The late afternoon sun is blinding. I have to shut my eyes against the glare, though I don’t bother moving my chair away from the fierce rays. It is, at best, a mediocre excuse in case my kids happen to notice that I’m crying.
They don’t. They’re having too much fun playing mermaid and pirate games in the deck-top spa. Today, this is by far the easiest option for their bath-time. The easiest option to avoid tantrums. I have been surviving on empty for too many weeks now, although this is the first time my body actually gives in to its tears. The first time I acknowledge my fears.
It’s less than twelve hours before we depart for our new island home and I’m sitting in a lush hotel apartment, though I don’t really see any of it. My car, tucked away in the basement, is an overflowing jumble of suitcases and pillows and an odd assortment of wall clocks and canvas prints. Our fretting family cat is shut in the windowless master ensuite, confused by his litter tray being tucked in-between an oversized shower and a row of fluffy white towels. Soon I’ll be serving my children a shamefully insignificant dinner of breakfast cereal and frozen yoghurt as their final hometown meal. And my husband is nowhere to be seen.
I have to trust that he’s still at our house, clearing the last things out of our shed. Packing the remaining elements of our life into his SUV. I have to trust that he doesn’t crumble under the stress of this move at the eleventh hour. But that trust still doesn’t come naturally. And as the night wears on, I will find myself phoning him regularly, until he eventually joins me at the hotel. The clock will read well past midnight, and it’ll be another full hour before my mind finally gives in to sleep.
For the past few days, stress has been my constant companion, gnawing at my insides day and night. Making me realise just how long I’d managed to stay calm and rational. But when the anxiety suddenly knocked me down and I lost the plot – mostly because it was just really really hard to get all the final packing and cleaning done with three understandably tired and bored little kids – it was my amazing husband who held his PTSD at bay and held me together.
So although tonight is in no way playing out as the calm lead up to our departure that I was hoping for, I now have to hold myself together for him and trust that we’ll manage. Although we’ll embark on our lengthy journey after only a few hours sleep, I will somehow find the strength to hold myself together for our family.
I try in vain to enjoy the warmth of the setting sun on my face. To ease my anxiety, I try to live just in this moment, as the kids noisily indulge in their novelty bath. But my cheeks are still wet with tears, the lump in my throat still too thick for my voice to hold steady, sounding nothing like the stable mother my children have come to count on. No energy for the negotiations. No energy for the fights. Tonight I’ll let the kids stay in the water as long as they please.
And then, after they’ve eaten their bowls of cereal and eventually settled down enough to sleep in the strange starchy hotel beds, I’ll find myself sitting for an hour or more alone in the dark. Still figuring out if I’m ready to turn the page on this chapter of my life. Still questioning if I’m closing it for the right reasons. Still wondering how the next chapter might dawn. And finally accepting the full weight of my suppressed emotions.