As a Jewellery Designer, I spend a lot of time alone. Much of it involves being in the workshop, crafting various parts of my designs or wandering through a local park taking pictures for inspiration.
Of course, with cats you are never truly alone; they just don’t believe that you can’t live without them, so they (being the nice overlords that they are) make sure that you’re never alone, no matter where in the house, garden or workshop you are.
I frequently use my reasearch / inspiration time to get away from them. I love them, but they really don’t understand the phrase “leave me alone.”
Anyway. On this particular day I was sat on a bench down by the beach. I’d been looking at the marine life in the rock pools and taking photos, so I was taking a breather and looking through my pictures.
The other end of the bench was occupied by a middle aged woman. She had that tired, worn down look that comes with having a house full of kids and not enough time to herself; so I decided not to bother her with conversation and stayed silent.
The tide had started to come in and the sound of the waves swooshing across the sand and into the rock pools was hypnotic. After I’d finished with my camera, I settled back into the bench and closed my eyes, all the better to hear the natural music of the waves and wind.
“I love the sound of the sea.” She said.
Startled, I looked at the woman. There were tears rolling down her cheeks and dripping off her chin into her cleavage, but she made no move to find a tissue.
“Me too.” I ventured when she’d been silent for a moment or two longer.
“It’s one of the sounds that makes me feel less alone. I have four kids, a dog, three cats. My mother lives down the street from me and my husband’s mother is four streets over. I always have someone in the house, so I have to come here or to the forest to escape them.” she had her eyes shut still.
“It’s odd how alone you can be in a crowd.” I said, thinking of all the craft fayres and shows I’d been to, hoping to sell my jewellery and then finding myself sitting behind my stall for hours without talking to a single soul, despite there being hundreds of people around.
“That’s true. I spend my whole life dealing with the children and the animals. My husband works away a lot, so when he is home, it’s easier. But my Mum and Mother-in-law don’t help much either; they always seem to need me to do something.” she sighed, pulled a tissue out of her jeans pocket and wiped her face.
I watched her. I didn’t know who she was. I’d never seen her before and she clearly didn’t know me. She just wanted to talk.
“I had counselling for depression after my youngest was born. The woman I talked to was nice enough and suggested that I needed to find something to do that wasn’t for the family. Something for me. I suspect she meant me to take up a hobby or something, but I don’t have the room at home for a hobby, so I started coming here. Just to think without being interrupted every five minutes.” she sniffed and blew her nose on the damp tissue.
“What conclusion have you come to?” I asked carefully.
“You’re just like the counsellor. She was always after me to communicate how I was feeling to my family, but the only person who listens to me like that is my husband.” she laughed. “I don’t have any friends you see. No time available to make any.”
“You found time to come here.” I said.
“Making a friend takes effort on both sides. Its as complicated as keeping a marriage going. The number of times that I’ve put that effort in, only to have it dashed in my face or not returned is not something I enjoy thinking about.”
The tide was almost up to the high tide mark. I could see the seaweed being moved around and smell the salt from the spray as the water hit the rocks. “But you’ve been thinking about it today.”
“Yes. I took my youngest to playgroup this morning and sat there, listening to the other mothers making plans to celebrate one of their birthdays. I’ve made an effort while I’ve been taking the baby to this group; one of the things the counsellor said to do was to mix with other mothers. We’ve talked about our kids and families. Laughed about the antics of our pets; discussed the TV shows that we watch… and still…” she lapsed into silence.
“You feel on the outside as soon as they start making plans to see each other.” I finished for her. I’d heard a similar thing before from one of my regular “clients”, a mother with twin boys, one of whom was autistic and needed a lot of dedicated care.
“You’ve heard this before.” she grinned at me.
“I’ve heard a lot of things before.” I shrugged.
“I don’t make friends easily. I don’t have the spare energy to spend hours around someone’s house listening to them bitch about their husband, or looking after their kids while they go out for the night with other friends.”
“That’s how you got burned last time?”
“You’ve been here before, haven’t you. Yes. She called me her Bestie and for a little while it felt like it. We went out together with other mums, we had coffee mornings and parties for each others kids. I put in the effort and I thought that she was doing it too…” she swallowed and the tears began to flow again.
“She became friends with another mum. Fair enough I thought, I don’t want to live in her pocket and she shouldn’t live in mine. I baby sat for her a couple of times while the two of them went out. And it started getting more and more frequent. Until I heard them making plans for her birthday. And she turned round and instead of asking me to come with them as part of the group they’d put together, she asked me to baby sit.” the tissue she had in her hands had been shredded.
Without thinking, I handed a clean tissue over to her.
The wind had freshened. I put my camera into its case and the case into my rucksack. The spray was now reaching the bench and having looked at the dark grey clouds that had rolled in off the sea, I came to the conclusion that it was going to rain, so I pulled my coat out of my bag and began to put it on.
“I take it that this happened in another place?” I asked as I slipped my arms into the sleeves.
“The last town we lived in. We moved back to the village that my husband grew up in. Mum moved with us, but instead of moving in with us, she bought the house down the street. So I’ve had to start all over again.”
The first few fat raindrops hit the paving slabs the bench was placed on. I did my coat up and flipped the hood up over my head. “Do you want to have a coffee and continue this in the warm?”
She smiled and shook her head. “I have to get home. Mum can only cope with the kids for a short while. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
I looked at her and realised that she’d only really been talking to herself, and that she’d been sat on the bench rethinking those poisonous memories for a long time. My presence had just allowed her to let the feelings out of her heart. She needed to do something other than think about the past.
Fishing around in my bag, I pulled out a leaflet for the Jewellery Classes I was teaching at the local school.
“Your counsellor had the right idea; everyone needs a hobby of some sort. It’s an escape from being something for everyone else. Come to one of these and see if you like it, I’ll introduce you to a couple of the others who come to the classes regularly.” I gave her the leaflet. “It’s an idea, nothing more. But it’s got to be better than sitting in the rain alone.”
She took the slip of paper gingerly as if it were a hot piece of metal. “I didn’t meant to impose.”
“You didn’t. You’re new to the village and as my mother used to say; learning a new skill can make a lot of difference to how you feel.” I smiled. “I have to get home now, but maybe I’ll see you at the school next friday? Get your mum to baby sit.”
She nodded. “That’s a thought.”
I walked away.
I usually don’t like to interfere in people’s lives. I prefer to sit and listen. But what I’d seen in her eyes while she was talking had convinced me that giving her that leaflet would avert a much greater tragedy.
She had a family that needed her.