The most recent walk began at Crossbones cemetery. There is a Mary grotto in the graveyard dedicated to the ‘Winchester Geese,’ the sex workers who are buried there, outside the boundaries of the city. Into the metal grating, for her, I tucked a cheap plastic baby Jesus I pinched from a nativity set. Hail Mary, please hold this baby for me so I can roam and feel free. I know in my bones, this thing. That someone always needs to hold the baby so I can experience release. There has to be someone who, sometimes for us, can hold psychic babies, the screaming infants who are all hunger and un-metabolised feeling, someone who can connect with us in the throes of our human struggles. (Sometimes I just need someone who can hold the real, literal baby so I can leave home. I guess historically women have done this for men). I imagine what it might be like to walk the city ‘like a boy,’ enjoying their privilege. I walked Maiden lane (now the primly named ‘Park Street’) and the old stews, imagined the brothels and playhouses. I wondered, as I stood in the the narrow cobbled alleyway still called Stew Lane, where you could get a boat to ‘The Clink’, what it might feel like to cross the river in search of adventure. No responsibility or ties, nobody’s mother or wife, anonymous. Just a ferry to the Southbank, and then another boat back home, crossing back again when I have gotten my fill of thrill.
Tentatively, I have started sharing with my husband the stuff that I don’t have answers for, the knots I have gotten myself into, telling him about my restless heart and all the stuff I can’t figure out by myself. When I am feeling restless and angry and claustrophobic or anxious or too crazy to think. I tell him when I need to roam. I call this telling surrender. It brings relief.
We can all do this labour of holding and witnessing for one another. It takes strength and an open heart but it is one of the kindest gestures I can think of offering and one I appreciate receiving. I grew up telling myself I had to have my shit together all the time. That was how I survived childhood and it is a good tactic. but I don’t want that identity anymore. I want to let go sometimes and be the person who doesn’t always have the right answer. I want permission to be a mess, to be all running mascara and claim the space to fall apart.
Last weekend I took some time to walk the city and (literally!) stumbled across a sign advertising the ruins of the old Rose theatre on Park Lane in dodgy Southwark. I took a photo of the dark, jauntily lit ruins. The Tudor playhouse smelled of Thames dirt and rust and damp muddy wood. I felt a little more human, a little more grounded after my roam. It felt good to claim the space for my soul.
I can seek holding when I feel the need for surrender welling up in me, but my son doesn’t have words for this need yet. I interpret his erratic behaviour as a bid for connection. When I do this labour for my son I call it, ‘containing his behaviour,’ when he squeals and leaps like a wild colt after a day at school and he can’t sleep or sit still or regulate himself, I try to offer him a little of what I have craved, the sense of letting go. Of letting someone else do the thinking and metabolising for a little while so he doesn’t have to be good all the time, so he can fall apart and know that I will be present for him. My deepest hope is that when he is older like me he can ask someone else for this labour without shame and that he will open heartedly offer it to people he loves without embarrassment. He sleeps most soundly after he has picked some fight with me and howled at my limit setting. Often, maybe he asks for something he knows I will say no to and I can tell he is on the edge of tears, he needs to get it off his chest, he needs me to say no so he can cry and wail and shout and be angry and have someone catch him. And then hold him close once all the sobs are out.
Today I instinctually said a Hail Mary under my breath and I said it feeling all the longing. I said all the words but I know she understood that I meant hail Mary, hold the baby because I need someone strong enough to catch me.
Copyright Diana Smith 2019