August 19, 2018
I have forgotten how to sleep. I can’t take naps, I can’t sleep in and once I’m awake, whether it’s six a.m. or nine a.m., I can’t get back to sleep.
It is early, it is bright and it is noisy. I don’t believe in closing my blinds, so I can see the sky at both ends of my sleep. I think there is a wedding taking place at the church because I can hear laughter but it doesn’t feel like regular Sunday-morning laughter, it feels unencumbered by routine. I listen to it for a while before I get up to observe and by that time the crowds have dispersed and the guests scattered. There is an older woman clearing up a table that contained food and a small child buzzing around her on a scooter.
It feels novel to wake up alone, without my nephew testing the limits of his leg span against me or the sound of breakfast rounds taking place below me, so I return to my bed and stretch out. Yesterday I could feel the beginnings of pain and today I am anticipating the rest of it unfurling inside me. I find YouTube to watch videos of women applying makeup in the hope of falling back to sleep.The rhythm of these videos is familiar to me now—the before, the application and the after. The gentle chatter and the delicate artistry. I am amazed by what people create out of themselves and in this pleasing state, I drift off into a morning dream.
I am pushed out of bed by the onset of pain. I don’t enjoy feeling like this but there remains a perverse attachment to the predictability. Knowing pain won’t break me does not necessarily build resilience to it, just complacency. This ache is how I am reminded that my body can be learnt even if it can’t be fixed. My flatmate is a pharmacist and she has suggested I try codeine this month but I decide to let the pain settle for a few hours before I do.
I make a breakfast of wheat biscuits, granola, honey and fruit while my flatmate makes us both coffees. I am an extremely new coffee drinker and the novelty has not worn off. I love being able to casually include references to it as though it is a flavour I know something about and not just something I like to have with a lot of milk and a lot of ice. The next few hours pass in a blur. I wander around in pain in my pyjamas until I realise it is past lunchtime and I had made some plans to visit the River Lea with a friend who is in town.
Although the heatwave has officially passed, the half-life of almost nine weeks of intense summer lingers on my body. The slightest hint of sunshine or heavy air and I become encased in a thin layer of sweat. It isn’t uncomfortable nor does it feel unclean. I find some jeans and as a way of honouring what I know will soon be a diminishing feeling, I find an orange top that I have not yet worn. I tear the label with my teeth and I am dressed. I skip down the four flights of stairs so by the time the sun hits me, I am already flushed. In the four short minutes it takes me to get to the Overground station, I am cat-called three times. Instinctively I feel self-conscious, as though wearing colour was the mistake instead of just being a woman. When I was younger and to some, more reckless, I would often respond with obscenities or the finger in an attempt to flip the dynamic or to make them feel seen and shamed but I am tired and instead choose to pretend I don’t exist.
I meet my friend and we walk to a duck pond nearby where he is delighted by the ducks. There are some children tearing up and throwing out bits of bread, so we stand and watch until I start to feel the codeine subside and I have to sit down. We find a bench at the ugliest part of the pond, near the large jungle gym. There are a lot of families out, keeping a keen eye on their little ones as they navigate the bars and the slides. We stay for a while but I have a wave of guilt as I promised a river and this pond, as endearing as it is, is not a river.
There is a lot of walking but not enough to get us to the promised land so we settle on the park. It is my first time here and it is the perfect late-summer day for it, where the air hangs close without threat. There are groups of people quietly scattered across the grass and most of the benches are free, bought in memoriam for lost loved ones. I calculate that I have a couple of hours before I’ll need to think about medicating again so we settle into our spot. We argue about Love Actually being the greatest romantic film of all time, an opinion I am still disgusted by, but we agree that the one scene with Joni Mitchell playing as Emma Thompson’s world crumbles around her is perfect. He suggests that “Both Sides Now” is the greatest love song and I am feeling much too deliberate in the moment to co-sign the grand pronouncement so instead I just talk about loving Joni Mitchell. I tell him about my favourite film, running him through the story because we both know he isn’t ever going to watch it.
After seeing numerous dog walkers and runners and watching a guy participate in what I choose to remember as a small-scale music video, we leave to get dinner. Somewhere on the journey we have to stop again, and to collect myself I sit on a wall where I have to do a sweep for spiders. The day is rolling gently into the evening and I know a few of the local restaurants will start closing, so we don’t stop too long. I make him decide the direction and we both end up having gnocchi in a quiet place where the staff are winding down around us. I am pleased I haven’t had to spend the day in bed.
My favourite moment comes when we are sitting on another wall facing the busy road that wraps around my apartment. This city does not know how to live quietly, particularly around here where it can sound like a continuous parade of emergencies are hurtling past. But, for a brief interlude, there are no cars, no people and no sirens. My friend is in the middle of saying something when I notice and I interrupt him with the most polite but urgent “ssshhh” I can find. I smile and we sit in silence. It’s just a few seconds before a car approaches and the rest of the traffic follows.
He goes to the station and I walk the short distance home. My flatmate isn’t home yet but her sister is and we make weary, idle noise together until she notices my ugly-wonderful sandals and suddenly, I am animated, telling the story of how I acquired them. My flatmate returns in the middle of this scene and laughs because she has heard this one many times before.
There is a moment where the roads have emptied again and the only sound coming from inside the flat is the kettle boiling. We have each retreated to put pyjamas on and take off the day. I fold up my end-of-summer orange top knowing that it will stay inside for another few seasons. The pain has all but left and I didn’t even need a second round of codeine. We congregate on the couch, around my laptop, a slice of cake and some tea. And with that, the day ends. Three women sharing one dessert watching a couple of teenagers fall in love.