Pru chews on her bone under the office desk. Today is cold and she has worn her sunny yellow dog jumper. If you want to observe the better side of humanity put a tiny sausage dog in a yellow jumper. At the school gates parents and children cross the street to give Pru scratches. After saying goodbye to my daughter, Pru and I go for our morning walk. We walk along in silence and I am lost in my thoughts. Then Pru sees something menacing. It could be a rugby sized pigeon or a leaf dancing in the wind. It could be a parked car that just doesn’t look right to her. Whatever the reason, her shrill bark reminds me that I am in my own body and brings me back to where we stand. Her bark is sometimes startling and makes me jump. It reminds me that I am here. I’ve spent a lot of time in my head instead of my own body. Like I was just hovering above my life watching it from a safe distance. My body was always there to serve. To carry babies or bags or whatever else the world deemed it should be used for. I hovered above myself forgetting to breath. Some people find it hard to hold their breath but I find it hard to breath. I wonder why? I read about women like me and our dangerously high pain thresholds. At what point did a leave my body, go on automatic pilot and cruise at an altitude which made it hard to breath? I think of altitudes and hovering just above my life. I think of the things women carry.
It is the summer and the girls and I have a free day with nothing scheduled. It has been unusually hot and England’s lush green grass is brown. I’ve seen some photos of a part of Blenheim that we’ve never visited. Most of the time we never make it further than the adventure playground. I think our girls haven’t recovered from all our pandemic lockdown walks. If we mention going for a walk they start complaining immediately. I bribe them with a picnic. We pack up the blanket and food, water colour paints and paper. I think about taking my camera but choose to leave it behind. The camera is heavy and I’ve got the picnic bag to carry and whatever other ‘treasures’ we find along the way. We drive to Blenheim and walk down to the hidden place I’ve seen.
I’ve been told there is a waterfall in a hidden corner of Blenheim. The path curves down to the water and then back up again in horse shoe shape. We decide to sit at the top of the hill in the middle of the horse shoe just out of view. The ‘waterfall’ which looks like a small pile of rocks is bone dry. Oh well. The girls climb in the trees nearby and I sit on our blanket and watch people as they walk along the path. We like to sit where we can watch others but blend in with the scene, remaining unseen. Tourist and visitors trickle past on the path. The girls eat their lunch and paint and play. I watch as the world walks by.
The path is empty for while and then a man ambles down the path. He is smiling and pointing his camera at the dry water fall and rowdy ducks nearby. I look at where he’s pointing his camera and think about all the different photographs that get captured in this location. Then I notice something else. There is woman who is walking right behind him. She isn’t smiling. He walks and she seems to follow like she has invisible string tied to him. She wears plain clothes, a little plainer than his. I look closely at her to see what she is looking at, as he stops and takes some more photos of the ducks. That’s when I see she isn’t looking at anything. She appears to be just floating down the path, almost like a ghost. She looks like a dead woman walking in her husband’s shadow. She doesn’t appear to be aware of anything. He snaps a few more photos, checks what he’s captured and they walk on. This woman makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up and the pit of my stomach turn. I breath and pass a paint brush to our daughter. We sit and paint, then around the corner, down one side of the horse shoe path, comes another couple. They are almost identical to the previous couple except that she is wearing sunglasses. He walks in front of her. He snaps photos at the world and the noisy ducks and she follows in his shadow. She doesn’t seem to be looking at anything either. She is somewhere else floating in his shadow.
The girls ask to climb in a tree a little further away. They point to the giant tree they want to climb. I relent and give them the five minute warning, which really means thirty minutes. They nod in agreement as they run away to the giant who extends her branches to them. I sit mixing colors on the page with my paint brush. I feel pretty happy with my mothering today. The girls are climbing trees and not staring at screens. I drip too much water onto my paper and then look up. There’s another couple walking down the path. This couple looks a little uncomfortable off of a concrete path, but he carries a camera and is smiling and snapping away. He laughs at the ducks and sends one scrambling when he gets too close to the water. Like the other women she doesn’t seem at all interested in the ducks or the water or anything. She isn’t looking at anything in particular, another ghost and that’s when I notice something. She’s carrying his camera bag. On that picnic blanket with paint dripping off my brush, I mutter under my breath, you’ve got to be kidding me. Not only is she a ghost numbly walking in the shadows of this world, she’s carrying his damn bag! It’s not enough that she is floating out of body and above it. Its not enough that she is a ghost in her own life, she also has to carry all his crap too, even his camera bag.
This carrier of bags, this ghost doesn’t see anything. She’s not taken with the cheeky ducks or the water glistening just so in the sunlight. She doesn’t seem to see any of the world she inhabits. The lilies in the lake don’t sing to her. She is completely numb. At some point she checked out, stopped having fun and started carrying all the bags, even her husband’s camera bag. I recognise her in myself, the carrier of bags. How hard it seems to decide which bags we will carry and which bags we are better off putting down.
Being present and in your body can feel painful. When we wake up to our bodies and our lives, we realise all the bags we’ve been carrying. The truth is, we’re going to have to put some bags down in order to pick ourselves back up. Choosing which bags to put down and which to carry isn’t easy. I know I don’t have all the answers, but I won’t leave my camera at home anymore, not matter how heavy it is to carry. The camera is a lot lighter than the heavy weight of floating just above our lives, and feeling and seeing none of it.