Roots and Drowning


Last night I dreamt that I was drowning. I woke unafraid, only amazed that I had remembered the murky green and seaweed hair that had swum through my unconscious visions; I rarely remember my dreams. I often wake in slurred haste and can’t remember my name such is the leaden weight of comatose state I have crawled from under.

But I remember the drowning. I don’t know if the aquarium green of the water was the product of a pool I swim in daily which has morphed from gin clear to peasoup with recent rains, or the torrent of change which threatens – which has – subsumed.

It began a year ago. A Whole Year. I cast my mind back to a time of relative (for to compare my own and my husband’s, mine would be relative) orderliness. I knew where things were. What was what. But time has scurried on and I have moved. And moved again. And again. And I have left in my hurly-burly wake much more than the things I have forgotten. Or lost. Flotsam and Jetsam litter a tide of change.

I would like to say that I have found – that we have found – safe harbor. But I cannot be sure we have. I am not certain the moving has stopped. Won’t rumble on into the New Year. It’s why I haven’t hung curtains or unpacked all the boxes. It’s why I still can’t find the stuff I’m not sure I’ve lost. Change, says my friend Cath, is good: it keeps us on our toes. Too much, I would proffer, given recent experience, trips us up.

And so I find myself, as the uncertainty of our situation continues to clamour, clinging to the small habits that persisted in the Outpost (clutching at straws?): I walk when I can, I swim daily (in water morphed from gin clear to peasoup green), I spend too much time in the Ether. The irony is not lost on me: that I, in this indecipherable position, find something concrete in the intangibility of a virtual world, somewhere to lose myself as I trawl invisible shelves at Amazon which will, given the punishment my credit card has sustained, yield real-life gifts in time – as if by magic, rabbits from hats. My daughter, home for Christmas from Cambridge, nags, ‘Mum, you spend too much time on your computer’. She is right. I try to explain to her that it remains one of few certain things from my last life: the life where I knew where things were, including myself. It is a reassuring bad habit. I don’t think she understands. Until she allows me to read the first entry of her blog, the one which she says she is not going to publish (and I wonder – again – if I ought to be as mouthy in the silence as I am?), in which she describes the unsettledness that discombobulates her too. I had imagined that her life at University offered a rock, an island in the storminess of her parents’ roving, her own safe harbour; I had forgotten that even at 19 , even as you stand poised to fly the nest, young and beautiful and  hopeful, untarnished by age and cynicism and disappointment, Home is important. Perhaps even more important when you aren’t there much.

And without a home that feels permanent enough, I don’t know that I feel Mother enough. I have not hung curtains, instead the windows are draped with an untidy array of mismatched kangas, as if I have strung laundry to the pelmets. The baking trays, which ought to be lining up on kitchen counters ready to be filled with all manner of sweet and flakey and cinnamon dredged Christmas goodies, are still rust-crusted in a cupboard (at least they’re not in a box I think as I close the door on them again).  Pictures, stand on the floor, in ranks, patient queues, waiting for nails.  So that – like the curtains – they might also be hung.  All the things I wanted to do, to have in place, when my babies came home aren’t. I roam, unable to sit still, until the addiction to escape into the syrup of the ether overwhelms and I slink back to Amazon or onto Ebay (can I bid on Permanence, I wonder?).

I make passing stabs at putting roots down. I, uncharacteristically, put myself forward for the Art Gallery Committee (she, who knows little about art other than what she likes and what she doesn’t,  she who loses her voice in real life such is the crippling shyness that hobbles her so often) and I gather all my courage in two hot hands and I take a deep breath and I fight back the instinct to flee – to flee from the Gallery, from Change – and I hang pictures (somebody else’s are easier to place) and realign gallery lights and make small talk.  And very, very briefly I am anchored.

But it is hard to put roots down with any conviction if you fear having to yank them all up again. And it’s understandable that they wouldn’t take hold if not nurtured.

My daughter says, quite sternly, ‘Mum, you just have to make the most of now’. And she is right – though I believe her a little less having read her blog, understanding that she is being braver than she feels. But – as she confessed to herself, to me when she allowed me to read what she had written – I just want to be Home.

Wherever Home is?

Almost four years ago I wrote a blog post to describe the alienation I felt in early Outpost days. My Husband, a rare reader of these ramblings, happened upon my words that day, perhaps he wandered over to my blog to understand why I was flailing then, perhaps because despite the tears and the outbursts, I could not articulate Why. He came home solemn and sad, ‘I read your blog’, he said and I felt briefly mean for having caused unhappiness. But pinning my thoughts to an invisible page that day, lining them all up and sorting them into some sort of order, some tidiness, would, I hoped help, capture whatever it was I thought I had lost. And so I lay in bed at half past four this morning as the rain fell through a black and spongesoaked dawn and thought, if I gather it all up again, if I harness the chaos, the confusion, will I be able to make sense of any of it. Will I be able to impose some order?  Will answers come swimming to the surface?

Who knows.


13 Responses to “Roots and Drowning”

  1. Potty Mummy Says:

    I think that the very act of writing it down gives us a semblance of control in an uncontrollable world. That here – on the page, in the ether, in someone else’s living room as they read your words – we can at least have something that is ordered as we want it to be…

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Well said Potty; I think that is exactly it: if I pin it to something I can pin it down, and by extension I can attempt to impose order and manage it. thanks for reading x

  3. Marie Says:

    Yes, yes, yes, exactly this. Me, too.

