I am sitting at my table, and my husband is leaving me.
He's going to China for three weeks, and he has gone to drop off the boy, collect shoes, bank money, remember bits and bobs. And I am sitting at my table, only just registering that I will be alone for three weeks.
Except that of course I will not be alone. The children will be here to keep me company, and I will be looking after them.
What that makes me feel is… sad. I spend so very very much of my time managing their lives, an incredible amount of time arranging and rearranging my iCal calendar, synchronising four lives, orchestrating visits from other members of the family, planning to fine granular levels exactly what we eat, where we go, what homework is done, etc etc.
There is so little time for being or love.
For a person who thinks she does little else but try to understand her own feelings and those of others around her, I actually do an awful lot of doing.
Now that the room is silent, the children at school, my husband not here, working upstairs, occasionally laughing out loud at something, occasionally making me coffee, I am, of course, bereft.
There's a wonderful poem by Michael Blumenthal, called A Marriage:
You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you. Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.
something wonderful happens:
a man or a woman,
walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.
So you finally get
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite,
the blood flowing back
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner's arms tire,
you hold up your own
to relieve him again.
And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling.
I came across this set as an Unseen poem on a GCSE English paper. Wasted, of course, on the young, it struck me like a train. Your life as a single person feels hard and empty, you hold it up as well as you can. And then if you are lucky enough to meet someone who wants to be with you, then you start to share holding up a shared ceiling -- and the life becomes the marriage, and the marriage becomes your life. They are so intertwined that they become inseparable.
My husband gives me that respite, so that I can feel the blood coming back into my back and arms. And now he's not going to be there for three weeks. I know he'll come back, I know he has to go – I've encouraged it. I've orchestrated it.
But that last stanza of the poem, that terrible knowledge that ceiling-holding can go on for many years, but it can't go on for ever, is bubbling up this morning, as I sit here alone at my table.
Tonight I'll be fine, I'll make pizza, and we'll eat in front of the TV, and I'll cuddle up in bed with the children, and we'll read Gerald Durrell, or fight over another book. We'll fight endlessly, and I will think, "I don't know why I bother".
But all that fighting, that's about love. It's about how completely your children love you, and how impossible it will ever be to do something as simple as just love them as much in return.