The promise of a wild swim had drawn us down to the dried up bed of the Rio Higueron. Traversing the steep slopes through mango and avocado groves like cumbersome mountain goats, I realised where you go down you have to come back up. A daunting prospect even in the late afternoon in Southern Spain, the concrete still hot enough to slowly fry an egg. But we were committed to finding the Pozo Batan, a small reservoir that I had read about before arriving in Frigiliana. Strolling along I began to fantasise about the soft cold water rinsing the film of dust and sweat from my arms and legs. I imagined the suspension of my body, blissful weightlessness, completely connected to the water.
Growing up on the coast in South Wales, I have always felt an affinity with water. This relationship is materialised by a habit I indulge when visiting bodies of water. I collect small stones, pebbles and shells, just one from each location. In limiting myself to one I not only ensure my collection remains manageable, but I also placate my mum and dad who are increasingly irritated by my substantial and growing collection.
Each step brought us closer to the pool; I could almost feel the water now. Earlier that day my mum had inferred that out of fear of potential drownings in a secluded spot, the local council might have fenced off my oasis. Ignoring the niggling voice in my head and hoping the rumours proved false I forged on along the basin.
The sun passing behind the top of the valley submerged us in warm shade as we followed the natural curving line of the arid riverbed. Rounding the apex my face fell. Huge iron fences, at least two and a half meters high, rusted in the evening light. We would not be swimming. The water was a true blue, even turquoise in the shallower sunny spots. But I was not in it: looking at it and walking around it, but not in it. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a car, my pulse quickened, it was a police car. Despite knowing that we weren’t breaking any laws my mouth became dry and my palms slippery. I was beginning to form sentences in my head, explaining that we were only looking and not trying to break-in (even though I wanted to). The officers started their engine, rolling over the uneven ground towards us. I held my breath as we moved between the bushes and shrubs obscuring their view. Several scenarios most involving my arrest and or death forced themselves through my mind. Ultimately my anxiety proved completely unnecessary as the car just crunched off down the riverbed and out of sight.
Pozo Batan through its cage
A disappointed wild simmer – Angela
Admiring the Pozo Batan from afar
Turning back to my oasis, finding the feeding river, we followed it upstream. “What would we do if a wild dog were to attack us right now?” My mum’s throwaway comment set my amygdala to high alert, finding that my head didn’t want me to follow the stream further I sat down beside it. Tentatively I reached down and let the flow course around my fingertips (hoping I wouldn’t find it was a stream of sulphuric acid, it wasn’t). Benign, cool and soft, it would have been perfect for swimming in.
Dejected we walked back along the basin toward the roads snaking up the sides of the valley and to our “apartamento”. Absentmindedly my eyes scanned the ground and there it was, my stone. Our walk wouldn’t be fruitless after all. It was a perfect fit, cool and reassuringly heavy in my hand, a perfect swap for the lost promise of a swim.
I like to think that my anxious thoughts about electric fences and electrified or poisoned water wouldn’t have stopped me from swimming, I can’t be sure but they would certainly have made me hesitant. I recall fleeting feelings of relief as I realised the pool was inaccessible. I would not have to overcome my anxiety or ‘expose’ it. Now I wish I had been able to, but I will have to be content with the stone. The next time I come across an oasis I will swim in it.
This is a sentence that crops up a lot on the blogosphere… “so it’s been a while since my last post…and here’s why” or words to that effect. And yes I admit it has been a while. But this is not really my diary and Im not too keen on apologising for my absence when I doubt that it was even noticed. But I guess that’s what I am doing here anyway.
Nothing theatrical has happened, I didn’t get swept off my feet by love and end up marrying someone, nope I just went travelling, came back and started a masters and just left my blog here to ruminate on the meaning of its existence and its purpose.
It played hard to get and eventually I begrudgingly realised that I needed to return to it. Well if we are going to “be real” I will be honest. I put my masters degree on hold as a result of severe anxiety. Similar in feeling to the seat falling out of your wicker chair, and dropping you into the black space beneath. You find yourself a reluctant contortionist. Shifting into shapes and identities trying to find the you-shape, which at the moment is folded in two, feeling cramped and terrified.
But with a heap of love from family and friends and some VERY helpful CBT I am unfolding again, approaching something like a me-shape. Stretching back into myself, though it will be in a shape that I haven’t been before and I know that the shape will change continuously from gardener to musician to actor to art-historian, the me-morph. I digress, basically I want to be honest about my experiences with both anxiety and depression but also with love, hate, beauty,all that other shit too, oh and music which makes me feel all those things. Depression and anxiety may directly inform my writing or simply pop up as themes every now and then keeping me on my toes.
I may just be adding my voice to the chorus, but this is a choir that must continue to grow, increasing transparency about absolutely everything in the human experience. I will share the things that terrify and elate me and hope (maybe dream) that this can move us towards a more understanding and transparent world. A safer one.
Dare to dream and keep an eye on that wicker bottom.
Down to my swim suit, shivering amongst the rocks and sand. I am starting to think twice about wading into the murky water. The wind has picked up, as if I need any more incentive to ditch the swim. This will be more of a bamptism by ice than fire.
At my side is my brother. We have been talking about the possibility of cyclical time and have agreed that I need only stay in the water as long as it takes him to smoke a ‘rollie’. Apparently about two minutes. Thwarting this plan our mother appears over the crest of the costal path. No more ‘rollie’ timed swim for me. There is also now very little chance of bottling it and heading to the pub, as thick as theives pretending to have taken the icy plunge.
Walking down to the water over the muddy sand with voices breaking on my back, I try to pep myself up
“at least the water might be warmer than the air”
My toes confirm my suspicions. It is not. To save face I stride on defiantly, cold water engulfing me, swirling around my legs. It doesn’t really hit me until I am up to my chest.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph”
It is properly chilly. Well there is nothing for it. I gently push off the estury bed into a ladylike up head breaststroke. Quietly swearing under my breath. After a while the water around me begins to feel warmer but there is a gentle burning sensation letting me know it is not. When I emerge my legs will look like a pair of cheese puffs, stinging and numb.
Gently swimming against the current, it’s almost like being in a infinity pool. I feel completely connected to the earth bobbing about at the mouth of the estury, the temperature of the water making me feel giddily euphoric. After ten minuets or so of watching my brother skimming stones I decide that enough is enough and stumble ashore heady with adrenaline and endorphins.
The elated feeling ebs away as I struggle back into my clothes, the cold creeping back in. But in some small and insignificant way I have conquered the sea. And my own aversion to freezing water.
She had perfected the art of being visibly invisible. It takes practice, many not having the knack only succeed in becoming invisible. Those around her were thoroughly engaged with one another, paying her no obvious attention. But she could feel their furtive glances weighted with questions. Who is she? Why is she here? What is her name?
Anonymity of this kind is comfortable at first but gradually becomes tiresome as not one person breaks the silence around her. An alien feeling begins to grow, surging up and bubbling over. Suddenly she realises she has positioned herself poorly for a subtle escape. Clutching at strings and trying to enter and hold on to any conversation and ultimately fails with doors slamming shut in her face. This is and will continue to be an utterly fruitless exercise. Resigning herself to an embarrassing and loud exit through the chairs and bodies, hot faced she squeaks goodbye and leaves.
The cool night, welcoming, offers her ambiguity. She dives into it. Head first.