I have had a heavy heart of late. Felt expressionless and bereft of words; just moved silently through life. Have not been able to put my finger on the root cause. Not been able to pinpoint why I have felt like this. A multitude of reasons; some big, some not so big, swelling like waves on the incoming tide. Some days I have struggled to keep a brave face on it. Painting by numbers each morning to get through it; 02 for the dark circles, 06 - mink, for the eyelids, a light 01 bronzer for the cheeks. A mask; to wear to the school gate or when taking EB out to the park. Keeping up the outward show.
Inside, I have struggled to fight back the tears and to make sense of why. Why suddenly, everything felt just too much. This has not been me. How can it be? I’m a self-proclaimed optimist and a soldier on-er. Yet, my mettle seems to have left me.
We went away at half term. For a holiday. I hoped it would help.
I’d been before, to this land of ragged hill tops. The place my grandmother visited each year for her annual painting holiday. ‘Yugoslavia’ sounded so grand when she regaled her stories of it. Impossible to pass through the landscape now and not imagine war; shrapnel echoing through lush peaceful valleys, reverberating through to nearby idyllic seaside coves. She died just after EB was born. I didn’t go to the funeral. I thought about her a lot, this holiday. Said hello, smiled at blue sky and said; "Look where I am", placed a kiss upon the wind and said goodbye.
Ancient olive trees and fragrant pine trees, plus others; unfamiliar. "It's like Greece" observed Pip, except it has these pointy trees". They were indeed, very pointy. Pip said that the waves were turquoise. Not green or blue, the colours I might have expected a nearly 5 year old to choose, but turquoise. I found myself cheered by listening to his observations of the new world around him, comparing and contrasting, to other places he had been. He is a good companion, my eldest son. Watching him by the pool, making friends with ease, I felt proud, thinking about how much my boy has grown in confidence since starting school.
We last visited Dubrovnik nine years ago. This time we did not walk high around the high city walls; did not venture and take a birds eye view- too many steps for a buggy. Instead we meandered through the streets of the old town, the stone beneath us gleaming in the high midday sun, polished almost slippery underneath - and as before, I wondered how many millions of footsteps had walked through those streets over the years, to leave a patina so polished that you can almost see your reflection in it in the midday sun.
We ate cherries and apricots from the market stalls, imperfect; with grazed black spots on their skin, yet they tasted wonderful, sweet enough but still slightly tart; the best apricots I have ever eaten. Cherries so ripe they fell apart in our mouths. Candied orange peel; the bitter taste of rind fighting through the sugar, reminding me of a grey school uniform and playground oranges. By the harbour we sat in strong sunshine whilst EB slept in the shade, ate bread and small fried fish doused in lemon. Pip ordered an old fashioned lemonade, so bitter that only four sachets of sugar made it drinkable. So bad...but yet so good.
And in odd snatched moments, when we weren’t trying to stop the boys from drowning in the pool or, EB disappearing under someone else’s table in a restaurant, I talked to Husband, tried my best to articulate how I felt. "I don’t want you to be sad. I want you to be happy" was all he said. He took the children for an hour, here or there, allowed me time and space alone, without interruption. I am thankful for those broad strong shoulders, they are good to lean on. For the first time, in a long time, I was able to catch my breath. Felt the warmth of sun and warmth of love. The ache inside lessened. The swell of anxiety ceased and I did not feel overwhelmed.
Poppies fluttered like flags on the hillside; a poignant reminder that I have so much to be grateful for. I painted my toenails to match. They look bright and cheerful. I’ve been back a week now - feel better than I did before. Keep looking at my happy feet - to spur me on.