I miss journeys. Train journeys especially. I miss gathering my thoughts by staring out a window of a moving train. I miss watching the landscape change with the miles being covered. I miss patchworking ideas together by moving my gaze around the carriage and wondering who they all are, where they’re all going, who it is they miss, what life did and didn’t give them.
I was once travelling on the East Coast Mainline train late at night, I was going between York and Durham, and opposite me, her head slumped on a window dripping with condensation, was a young girl weeping. She didn’t make any noise and she didn’t move. Perhaps she thought she and the window would become one, indeed they almost did as at night-time all you can see out of the window is your own reflection and the reflection of those with whom you are travelling. I had a book, so I pretended to be reading it rather than to stare at her. There was, however, something compellingly beautiful about her quiet sorrow. It was contained and whole, as though she understood it and was not afraid of it. At one stage I passed a paper handkerchief across the table. She accepted it without looking at me and she wiped her face and kept crying; her pale, flawless face seeping sadness. One’s eye, I think, is trained to pass by sadness, to seek joy as a replacement. Or else, if the eye does happen to rest on a moment of sadness, its default is to fix it: how can I help? I think about that girl on the train from York to Durham now and then, and wonder should I have done more than to pass her a tissue. But I would do the same now, because I know that if someone is so forlorn that their woe leaks out in public, then all they need is to be taken quiet notice of. I see you. I am sorry. I can’t fix you. These tears might fix you. Eventually.
I miss people: those I know, as well as the anonymous girl on the train. I miss the dentist. I hate the dentist, yet I miss the dentist because I miss what I cannot have. I miss the wall of heat that hits me when I walk into a pub on a winter’s night and I miss the smell of beer and damp coats draped over the back of chairs and looking around for the face of whoever I’m meeting. I miss the anticipation. I miss the woman in the library who, in the summer, brings a brown paper bag full of cherries and slowly eats her way through them, spitting the pips back into the bag until all she is left with is a stained, disintegrating paper bag.
I miss swimming: arms slicing through the water, goggles slowly steaming up, wondering how many more lengths I can do before I need to stop and clear them. I miss the chat in the sauna, the unrestrained political talk that I will never get used to – nailing your colours to the mast like that in public is not how it happened where I grew up, especially not in a sauna!
I miss being in an audience, squeezed elbow to elbow with a stranger next to me. I miss the shared howls and whoops and gasps and tears at song and dance and oration. I miss being in a busy café and someone asking me, ‘do you mind if I share you table?’
I miss my Monday night book group, the snacks spread out in the middle of the table, the sound of the wine being poured, the gentle disagreements over the nature of characters, the inordinate time taken to choose the next text, the bidding goodnight, the setting of the latch, the realisation that what we think about a book says so much about ourselves than it does about the book.
I miss the past, but that is not allowed. If I opened up that door the missing would never end. I only allow myself to miss what is temporarily halted, the things that will come around again in the future. I can’t miss what has gone forever; to do that is to pin your hopes on a cloud on a windy day. I have a feeling that’s what the girl in the train was crying about. I have a feeling she was missing something that she knew was gone forever. Maybe someone. I was never going to fix her. God knows, it’s hard enough fixing oneself.
I miss sand.