The mantra to live day to day anchored itself in my brain, refusing to entertain the thought of being made furloughed again, of Trump winning the presidency in the USA, of the utter certainty of not seeing my family for Christmas. But all those thoughts lingered in the background, sending me crashing down on Tuesday. My anxiety took hold of me, my body rattled by fear, my brain trapped by an overwhelming onslaught of emotions.
Tears well up in my eyes. I am unsure if it is the tension being released, the sadness of another lockdown, how much I am dreading being made furloughed, the sudden certainty that I will not be able to visit my family in France for another few months, the paralysing fear of my own vulnerability. Or all of it at once.
The cycle path runs out and I am cycling on a four lane A-road without the makeshift protection of white lines on the road. I feel like I am trespassing a space I have no right to be in. On all sides, cars and lorries hurtle past, mildly annoyed when my presence slows them down. Ahead, I can see the cycle path reappear on the pavement but it is not obvious how I can get to it. Traffic is too fast for me to stop and climb on the pavement. I hope there is a recess or I will be stuck on the ring road for far too long.
My breath catches in my throat, trapped within my lungs. I look back at the fox, their ginger fur set alight. We stare at one another us, neither of us moving. In the quiet of the morning, neither of us expected the other’s presence. Footsteps muffled by the mist, echoes trapped in the air, we have both believed this place to be ours and ours alone.
Back upstairs, I automatically spray my hands with sanitiser. I watch the motions of my fingers woven together, sliding along my palms and over my wrists. I am unable to understand how I feel. C.’s words finally reach my brain. So, we have come to the conclusion that we need to have a redundancy of one.
Adrift for a week, I am slowly emerging back into my routine, reminding myself to work on my projects instead of wasting too much time killing time, avoiding work, avoiding too much scrutiny into myself. This scrutiny though is different than the one from the early days of lockdown. Back then, my entire being was raw. Everything was different, scary, and unknown. It was easy to keep track of my emotions and actions because they were loud. Three months later, they are not.
Walking through residential streets leading to the nature reserve, I am glad to be chatting in person with G. again. There is a familiarity to our chats, the complaints we have always had about work still there but I cannot fully take part in the discussion. I haven’t lived in that world for too long, my interest and daily life busy with other concerns.
I grab some paper from the bookcase, refill my fountain pen, and begin to write. First I write to my nephew, his letter sprawled on the desk by my side. The blue ink, so familiar from my own school days, is sprawling across the pages. Each letter is well defined with just a hint of change, my nephew finding his own hand away from calligraphic letters he was taught to use a couple of years ago.
On the right side of my face, from my eye to my lower jaw I can feel the warm dull ache brought on by my hormones. I imagine a nerve running through my cheek, connecting the top and bottom part of my face. It throbs gently, continually. It feels warms even though the temperature on either side of my head is the same to the touch.
We retreat back into the arboretum, following the less trodden paths. We read labels pinned to bark in the hope to learn more about trees, but I know I will forget most of them by the time we get home. I am too overwhelmed to concentrate and learn. Here, in the arboretum, I feel alive in a way I do not at home. I can breathe freely, my mind expanding with each steps taken, thoughts drifting, forming, slipping, gathering. Not much else matter than the fact that I am here, alive, and steady, secure around these trees both old and young.
Dinner finished, I head back upstairs to the study to focus on my pinhole camera. I have time to relax and stay on the sofa with my partner but there is an urgency that pushes me to keep working. Soon I will have to go back to work and time will be reduced to dedicated chunks at either side of the day.
A headache is growing on the left side of my face as I pour chemicals and invert the developing tank. It has nothing to do with what I’m doing. I know this headache, it comes every month. First it creeps behind my left eye before descending to my jaw, settling there in a dull constant ache.
My chest tightened and tears welled in my eyes in the following days every time I thought about Brexit. I felt empty and lost, rejected by a country I so fiercely love. I had fought to come here, I had fought to stay here. I came crawling and wounded to London ten years before and had risen to become the person I am today. And all of that meant nothing at all because I was foreign now, not of here, other.