The first casualty of Dylan’s transition turns out to be my left foot which this week protested it did walk too much. I hadn’t an inkling of the injury, earlier this week, when I told colleagues I was taking the challenge of walking-to-work in my stride and had ‘gone through a barrier’. The only barrier I was aware of by Wednesday evening, alas, was pain.
Subsequent investigations revealed a stress injury and possible nerve damage. My foot is painful, flaring like fire in my shoes. The likely cause is the sudden physical demand on my feet, combined with less than ideal footwear for the job. So I am back in the car, driving my foolish self to and from work, feeling chastened. I claimed, too soon, that I could walk my life without Dylan. So I have been thinking about exodus; I only walked for two hours a day in the last few weeks (and not every day). Imagine walking, for refuge, through day and night? Or as pilgrimage?
This morning I was puzzled to find emails and tweets in my inbox when I switched on my PC. I had forgotten that one of my poems was due to be featured on a poetry site today and the situation took me a few moments to grasp. I clicked onto the site to check all was well with layout (not meaning to do more than this) then stopped stock still (left foot burning): I had forgotten it was this poem.
The piece is one of the first I wrote after my daughter disappeared in 2010. I didn’t write it immediately – it was a long time before I could write anything at all – but when I did start writing again, this piece, recording the last time I saw my daughter, was one of the first I wrote (happily my daughter and I were reunited a couple of years later).
As I read through my poem this morning it came back to me; the terrible absence of my daughter and hollowness of those days without her. And all I could do then, I remembered this morning, was swim; the only way I could stop myself from thinking was to thrash my body up and down the pool, repeatedly, until I was exhausted. I would go almost every day, in my lunch hour or on my way to work after Dylan’s bus had picked him up. Quite often I would swim a mile before work. This was the only way, it seemed, that I could cope.
Six months later my back broke down catastrophically. One day, out of the blue, I could hardly stand. My back and shoulders and neck were knotted and inflamed with pain; the physical demand on my body of the months of fierce swimming had stopped me in my tracks. And so this morning I made a link between these things; the frantic swimming when my daughter left unexpectedly and my determined walking when Dylan left as planned. Perhaps, I thought, this is my way of dealing with loss: submerged, physical, dogged?
Only now, after years of recovery, am I returning, cautiously, to the pool. This time, I have promised myself, I will not be so foolish. I have something called a pull buoy to slow me down and protect my back. I promised myself, this morning, that I will take care of my burning feet now too. I will rest. I will use ice. I will not be afraid to face loss sitting down.