When you leave a place behind

I watch swans fight on the canal. It’s grey, people walk with pace, hoods up, handbags clutched close. In the library an older man taps his pen on the desk. He holds a calculator with numbers large enough for the Mother to read without her glasses and talks on the phone often, they’re all transactional conversations interspersed with incisions of politeness, as if he believes that the participants have more than a cursory sense of care about each other. I try not to stare, but I’m fascinated. I think I had the same phone when I was twelve years old. I want to tell the man that the library has computers with calculators and email and online complaints forms but looking at him, and looking at me, I’m left questioning which of us is doing better.

I feel small, fragile, insignificant. I’m just another woman sitting in one of many libraries. I once had a card for this place and would be allowed to access the Wi-Fi and take out books, but it’s lost now. I no longer live here, I’m just abiding my time, hiding from the grey drizzle, in between homes, at crossroads in my life. I make do with the warmth and electricity, the desk and reading a few chapters of a book I’ll likely never finish. I no longer belong here. I’m not sure I ever did.

The book is The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. I flick through to the section on love and learn that love is little more than the allocation of importance. ‘I love you’ becomes ‘You are of significant importance to me’. The rest of romantic love is classed cynically as fantasy, infatuation and lust.

This town used to be important to me, I used to run along the canal and look forward to hearing the saxophone player on the high street during my lunch break. I knew the fields where you’d see the cows, the garden which had piglets and the bookshop close to work, where I could ground my emotions and find myself before going back to my desk and the hovering question of what’s next.

I moved on.

The town is just a town now, a place that I used to know. I am just a woman sitting in another library. I’ve lost my love for this place. It’s no longer equated to my freedom, it’s no longer an important piece of my life. Instead, it’s just a junction on my road.

  • Clare Pooley
    Tuesday 26 April 2016

    I am sorry you are feeling lost at the moment. I am sure you will find your way again – the thing is not to try too hard. Just like when we search for a word or a memory that elude us we must relax and wait and they always arrive eventually. With love, Clare

    • Catherine Oughtibridge
      Wednesday 27 April 2016

      Thanks Clare. You’re right, everything will straighten itself out eventually. The piece was originally a journal entry from a couple of weeks ago when I was in England and traveling around visiting friends. I’m now living in the outskirts of Barcelona – somewhere new for me – enjoying the sunshine, sea and sand.

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