May 19th, 2012 - Ellen Clayton
It’s Saturday morning and I wake up late, in the flat above the pub I work two nights a week in. I turn over, roll into open arms and kind words. This man (who I told a friend mere months ago that I would not marry) has captured my heart completely. We start the day slow, bodies finding a synchronicity in the heat of the bed sheets. After, we belly laugh as we eat breakfast together and his gentle nature is a balm after all the heartbreak of my teenage years. I do not yet know that in ten years’ time Ben and I will have almost eight years of marriage and three kids between us, but I have begun to feel our paths will be permanently intertwined. A future without him is impossible to imagine.
While we eat, Ben asks how I’m feeling about my walk tonight: my plan for the evening is a “midnight walk” and I will be walking seven miles with my mum and eldest sister, raising money for a local hospice. I’m looking forward to it, proud of the hundreds of pounds we’ve raised. Our conversation meanders; I bring up my job hunt, wondering if I’ll hear back from any of the places I’ve applied to. I have just a few short weeks left in my full-time customer service job. The countdown is on and I am longing for the day when I never have to set foot in a call centre again. I do not know what I want. I have no set goals or ambitions; I’m drifting. But, I know this job is destroying my cheerful nature and I’m applying for work in hotels and bars, places where people are happy and the hours unpredictable. I feel stifled by working in an office — the monotony of the days drags me down and I have cried in the office toilets more times than I am willing to admit to. Customer service in a call centre is not for the thin-skinned and my sensitivity shows.
This feels like the cusp of true adulthood. University is still a recent memory; wild parties, tense friendships, spliffs smoked on a farm at sunrise and all-nighters writing essays on feminism have just slipped through my fingers (never truly to be found again). My social circle now largely consists of people immersed in a daily grind, 9-5’s and routines that never deviate.
I don’t feel too worried about the future, though — it feels as if the existential crisis merely brushes past me. I’m twenty-two and I will figure it out. Now that I have made the decision to leave this soul-sucking job, I am confident things will come together.
Later, I walk, feet unused to exercise aching in the cool night air of spring. I feel the vitality that comes from recognising life in opposition to death. We hang messages of love on the branches of a “memory tree” near the hospice, remembering. The route takes us close to where my Grandad once resided and the sense of loss still staggers me: how can everything he was be gone? I wonder how my mother deals with waking each morning, accepting the finality of it. If it was my parent, I fear it would rip me apart at the seams. In three years’ time I will name my first child after my Grandad, stitching the threads of the past to the future of our family.
We continue a steady pace in comfortable silence and I wonder if I am only ever ok because of the safety net provided by my kin. This net is crafted with enough security and strength to ensure that I have never felt the horror of a free-fall — every time my heart sinks or breaks it is caught, held gently in the palms of parents and older siblings. I walk paths they haven’t travelled but they are alongside me, keeping me away from a cliff edge. This does not waver or falter over the next decade; we are bound, a tapestry ever growing, woven tighter each year.
Ellen Clayton is a poet from Suffolk, England, where she lives with her husband and three young children. Her poetry has been published in various online and print publications, including Capsule Stories, Nightingale & Sparrow and Anti-Heroin Chic. She has work forthcoming with Brave Voices magazine and her debut chapbook, Home Baked, was published in April 2022 by Bent Key Publishing. More of her work can be found on Instagram @ellen_writes_poems.