When I came to London at the ripe old age of 18, I wanted to try Guinness, so the very nice bar maid poured me a shot glass and when I hated the taste – dark, oily, bitter – she laughed and she made me something fruity where you couldn’t taste the alcohol.
18 years later, at the ripe old age of 36, the bar tender at the Maple Leaf Lounge poured me a pint of Guinness and I texted a bit with Mr. Spit before he went to work and a bit with the Handsome Aussie before he went to sleep. I enjoyed every last bit of the Guinness, for the record. Tipped the last bit back before I went to my gate.
While in London, I learned that some things change half a lifetime later.
Somethings don’t. My mother smiled last Friday night when I went to Marks and Sparks to buy knickers, even if she didn’t know why she was smiling. If you asked me what I missed about my mother, I would tell you few things. I miss how she used to put underwear in my Christmas stocking. It’s the silliest of things, but it was solid evidence that someone loved me, at least some of the time. Someone cared enough for me to do something that I needed, without me asking. I miss being a little girl when you went to Marks and Sparks to buy underwear.
In these now sorts of times, I buy my own underwear. And I forget to do it very often. I do most things on my own, truth be told.
As I travelled through Paris and into London, I kept thinking of the quote that is my desktop:
I almost thanked you for teaching me something about survival back there, but then I remembered that the ocean never handed me the gift of swimming. I gave it to myself. (YZ, What I forgot to remember)
I have lost my way, my confidence, my everything in these last years. I thought it started in March, with the MS; I am realizing the roots stretch much further. Sitting at a Paris Café starting at the Opera, on French train while I was watching the countryside speed past, standing with my hands on the White Tower, singing hymns in Westminster Abbey; kneeling on the hard stone floor of Notre Dame while others recite the Our Father in French.
I have had a lot of time to think about who has handed me what manner of gifts.
I have tried to trace it back. To find the moment where I went the wrong way. Hesitated perhaps a moment too long. Kept silent when I should have spoken up, buried myself when I should have stood taller, accepted a lie for truth. I thought if I could find that moment, if I could find that single instant where things started to go wrong, I could move back in time, and I could “fix this”, whatever the unnamed malaise is. I have tried and tried and tried and finally I realized, it wasn’t just one moment. It was moment after moment.
I am unhappy. I have been unhappy for so very long that I don’t know what happy is. I don’t even know what might make me happy. I live in black and white and I dream in colour. I wake up to greyscale, but recall the vivid reds and teals and yellows from my dreams and they dance around the corners of my vision, teasing me that there is . . . something more, perhaps?
In the middle of 2 cities, I realized how incredibly capable and competent I am. I seem to have forgotten that. I managed to get myself exactly where I wanted and have a great time doing it. With no one to please except myself, I started to listen to myself. And in that, I found the ability to say yes when I wanted to, no when I didn’t. It was a start to listen to myself; to eat when I was hungry, to sleep when I was tired, leaving duty entirely behind. To only have my wants to listen to.
I thought back to the last time I was in London, wondering if it was better then. I was Head Girl, someone’s girlfriend, someone’s almost step mother, a young woman on her way to university, someone’s daughter. Even then, even at 18, I wasn’t just me.
In the middle of my pint of Guinness, the one that I liked this time, it seemed to me that I had enough of being everyone else’s Cheryl. It seems that 36 years is a long time to live for everyone else. It’s time to teach myself to swim again.