The Benches Where We Can Pee In Public
I am running.
Heaven-blushed bone-white field stubble cupping my trail.
Pearl candy-floss flowers kissing my shins.
Grass and pink lipped petals tasting the salt on my ankles.
This was why I came.
Open sky and open land.
I run, wondering how long I will run before I stop. Mentally check in with my left ankle.
It’s strapped up with the last metre of Adam’s blue joint-support tape.
Because we’re old and injured now.
At the grand old age of the mid thirties, we’re equally yet tentative with our limbs.
Sports injuries breed paranoia.
Running upslope …. I wonder if I should eat more oily fish like my mother does.
I know I’ll just buy them and then let them go slimy and unused in the fridge.
But I should eat them.
For the sake of my ankle.
A few days ago Ads and I sat in a café.
I said to him, “Do you ever feel old?”
“Sometimes when I’m around a few of our younger staff members at work,” he replied. “I hear them talking and I haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about.”
I press my lips together.
Thought about it.
“I don’t think that’s what I mean. I feel old in my body. I have no energy. I feel like I can’t rely on my physical self any more. I feel tired.”
We cut up Reid’s toast and encouraged him to come and sit down as he’d started wiggling around the tables and shooting his plastic canon at the window.
“I also have this weird sense that I no longer want to achieve things. Like success has changed its face. I just want to feel fulfilled. Have quality of life. Find contentment. The idea of taking over the world feels exhausting!”
Adam went to reply, but then his phone rang.
It was about work.
He stood up and took the call outside whilst I passed another piece of toast to Reid.
And now I’m running.
My heart is thumping.
There’s that beautiful familiar cold ache in my lungs.
I can see the style at the end of the path.
Except the style is now gone and has been replaced by a swinging gate that is shiney and varnished.
It has a brown plaque that reads “Ramblers Association/ At the Heart of Nature.”
I go through the gate.
Still keeping a steely eye on my ankle, but also absorbing the great valley sweep of breath-taking concave sky and air that I’m leaning into.
I run until I reach the little copse of trees that marks the edge of one field and stitches it to the next.
Slow to a stop.
Walk and try not to judge myself for walking and not running.
Focus on the fact I came.
I made the decision to run at 3.56am two mornings ago.
Lots of thinking time is done in bed for me.
After a zillion nights of non-sleeping, my mind struggles to fall back into slumber and as many people who don’t sleep know, this is when the little mind-goblins can come in.
The annoyances. The worries. The issues that need fixing.
Two nights ago, I realised that my own best fix is to run.
I start running again.
This time I don’t stop.
Feel the vibration of the ground impacting my soles, jarring through my chest and limbs.
Feel the heat on my brow and the salt on my forehead and dripping down my eyebrow.
Fill my gaze with the mineral blue of sea and veined green leaves of the trees that stretch over the undercliff.
“Tomorrow the weather changes,” Ads said to me this morning as I was folding laundry in the bedroom. “It’s going to get hot. Hotter than it’s ever been on record.”
I think about this as I run around the bleached stubble fields and wonder if I should cut up all the fruit in the fruit bowl for the kids for breakfast.
Fruit salads and ice lollies.
Because this is the shit that I think about these days, in the midst of motherhood summer …
And now there’s a heat wave coming.
My brain is so full of meal plans and laundry and sweeping the dust and dead bees from the white window sills that I have no energy to plot and scheme at the moment.
A confession of a mother in the midst of the summer holidays:
Sometimes it feels like life is an oppressive wall of heat that has bleached the colour from the dreams I once lived on.
The path veers off into a tunnel of hedges and flies fill the air.
At first I swot as I run.
Then I just walk and pull my t.shirt over my nose and mouth.
Imagine breathing in a fly and choking on it.
Death by blue bottle.
Shit way to die.
I wonder whether anyone would even find me for a while.
Through I told Pix where I was running just in case my ankle folded and I was stranded.
After a few minutes, the hedge on the left opens up and a narrow set of ancient steps snake down the cliff edge.
Leaving the flies on the pathway with the heat and blackened dog dirt, I pick my way down the pathway and as I pick my way down, I feel a sudden anger at life.
One minute she is there like a priestess of benevolence, pouring support and magic and openings and gifts upon my pathway.
The next moment she has turned around, lifted her skirts and pressed her filthy, ugly, coiling snake-like arse against my cheek.
Right now, that arse hole is keeping me awake at night.
At the bottom of the secret, ancient steps is a narrow path.
On one side is a great, sheer drop of tangles jungle and certain death.
On the other side is a sand-stone wall of cliff, nibbled into shards and terraces.
The path is carpeted with dust and beneath an overhang, is the bench.
I sit on the bench.
Stretch out my arms.
Feel the red sweat dripping off my face.
Before me the leaves design a filigree of light, like cathedral doors against the bright sky.
I look at them.
“Why are you bringing me this?” I ask Life, out aloud.
“Why are you making me experience feeling old, and hopeless and dreamless and futureless and disconnected from everything around me in my life? Why are you shoving your backside against me?”
Her answer came in an instant.
“Because Bethan, when people become too intoxicated by the future, we like to make the present scream.”
She shimmered her leaves like a burlesque would shake her bower.
“We like to make the present feel so shard like, so thorn in your side, so staple in your finger, so splinter in your hand that you take your fucking brilliant mind off your illusionary projections and FORCE you to look at the heap of tangle spaghetti intestines that we’ve served you on a plate. It’s one of our methods for keeping you HERE and showing you what is TRUE.”
And of course.
This was the perfect answer.
I smiled at life. “So you haven’t abandoned me completely?”
Life smiled. Shook her head slowly. She was laughing.
“Not at all.
And then, she moved! She turned her mass, so suddenly there was a little space between my spirit and the oppressive butt-in-the-face inner oppression.
And in that motion, I knew that it was impossible for Life to abandon us humans anyway.
We are stuck with her, you and I … and she with us. All she can do was shift her position, withdraw her titillation to make her point.
I got it.
I got that we can be coaches.
We can be future projectors.
We can we visionaries and pioneers and predictors and creators of the next chapter in our lives …
But we forget that Life is our dance partner and she is the bigger animal and whilst she loves us, she will also show us her complex, difficult, troublesome behind.
Like any woman, if she is trying to show us her beauty and all we’re thinking about is tomorrow, or next week or next year, or are simply sucked into taking calls or answering email on our little hand held devices, she will eventually serve us some shit to bring us back into the dance.
In that moment, I needed to pee.
As sometimes happens to us runners.
I looked left, back up the narrow path.
I looked right, down to where people could emerge on their dog walking adventures.
Then in one swift motion, I stood up , yanked down my leggings and did a wee right there in front of the bench, under the cliff, before the tree filigree and before the sky cathedral.
As I peed there, I thought about the Italian witch who lived up a mountain, who told a friend of a friend that if you piss in the four corners of a property, that land will become yours. Like a dog marking their territory.
I however, did not want to have the bench as my own.
I was pissing on the present.
Marking the one place that you and I can ever truly call ours.