The piece below is from a few years ago. Upon re-reading, it feels vaguely as if someone other than me wrote it.
I became a single parent almost a decade ago. For several years after my divorce, I scratched and fretted at my defunct marriage. So aware was I of this phantom limb that, in moments of panic, I fancied I could hear the flesh tearing. As time went on, the pain faded to a dull ache, constant but anaesthetized by the routines of daily life. Yet whenever I found myself surrounded by families, my lone parenthood would make me wince. At such times, I was shamefully aware of the loneliness trailing along behind me, tugging at me, a slightly petulant and very embarrassing child.
That understanding of the root of my unease – shame – has only just come to me. I felt shame. Illogical, unwarranted, yes: but that is what I felt. I was in the habit of feeling like a misfit. After the birth of my son, being part of the ‘traditional’ family unit banished that sense of otherness. When my family unit ruptured, my bubble of belonging burst with it. The part of me that had craved freedom felt cheated, frightened, overwhelmed. Back came the abandonment-fearing child – only this time, that child was called upon to mother. And it terrified me.
Somewhere along the way, I have grown into my adulthood – by which I mean nothing more than this: I have made peace with who I am. But that is for another blog post, perhaps. Meantime, here is what I wrote that day when we visited Padstow beach.
Today, the beach is punctuated with family groups, colourful, flickering full stops, dashes, commas, their shouts and laughter forming the space between them into a structurally perfect sentence.
And here am I, an ellipsis, waiting for someone to interpret the dotdotdots that I feel sure must be visible to anyone who reads me …
The sun has come out, accompanied by a brisk breeze which makes me hug my raincoat tighter around myself. My son is paddling and throwing pebbles, the sand swallowing his feet up to his ankles, holding him captive for each lazy onslaught of waves.
I pick up a dark grey shard of rock and etch out my name. The sensation of slate slicing into sand is pleasing. In one smooth stroke, I erase the letters. It feels good, calming, to watch my name disappear. Among the muddle of footprints in the sand, mine are as singular yet anonymous as everyone else’s: criss-crossing, filling with water, fading to outlines beneath a dusting of wind-worried sand.
There are many dogs on this beach, and they make me feel less alone. None more so than Boo, the Boxer, enjoying a Tuesday ball-chasing session with his two owners. They form a gently self-contained unit, and I am transfixed and moved by their deep affection and care for their dog. He has his own water bottle, regularly proffered to him, from which he awkwardly sips, his comical tongue too large and unwieldy for the task. A paid butler could no more reverently honour this dog’s needs.
They linger a while on their spot on the sand, in agreeable proximity to us. When they get up to leave, taking big, soft Boo with them, I feel it is time for us to go, too, as the loneliness is hovering nervously by the rocks, anxious not make a spectacle of itself. Though I am pretty certain it is invisible to everyone but me.
As we walk away from the beach, an inflamed bump on my wrist catches my eye, prickling and throbbing. Fleetingly, I worry that it will keep spreading, keep ballooning, like that horsefly bite I once had that left my hand rubbery and distended for an entire weekend.
By the time we get back to our holiday home, the swelling has dwindled to an itchy, gritty little pimple, along with the bothersome sense of abandonment.
Already, I am looking back on this as a good day out. We reached a destination, ticked off the to-do list, the weather was good by British standards, the fish & chips a salty treat. Will I recall the loneliness? Yes, but it will be water contained within clear glass. The blue sky, yellow sand, bright shorts and swimsuits, wet-haired dogs, sad-eyed Boo with his adoring owners and his ball slick with saliva, the clemency of the weather, the claustrophobic crowds around the harbour… I will recall all of this, and that my son skimmed pebbles, paddled, and climbed rocks.
Ah yes, remember that last time we went to Padstow?
The loneliness will simply be one of those footprints, long since lapped into oblivion by the waves.