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The month began with my birthday (August the 2nd, remember that I’ll be expecting cards). It was hot that summer, warming my body and reminding me that I was alive. I gave thanks for that sunshine almost daily! “Thank you sun-friend, for bringing joy and ease, and for making me sweat so much when I train that it sends me into a state of catharsis!”
I spent much of my time at the Hampstead Heath ladies swimming pond, that serene place of beauty amongst the loudness of London (and the loudness of my mind). It was a moment of stillness amongst the bustle, an oasis. I had my routine down to a tee; get the train to West Hampstead, change for the overground to Hampstead Heath- 2 stops. Purchase a brown paper bag of cherries from the fruit and veg stall outside the station, cross the road to the bakers for either A) an iced latte if the weather is hot B) an Americano with milk if the weather is cooler (in my bamboo reusable cup of course-no single-use plastic here!). I then cross back over the road and up the path that leads on to the heath itself.
I adore this path, it’s lined with grand old beech trees that give the sense of having entered a natural cathedral, a feeling of peace always greets me here, leading me away from the city and into this pocket of nature. Once I reach the ladies’ pond, I change into my costume, have a very quick cold shower to help my body acclimatise (if I am already wet from the shower my lungs tend to remain slightly more expanded when I get in!). Then I pad across the decking, saying hello to the lifeguards, and gently lower myself into the water. The ducks paddle by, women chat with each other, whether they’ve met before or not. I can smell the plants on the banks, dead leaves breaking down, the water and the silt, and if it’s hot the scent of sun on skin. After I’ve completed a few lengths I settle down on the lawn, get my book out, and tuck into the bag of cherries.
This is where I went for my birthday. I had loosely planned a picnic with a handful of friends, but once the morning of the 2nd of august had arrived I was anxious to the point of nausea about the thought of talking to anyone, about my friends seeing what a mess I was, about the fact that if anyone asked me how I was there was zero chance of me not crying. I texted everyone to say it was off. I went anyway, half ashamed and half relieved that I wouldn’t have to make conversation.
I lay on the grass next to the lake, burying my face into the pages of a book (A Room With A View I believe it was) and tried to focus on the words sliding across those pages and not on what a flimsy, sorry state of a human specimen I was. I felt limp, rung out, like an overused flannel. I had woken up that morning to a forest of post-it notes covering the walls of my flat, telling me that The Hoover loved me (I call him this because I’m not allowed to use his real name for legal reasons, he was obsessed with cleaning, and because our relationship sucked the majority of me out of me), that he was sorry, that I completed him, that I was a princess and so on… The intensity of the post-its made me waver in my decision to leave him I admit. I was so numb mentally that at moments like that I thought why not? it will be easier. Surely it’s all just a big mistake? Surely he is who he says he is, he works where he says he works, he is from where he says he is from, he really has lost his bank card for the 4th time this year and needs money from me? Surely all those designer shoes he had then hidden in the dishwasher really were just gifts? Surely he does feel ashamed for backing me into a corner so that I chose to have an abortion, rather than keep the baby? He couldn’t have realised that I was left bleeding on the toilet floor, whilst simultaneously throwing up into the bath? Of course, he hadn’t realised, because he didn’t care.
A loud chorus of Happy Birthday penetrated my soggy brain and I looked up from my book to see a large group of women dancing around the lawn, prosecco bottles held aloft. At the center a fellow leo, my birthday snatcher, a beaming, bright-eyed and thoroughly sloshed lady in a bright pink dress soaking up the love and having the time of her life.
How dare you have the same birthday as me, and be here celebrating whilst being celebrated! I’ve never met another 2nd of august human before, so why now, today? At that moment seeing them was a step too far for my fragile state of mind. I lay there in the sunshine, and I cried and cried and cried. I cried so much that I couldn’t breathe, I cried until my face and towel were sopping with tears and snot. I allowed myself to be completely overcome with self-pity, shame, and grief. And somehow, the numbness in my mind began to ease. Then, I stood up, wiped my sticky blotchy face on my already soaking towel, marched myself to the edge of the lake and leapt in. Enough was enough. I needed to act, I needed to own myself again, to remember how truly loving myself felt, to hold myself accountable for the choices I had made and know that that was okay, that I was human and whole.
I swam in that cool water allowing it to soothe my puffy eyes, and with each stroke, I imagined a little more of The Hoover being washed away.