It is too cold this morning. I shuffle through an eerily quiet house, wearing my husbands socks and two cardigans, a scarf round my neck. I feel old. The combination of my painful joints, hobbling gait and mismatched layers of clothing do nothing to ease that feeling. I cannot shake the odd sensation of dejavu. I watch my stinging fingers fumble at the coffee machine as if from a distance. I have been cold before. This is that same coldness, played over again in a mirthless merry-go-round of seasons.
Winter means darkness. The faltering bitter light outside is not bright enough to reach inside me, and my heart, that darkest innermost, feels the icy fingers curling around, clutching.
We have not had good winters, my heart and I. Blame my childhood of sunshine on a tropical island, but I don’t know if I will ever really get used to that chill of wind, the dark short days, the biting pain. Or maybe it is only since I had children, the crying red-cheeked children with their endless ear infections and sore throats, and the depression which plagued me throughout. Maybe I should blame That One Winter in particular. You know the one. The black black winter. When I open the boxes of carefully folded coats, jackets and scarves, the smell of cold floats off them, the invisible ghosts of winters past floating across the cold wooden floor towards me.
Perhaps you think I’m being melodramatic, and you would be right. But for me, winter really is melodramatic. All of my memories surge forward, rushing over any rational part of my brain, pushing into my consciousness. All of the ghosts of past depression clamour, rattling and shaking their chains like any decent Marley brother. I can feel it all again, all of those feelings, all of the pain. It is in the cold air that catches at my throat, and in the cold water that stings my swollen red knuckles. I wish I had the strength and energy to fight it. I wish I had the willpower. I wish that I wanted to fight it… but then that’s the problem with mental illness isn’t it? The very thing that can save you from yourself is the part that’s broken.
Today I caught myself staring at Frida Rose, wondering who she was. She became, just for a second, that child of no one, child of my depression. She refused her bottle, refused to be comforted or cuddled, her sobbing cries breaking the eerie stillness. And I held her loosely on my lap, and watched, detached, as she flailed and squawked. For just that second she became Maddy-as-a-baby, Lewis-as-a-baby, any baby from the past – my moorings to the present were loose and I floated, in the room, and wondered who she was. I wondered idly what to do with her, as if she was a friend’s child that I was babysitting for a couple of hours. I wondered how many hours it would be until her father came home and relieved me of my duties. My dispassionate gaze faltered and then flicked off, and I was left trembling and clutching my baby, wishing the evil spirits away.
Later I stare out the kitchen window, my unseeing eyes staring out of a thousand cold kitchen windows, every house that we have ever lived in, all distinctions blurring… Everything I love about this house, so much better than any other home we have made, fades and flickers at the edge of my gaze. It is simply Everyhouse. The cold tiles on the floor the same, the ragged cobwebs in the corners identical… I have lived in this house forever, I have been caught in this winter forever… Although it is mere days since the glorious seemingly endless summer, I cannot remember what that sunshine was like. My mind tries to recall it, but lazily the memory slips away, like warm water through my fingers. The empty space within slowly chills.
I try to finish what I am typing on this keyboard, to come up with some pithy ending but my fingers keep hovering, my mind wandering. Nothing comes out, the trickle of thought and passion dries up. Nothing left, but cold.