In winter, the sun fades fast at the dimming of the day. The darkness fills the void it leaves, eeking down to surround me. By the time my boys rest peacefully in bed, the inky darkness is complete, and it is so very cold. The quiet offers both peace and distraction at once. It is a silence that I have never known. An aloneness that I have never experienced. I think back over what evening has meant to me in times gone by: hysterical laughter warmed by coffee in the comforting presence of living with my best friend in early adulthood to cooking dinner and taking comfort in the presence of the man who loved me. More recently, this had been punctuated with periods of nurturing newborns to sleep and resettling restless toddlers, but the theme was always the same: my evenings revolved around the significant ‘other’ in my life, and life just hasn’t been the same without it.
It is the silence that forces me to focus, however. I think, and reflect and try to take stock of the different pullings going on inside of me. At first there is only loneliness and regret to muse on, the constant sense that I should have somehow seen this all coming and been able to fix it. Over time this feeling becomes synonymous with the image of a runaway train: I had but a fleeting moment to try and dodge the inertia of its weight hurtling towards me because the reality is that the engine and its carriages had already been derailed. I cannot control how somebody else feels, nor the decisions that they have made.
Other feelings creep in, too. There’s the small sense of pride that I feel when I briefly pause and realise that the house is still standing and the world hasn’t collapsed even though I am doing it all on my own. I’m working long hours, commuting, and caring for my boys around the clock. The bills are getting paid, the dishes are being done and the animals are mostly getting fed. I look at my giggling boys playing together and realise that they are ok, that they will keep being ok, that we are holding it together. There is joy still happening here. We are still a family.
I become aware of the sense of relief and freedom that slowly creeps into my days. Realisations come hard and fast: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It is painful yet cathartic at the same time: I didn’t know how unhappy I was. I didn’t know the real me had been buried under years of control and routine and negative influence. I feel her still there, that girl I once knew. She isn’t the one who has been forgotten or left behind; she had gone into hiding a long time ago. The melting away begins with the benign: what music I choose to listen to on the way to work, and becomes bolder and more confident: What do you dare to hope for in the future? I want to fight it, to deny hope its complete audacity under such circumstances, but I find so many strong voices in my life echoing the sentiment that it becomes harder to shake off. You will build a new life, they encourage. One of the silver linings in the whole situation lies with the friends who reach out and share their own stories and vulnerabilities with me. It gets better, they implore, so much better. And then came the game changer: He has set you free, Babe, you just need to learn how to fly….