07 February 2022

Something in the way

When Covid cleared the house, I had the sensation that can only be felt after all the limitations of self-isolation come off: when you step out of the house for the first time, legally free. Of course, you might have left during your self-isolation period, to pick up a child in a car because it was too dark for them to walk home, or drive another child to school because they have not had a good morning, but can go now. You don't feel like you were free then, you feel like you are breaking the law. But when Friday came, I could lace up my new Nike Zoom Pegasus 38s which I had bought at a heavy discount only two weeks ago. I felt like everything was possible again, that my body was completely renewed and whatever was coming that day didn't matter. I was out in the world and running again, not fast or slow, not at any pace because it didn't matter did it. I was just running. 

I used to joke that I was looking forward to the day when there would be no crying in the house. This was some time ago when the children were much smaller and there was always some sort of three-to-eight-year-old problem that needed resolving, often by giving or withholding something, or by simply picking them up. You could do that at some point: just pick them up. Three girls, people would say, you'll have your hands full won't you, but I always wondered what ratio of boys to girls would make it easier: surely I'd have my hands full with three boys — would one boy and two girls be okay? At what point would my hands have not been full, theoretically? 

A day did eventually pass, I'm sure, where there was no crying in the house, but I never clocked it. The absence of crying is a hard thing to note, something we don't tend to think about in any given instance: there is no one crying here. As it went though, the crying that's come later, the crying of kids who are past eight is much more unsettling, something that can't be solved simply by giving or withholding or picking up. You could assert your compassion when they were younger, you could smother the tears like a fire with a blanket. You could make any feeling go away. Now, with every year, you have less and less control. You no longer know the right thing to say, or what needs to be done, to make it stop, to make it okay, to make the world make sense. The kids know anyway, they experience it every day: life doesn't always make sense. There isn't an answer sometimes.

When we bought the house on Victoria Road almost five years ago, and did all the work that was needed in one round, the Ikea kitchen we had installed was remarkable. The previous cabinets, the manufactured wood and veneers of late-stage capitalism had moisture inside of them, the way things get moisture in them in the UK. The new ones were clean and dry and durable. Now, four years have passed and I noticed in the last year that they were yellowing and the steam from the kettle had begun to warp the cabinet door above it. The sink is also chipped. The truth is, as I look at it, the kitchen will need to be redone in five years, won't it. It will be manageable for another two or three years and then everything is going to start breaking. Yoko had intimated this at some point, but we were burning through money on white goods, we couldn't afford to double the cost of the kitchen — besides, there is a warranty, I said confidently. Twenty-five years. 

Without knowing it, I myself stopped crying sometime last year. I cried a lot at the start of the pandemic, in a small converted garage, off a fantastically large house near Mary Vale in Bournville. It was unproductive crying, the sort of crying that you do and afterwards feel less settled than when you started: you feel pathetic and pitiful, and I seemed to have subconsciously resolved to not do it anymore, at least not in the presence of anyone who could judge me for it, who might think I was weak because of it. Why cry in front of your wife, what sort of pathetic, adult person does that. That's it, isn't it: we're adults now, even the kids are adults. There is no one to pick us up, to tell us it's okay, to soothe us. To desire that is infantile, isn't it, to want someone to soothe you and reassure you, particularly when you yourself have never been especially supportive. Besides, you're almost forty. 

I haven't been entirely successful, in part because it's not who I am, but also because grief continues to stalk around outside the Pihlajas of Harborne, always it seems on the edge of breaking back in, making itself known in a rush of negative energy. They'll tell you this, of course, when someone dies, that everyone moves on even when you don't. Even yourself, you'll move on without noticing, but she is still gone and it's only been a month. I read The Year of Magical Thinking, and of course, everything that we've experienced is normal. The sense, particularly when you're so far away, that it didn't actually happen. That you'll get an email or some report from her, like you did for fifteen or sixteen years, when you didn't really appreciate it like you should have. Sometimes you'll remember that this won't happen again, you'll be on the stairs, just coming down for a glass of water, and you'll remember.