  4. Rob Says:

    Always give a place at least 6 months, that’s what I say, and in the meantime enjoy the Christmas and the holidays with family around. We often look back through rose tinted glasses, but reading your blog of 2008 when you first settled in the “Outpost”, it was certainly no bed of roses, but you lasted there a good while and, dare I say, enjoyed a good part of it.

  5. janerowena Says:

    I wouldn’t allow myself to settle anywhere properly, we moved so often. 12 houses in 19 years. We have now been here for five years and it is the longest I have been anywhere, and I have made a few friends again. I am sick to death of packing and unpacking and doing over gardens, I am just too tired, but I think it just takes longer and longer as you get older to find the necessary energy. I needed that full 5 years of rest this time. This is the first year in which I have looked out of the window and thought yes, if he says we have to move again I shall be able to cope. I have a south african friend over here who teaches, her husband is over there looking after holiday cottages much like the ones you had. They simply have not been able to get work together, and they have teenage children and elderly parents to support. They only see each other once or twice a year.

  6. George Says:

    I am 22 just married and having moved my 8 times in 8 years, my husband got a job and we moved to Singapore!! The situation you just described overwhelmed me, I was nodding frantically in agreement!!! Change is a funny thing, I thrive off of it and have no sense of home at all, yet it is something I search for; on the internet, cooking familiar foods and writing like never before trying to find some order in my thoughts in a hope to find some answers about my new surroundings ! I have a suitcase in the middle of the room still after 5 months!!

  7. Jana Says:

    I have never before commented on your blog, yet, I started reading it years ago, at a time when I felt lost and unsettled, not knowing if we ever would find our balance again.

    My husband and I moved 11 times in our 8 years of marriage. Seven moves within the US and 4 international moves. Our last post was in Southeast Asia, uncertainty right from the start. I couldn’t allow myself to buy flowers for the table or put up my picture frames for I was aware we will have to up and go without much warning from my husband’s boss. It took its toll, on me, on us, on our entire life. A doctor, I went to see, he told me that I have what he called
    “situational depression”.

    Fast forward, into the now, we are settled. After so many years of uncertainty and limbo, I finally have my pictures on my desk and my flowers greeting me in the morning when I get up. We are no longer in Asia but back in the US. And life is good, I no longer have bad dreams and I have a feeling of permanence, something I thought I had lost.

    Even you feel sometimes hopeless and down, please remember, it is darkest before dawn. You will be fine and pictures and curtains will be hung when you feel it is the right time and the right place.
    Take care.

  8. Iota Says:

    You got 67 comments on that post. I’ve never had that many comments. You obviously struck a chord.

    Uncertainty is very debilitating. For 3 of our 5.5 years in America, we were trying to get back. Husband had 10 job interviews in that time (for most of them, he had to travel over from the US, so it was significant numbers of days out of our routine each time). I never really developed a strategy for dealing with it all. I tried to ignore it (yeah, right..). I tried not to google local house prices, schools, etc (as if…). As time went by, I did get a bit better at not obsessing and hanging loose. But it was exhausting.

    There is much wisdom in the phrase “bloom where you are planted”, and in the end, I think I did that. Don’t know how much scope there is for you to do that where you are, but I like the sound of that Art Gallery Committee. Don’t write it off as a small thing. Small things go a long way. And you never know where they will lead, or what skills/confidence/energy they will inspire in you.

    • Carol Says:

      Hang in there! And then come and live somewhere a bit closer to me…. I’m sorry things are so unsettled at the moment – but once you have all the ‘kids’ home for Christmas and Ants gets some time off to go exploring…it might all feel better. Please make a plan to come and visit soon. Lots of love

  9. limner1 Says:

    We were a military family. We moved a lot. We dreaded it and loved it at the same time. I moved a lot between high school, college and art school. Then I just happened to marry a structural designer who chose to do contract work. More moving. The trick to managing was to always set up house first. My mom was smart. She also missed her mother and sisters. I never knew until this year. We talk about those days now.

    I have lived in our own home for over 10 years now. The hardest thing is not being able to pick up and leave. I miss moving; I miss the temporariness of my old life. Now, there are boxes from our lives in storage, in the garage, and unpacked in closets. Art is still unhung. China is still in boxes. Life is waiting for another move that might never come again. Wow. I’m crying just a little bit.

    Thank you.

  10. Linda Says:

    Yes, its definitely the uncertainty that effects your unconscious too and gives you bad dreams, hopefully your start to feel better about it soon.

  11. ladyhoodjourney Says:

    I”m sorry that it seems kind of difficult for you right now. I moved a lot as a child and I didn’t like it. Good luck on finding some stability.

  12. Marianne Says:

    My heart goes out to you. It takes times, more time than you can ever imagine, to start to put down roots, begin to have a sense of belonging and who you are. Somehow, I think we need that affirmation from others who know us well, familiar places and routines and, without it, can feel insubstantial, lost.

    Like so many others on this page, I too have lived a peripatetic life, moving from place to place, from house to house and it’s hard, hard on the children too, even older children who just need to have that sense of home secure in their heads so that they can confidently begin to spread their own wings. I hope things are starting to feel a little more settled now.

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