27 September 2014

The things we carry

Joanna Skelt writes about swifts, birds from Africa, migrated to Birmingham:
like magnets they are pulled
navigating on a memory of stars
to rear their young under the eaves of our houses.
Sometime between Wednesday and Thursday, my two months of getting up every morning to go to the gym paid off, and my weight came back to roughly what it was before all of this started. All of this: the run-up to my viva and the move to Kajang. The first two weeks in that hotel when I was unsettled in a way that I had never been before and ate and ate every breakfast they had set out for us — Malay, Indian, Chinese, Western. All of this: all the times I had stopped, walking home from the bus or station to buy pork pau, the big one that was only RM2.

All the ice cream and beer, the cheap Indian whisky I bought at Cold Storage, or nights at the Commonwealth Club, when I smoked too. The mee goreng, nasi goreng, nasi lemak, tandoori, naan, tosai, curries, nasi ayam. All of this: I had carried it back with me to England, and then kept it coming with the stress here, feeling heavier and heavier eating handfulls of cereal late at night. Something to cover the fear and nervousness: what will fall apart next, when will the whole thing be found out.

When you know how much you weigh, and how much you have weighed in the past, you can't see yourself with other people's eyes: You look fine, seriously, I thought you had gotten fat: you're not fat. It was the principle that bothered me; an unwillingness to give up and accept that I am older, I will weigh more. It is not just fat from getting older: it is fat from insecurity and lack of control. It embodied an inability to cope and followed me around. I would look in the mirror and see it reminding me that I wasn't really okay: you can hide from others, but you can't hide from your own gaze. This morning, though, I stood on the scale with the weight lifted. I looked in the mirror and didn't see my own insecurity built up and hanging on.

This week, I walked across the Newman quad to teach for the first time, my body back underneath me and a sense from the people around me that things were going to get better — empirical evidence, a pay scale progression sheet, a pension number. I rode my bike into the city centre to Joanna's poetry reading full of hope and happiness: somehow I had managed to make it back to a home that becomes more home every day. A swift from the poem, a foreign bird making my own home on Victoria Rd. The flooring men came and pulled up the mouldy linoleum and gave us a new kitchen. I rode a bike through Hyde Park, and kept waking up at 4:30 wanting the day to start.

We've seen the high water mark. The water is receding. Pull on my shoes, head out into the dark, the University of Birmingham clock tower watching over me. Every step of every run is a step back and forward, to erasing the past and building on it. The kids wake up. Yoko does their hair. The leaves change colour and we walk to school. Every day is a new day.