1000 words, a story, from one of these four photos. So went the challenge. A photo picked I start a story not knowing where it will go. Six o’clock on Saturday morning unable to sleep more and I am hoping enough words come to me
The image in the flyer in her hands had promised serene days of solitude, quite and peaceful refection. People sitting or walking in gentle woods, by the ocean, in wooden meditation halls. She wanted some of that. It had got all too intense, the living together and the pressure to perform at work and be the motivator, the energiser, the leader. She longed for this. Peace. Beautiful nature. No expectations. Space. Time just to be. To be her.
The first evening, checking out her fellow meditators. A little getting to know you chatter, half heartedly carried out by people like her who just wanted the words to stop. Healthy vegetarian food on long wooden trestle tables. And after an introduction by the Abbot, a white Australian monk, once a rock musician, the silence started. Except it wasn’t. As people sat cross legged in the meditation hall, focussing on the breath, in and out, in and out, she became aware of the volume going up in her head, an endless stream of thoughts. So loud she wondered whether others could maybe hear them too.
Thinking, thinking, thinking. That was the instruction to tell yourself when thoughts arose. The idea being they stop the thoughts in their track. Not so. Not for her. They seemed to attract even more.
Paul. What was she going to do about his wanting to be part of every bit of her life, squeezing himself into the tiniest spaces. Even in the bathroom, door firmly closed she was aware of his singing along to the radio or still asking her questions. Why did he not understand that a closed bathroom door meant a pause in conversation? A tiny bit of me time. She’d started inventing reasons to pop to the local supermarket just to get that bit of headspace and yet even then he sometimes offered to come with her.
At first that day and night, day and night togetherness was so attractive. To be wanted and want, to be with him every free moment. She wasn’t even sure now when that changed, when it was she started to feel that sense of drowning. Just too much him everywhere and not enough space to be her. “We love breakfast in bed” she heard him tell a friend. That surprised. Because she didn’t. Findings crumbs in the bed was one of her pet hates. All that awkwardness balancing the tray. No she didn’t love it, didn’t like it even. Something he’d introduced that had now become something we loved. What happened to the her that had now been subsumed into a we.
Thinking, thinking, thinking. For a moment or two she successfully managed to follow the breath in and out and in and out. Moving in. She wasn’t sure any more how that had even happened. Some socks left behind one time, a toothbrush appearing unexpectedly in the glass in the bathroom and then it was a case full, some boxes and he was in. She couldn’t even really remember a discussion. No careful weighing up of pros and cons, her usual style for making decisions large and small. One day he wasn’t living there and it felt like the next he was. Where had her voice gone? How had she just let that happen? The whirl of love and sex and feeling special and somehow she’d lost her ability to say no, or even let’s just slow things down a bit.
Thinking thinking thinking. The bell sounded and silently off people went to cabins to sleep. If only. Sleep proved elusive. The thoughts continued at full volume.
A bell to get up. It felt like she had only just closed her eyes and sunk into quiet slumber. Reluctantly she got up and looked at the reflection in the mirror above the sink. Her pale tired face. How did she get to be 40 ? It had all gone by so fast. Half a life gone already if the statistics were to be believed.
It just hadn’t turned out as she had expected so far. No children. No albums full of births and first days of school, family holidays, proud grandparents. She felt she had let them down, her parents. The only one not to produce grandchildren. And she the eldest. She never had the shy but excited announcement. Never given them the pleasure of being asked to stay over and take care of the children. At the big family occasions she was only too acutely aware of the fact it was just her. But no more. Now there was Paul. She now had Paul to bring. There they both were in the big extended family photos surrounded by sisters and children and parents. At least it meant she no longer stood there alone, unsuccessful.
She was 40 and loved by a man called Paul who said he wanted to share the rest of his life with her. Was that so bad. Really? She had missed waking beside him, listening to his breathing, feeling his arm about her. She missed the sight of his clothes thrown into a heap on the floor in her tidy bedroom. She missed his smile when she came in from work and the hug that enveloped her. She missed him and the way he squeezed himself into every part of her life.
Bags packed, note left by way of explanation she left, heading back home. Our home. So what if she had only managed one night of a 10 day retreat. Her expectations of solitude and peace hadn’t been met. Nor had her expectation that she’d come back from this space to ask him to move out, to give her room just to be her again.
She’d come here to be alone and find herself again. And instead she’d found him. Right there.