my body at other times in the year too - not just when I have a wedding coming up. I'm not that kind of woman."

But maybe I am that kind of woman. I am the kind of woman who grins from ear to ear at the end of the make-me-skinny-pool because someone else has congratulated me on getting married soon. Because, I deserve congratulations, don't I? I've won haven't I? I've got one?

Marriage and weddings still have that hold over us that it's an accomplishment - it's something you've achieved. It's a life goal that you've conquered. I somehow think we view marriage as different to love. Falling in love is easy - marriage, so I'm told, is not.

Is a woman congratulating me on getting married sinister? Is it some hark back to the dark ages if I grin and widely accept the congratulations? Am I revelling in the delight that someone has got me and is going to make my life easier? Or, is the congratulations better than that? Is it "congratulations on deciding your fluttery new love is worth stapling down so that when it inevitably gets difficult, you can look back and know that at some point you felt so seriously about this being forever that you made the biggest noise possible to shout about it so it's much harder to let it slip away quietly"?

I wasn't too worried about my comment on trying to look good for the wedding. The truth is I have a tempestuous relationship with food that's quite hard to casually describe to an unsuspecting woman making small talk at the side of a pool. Much easier to say "I want to be a size 8 bride" than "sometimes I cry because I've only eaten a cube of cheese in 24 hours and my brain's melted because it thought even that was too many calories". I think the poor thing would probably have fled for the medium paced lane and sod the rest of them had I opened that can of worms-lite.*

So there I was swimming up and down the pool under the beady eye of the life guard (who I just knew was judging my stroke and my life choices) suddenly wondering if I should be getting married at all. Because someone had congratulated me. A sort of misguided feminist cold feet I suppose. Cold feet that were kicking up a shit storm behind me in the face of the grey ladies of Kemp Town.

I think I'm getting married for the right reasons... I'm getting married because I love my relationship, have done for a few years, and hope to keep it similar to this for the rest of my life. I could live without getting married, but I also really want to do it. I don't think marriage will change anything immediately and I'm certainly not expecting an expensive party to miraculously fix anything.

I think I know that the people at my wedding, the people I love the most, will be congratulating me for the right reasons. They won't be praising me for slipping off the shelf and into the arms of someone eligible. They'll be congratulating us for having made each other's lives better and having made it really easy to have great dinner parties because we are now a team.

I'm sad that I felt bad about getting married, but I'm grateful to that woman for congratulating me because it made me have quite a long hard think about it all. But I shan't be going swimming again just in case.

*The only reason I mention this element, which is very personal obviously, is because I think the more people talking about horrible, awkward, ridiculous issues like these the better. I do not want any sympathy but if it helps someone else to know they're not alone I say shout about stuff like this from the roof tops when you're feeling strong enough.