On a sunny, rhythmic train chug-a-chugging and squealing through lush, verdant countryside, passing purple rolling hillsides, bound for bustling Dublin city … and I am so, so sad.
My cheeks are taut and tense, my forehead throbs, my eyes are dry and tender. My chest is so tight, I cannot take in enough air, my fingers drawn to rub and clear my gagging throat. It’s like I am am going under …
Of course, I’m sure I appear outwardly composed, just another passenger on a train.
Change at Mallow …
“The Dublin train will leave from Platform Two at approximately 10.47,” said the announcer with the rich Kerry accent.
At least I was able to laugh at that … if it’s approximate why such a random-sounding number to be approximate with? Wouldn’t one say approximately 10.45, maybe? It made me smile a moment anyway.
As we often do in the midst of misery or despair.
It isn’t just the thoughts of leaving my wife and two children to continue on their break in a sun-splashed, balmy Kerry to go to work.
It is more, much more. That horrible feeling of being bound for somewhere, but nowhere special. Because I have to. Like on most other working days.
Is this it? Off to work in a fairly pleasant place doing work I quite like, for people I cannot blame for my torpor. Well most of them anyway.
I almost make conversation with the kindly thin older man facing me, with his full head of spiky white hair, neat glasses, and a tattooed feather on his left forearm.
He has a soft Cork city lilt, and is with his granddaughter, a sparky, giggling little thing with glasses, aged about seven, and her brother, maybe 10.
This boy already appears to be one of life’s appeasers. Letting his little sister dominate the game they were playing in a CBeebies magazine, polite — too polite, really — looking every so often to his quietly observing granddad for soothing reapproval. Validation even.
The journey is over soon enough, and I descend with the throng at a sweltering Heuston Station, and shuffle in my own private fug through gates and the crowds to my bus stop.
I see everything and feel nothing of what is all around me … the people, the colours, the scents and fragrances of city life, the buildings, the sights that were new to some of the excited younger voices my ears can hear but do not pay any attention to.
Even after buying my provisions for work I have an hour or so to kill and I wander without compass or conviction around the city centre.
I am feeling so down, down, down.
I pass through Arnott’s, a massive department store, now really a collection of booths and franchises, and I am passing a TV screen when I take the beginning of the ticker-tape headline on Sky News:
“TV presenter Cat Deeley and entertainer husband Patrick Kielty …”
And I freeze:
‘Oh no, what’s happened to them … what’s happening to the world, all these random school shootings and cars bashing into innocent people in Barcelona and Marseilles and bombs at Ariana Grande and in the Bataclan, and that Charlie Hebdo thing … and the public beheadings in London, and the world is gone to shit … ’
“ … are celebrating the birth of their second son”
The relief! Even though I had never given much thought ever to her or him, or their first boy, for that matter.
Doesn’t take much to set you off when you’re feeling like this.
When I don’t have a notebook handy and thoughts or phrases hit me, I text them to myself on my phone.
I had tapped out a few random things on my train journey, but one, in particular, stayed with me.
“Wanting someone to stop me and put their sweet-smelling arms around me and lift me from these doldrums … touch my aching forehead and soothe away all that ails me. Put a soft-fingered ‘shuusshh!’ to my lips … ‘don’t speak, don’t try to explain … it will be alright … all will be alright’.”
I went to work, came home and carried on.
Carried on to Friday night, when I arrived home late from work to find all the candles lighting in our gorgeous orange-walled living room and my smiling A waiting for me with a glass of red wine.
I could have cried with happiness, at seeing her, and all her subtle exuberances and feminine charms, incantations, sweet-smelling succour and … love.
I didn’t, I sat there on the couch opposite my A, calming down inside, stilling my crazy, troubled head, and sitting back, exhaling with contentment.
The next day was quietly marvellous. One of those wonderfully simple days that restore and let you recalibrate. Myself and A together, laughing, chatting, drinking coffees, at total ease and indolence.
Our O was engaged in Fortnite and World Cup stuff, and we barely saw K who was off into town for the Dublin Pride festival, and would be going on a sleepover that night.
I have to be truthful and say the absence of any of the usual conflict with our feisty daughter was part of this restorative process.
A and I were able to rediscover ourselves in a way, to simply enjoy each other, as we walked the warm white sands of our North Beach in the morning, and around the beautiful local park in the evening with our wonderful terrier Bella. Off to Tescos to select our drinks for the evening. Steaks, salmon, iceberg lettuce … treats.
Mother figure … wife … sometimes the lines do get blurred for me. My mother died when I was 14, so we parted on a conflictual note … with so many of my 14-year-old’s resentments unresolved. And only resolved now in a kind of way.
I think sometimes it’s why I expect too much of love … set up impossible parameters.
Wanting sweet-smelling arms to wrap themselves around me and lift me from these doldrums. It’s as if I want my lover to be able to predict my torpors and soothe them even before they arise. As a parent is expected to.
That is some tall order.
But I know that I have something like that with my A … we argue and make noise and I raise my voice sometimes, but really, like a child, because I know I can and we will be still unbroken and strong.
Arriving home that Friday night to my candle-lit grotto … and to those soft red lips drawing back over a slow, white-toothed smile, those laughing eyes … my companion of over 20 years … and now, days later, I go to work, I come home and I feel good.
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