Saturday, 7 May 2016

Swimming through the waves

Today was Saturday again. Saturday was our day. From the first Saturday when we walked over Redmires and discovered our abandoned house, I have spent almost every Saturday with you. Until suddenly you weren't there to spend them with anymore.

On Saturdays, I still walk out onto my street and see you walking towards me like a mirage. I saw you today, as on other Saturdays, but today I didn't cry. Today, somehow, I had reached some new stage of grief, some kind of acceptance that Saturdays are no longer the days when I expect you to arrive. Your absence no longer surprises me. But I still see you there, parking your van and walking towards me smiling. And I still feel derailed for a moment by the remembrance that your solid form is gone.

Saturdays used to go like this. I would walk with the children to their drama class and take the dog in Chelsea Park and then, sometime after that, you would knock on my door. Loudly. You always knocked loudly, even when the children were in bed. I'm not sure you were a person who could have done anything quietly. You had a touch of the dramatic about you. In the early days of our relationship you had a habit of prefacing any announcement by saying my name in a booming voice that would make a drumroll of my heartbeat. I was terrified that you were about to break up with me. But usually you were warning me that you might need to leave half an hour earlier than usual or that you might need something to eat. It became a joke between us and I started to do the same. 'Blacksmith Paul,' I would say. And you would hold my hand and look earnestly into my eyes while I said something mundane such as, 'Would you like to go swimming with me tomorrow?' You would always say 'yes'. I would always say 'yes'. It was always easy to make plans because we always wanted to do the same things and neither of us much cared what they were anyway, so long as we were hand in hand.

I remember the first time we went swimming together. I took you on a free pass at the gym. You were already in there when I arrived at the poolside. We were still at that stage of the relationship where I would look at you curiously from time to time, wondering who you were and how we had come to be here. I had that feeling then, watching you swimming towards me. Instinctively, I dived underwater and swam like a mermaid along the bottom of the pool, feeling the tiles slide under my belly as I had done as a child. You did the same and we emerged, laughing in the middle of the lane and I had that thought again: 'Who is this man and what is this thing between us that needs no words?' It was like a dance. All of it was like a dance.

It was inevitable that, before too long, the dance and the swimming would merge and we would develop a synchronised swimming routine. We were in the pool at the holiday cottages at Brimham Rocks in February. We had three whole days together. (How precious those three days feel now.) We had the pool to ourselves and spent some time perfecting a manoeuvre in which you hoisted me above your head, with my arms outstretched and span me around until I was dizzy and laughing. I remember it vividly. The utter joy of it. The recognition of how rare it is to be so in tune, harmonious, melodious with a fellow human being. We sat under the stars in the hot tub and talked while the wind howled around us and our noses froze in the cold night air and we lost track of the time and nearly got locked in the showers.

After open water swimming, there are no showers. So said the trainer at the Yorkshire Outdoor Swimming Club where I went today. You have to get in slowly to allow your body to adjust to the temperature and get out slowly too. A hot shower, like a cold dunk, can send your body into shock. Or so he said. Grief can send your body into shock as well. It has been two months and I still feel the vibration of grief in every nerve. The physicality of this grief has surprised me. It is unlike any grief I have ever known. And I have known a lot of grief.

We had planned to go to the club at Harthill together and I wondered today what you would have made of it. Neither of us are really 'club' people. Neither of us like following the rules. (Are/were, like/liked - I'm not sure still which tense to put you in). In the end there weren't too many rules anyway, but they did make me put a wetsuit on for the first lap of the orange buoys. I couldn't breathe it was so tight. They let me take if off once they had seen that I could swim and then I felt free. It's the way I like it, with the water against my skin. I hate things that interfere with my senses when I'm outside. It used to make you laugh, the way I wouldn't wear gloves to pick up snowballs, the way I won't wear sunglasses, the way I hate the idea of headphones. I want to see it all, hear it all, feel it all, just the way it is. Even when the way it is can be too much.

I swam off on my own into the water, left the wetsuit crowd behind, dived down and resurfaced, looked up into the sky. I don't know what it was about that moment. It wasn't the freezing water. It might perhaps have been the lack of clouds or the brightness of the sky. O perhaps it was the way I paused for a moment to pat myself metaphorically on the back for being here without you, doing something that I loved. But I started to cry out there in the middle of the reservoir. I miss you Blacksmith Paul.

I remember writing a poem about swimming last autumn. I had snuck off on a beautiful autumn day for a swim at Hathersage Pool instead of working. You recorded it and messed around with it on your recording equipment. I remember you directing me like some kind of theatrical lovey. It was hard to get through the whole poem without laughing. I've never taken myself seriously as a poet but you wanted to make backing tracks to my poems - you liked the idea of the harmony of words and music. But this was the only one you started. I'm not sure I ever heard the final version that you made but this is the one I have.  I listen to the last lines now and I shiver: 'We will not live forever.'