I don’t know where to start.
The past few months, I feel as though I have retreated from being so visible, taken a step back into the fog and became lost in my painting and storylines. My energy levels have been directed into writing this book and painting my little heart out. I have to admit, at times, it has been exhausting. Each month brings a flurry of emotions. The first week, I am exhausted from paying my bills. I am concussed by it, finding so little left over to do any of the improvements I have been promising to do on Maggie. And then, when the second week comes, I am full of energy. I can’t stop painting, I can’t stop writing. I am full of optimism and hope. And then, the third week comes, and I am aware that I have a limited amount of time to meet my financial targets to pay the upcoming bills. I retreat into the shadows of the boat. I don’t dress. I don’t leave except to walk Leela. I work. And work. And work.
But it’s been a difficult year for everyone. Income has halved and my costs have skyrocketed. Since when did cheese become so expensive?? Despite knowing I am not the only one, it brings as much comfort as a person telling me about their broken leg whilst I’m cradling a broken arm. It’s the same for so many people as we attempt to get through yet another month, putting one foot in front of the other in the hopes that next month it’ll be different. Next year, it’ll be better.
The windows and skylights of Maggie are leaking. I am rationing coal. I am keeping an eye on every slice of bread I have left. I found a large box of cornflakes for 75p the other day and I felt as though I had hit the jackpot. With a sprinkle of sugar, I could call that pudding after my meal of canned soup.
Reading books about the experiences of WW1 soldiers in the trenches have become a comfort. A reminder that I don’t have trenchfoot or watching my friends drown in a latrine.
It sounds dramatic. But really- like my Granddad said, “It’s not ok, but it’s ok.”
I have manipulated my emotions into confusing stress and panic into adrenaline and excitement. “It’s just a storyline,” I tell myself. “It’s just a character going through hard times- like every book that you’ve read. There’s always a plot twist in Chapter Four. You just haven’t got there yet.”
When I’m buttering my toast for dinner, I’m a traveller at an inn with only enough coin for the measly meal before me. But I’m ravenous, and it’s the most delicious thing I have ever tasted.
When I’m coal rationing, I’m a Victorian pauper, carefully placing three lumps of coal on the fire and then loading it with free wood to keep the heat ribboning throughout the boat.
“It’s just a story.”
There is a deep fear within me in being cold. It is something every boater is aware of when the frost first starts to settle. The fear of getting frozen into the canal with not enough water to last you. Becoming too sick to go out and get firewood. Seeing your breath curl and float from your mouth in a ghostly vapour of heat as you lie curled in your bed, dreading to throw the covers off and start the day.
People have feared the Winter for centuries. And I am no different. There is some comfort in that. Feeling yourself sink into the mindset of people gone by. The need to be warm. The need to seek firewood.
But there are some aspects to this life that even I can’t spin into a fairytale.
Coming to this mooring gave me the respite I needed. Last year was not only filled with hardship, but intense fear after various messages from strangers promised that they would find me. From a taxi driver keeping his doors locked and insisting that he would come and visit me for a few days to messages from a drunk saying he could see my boat and that we should be together.
Messages from a man claiming I should live at the bottom of his garden and why wouldn’t I reply to him? Why had I blocked him? Why couldn’t his family visit me?
To a forum dedicated to tearing down my character from my education, my accent and even my coat, with proclamations that if I got attacked- it would be my own fault.
I am afraid to step back into that life. Stuck and frozen into the canal in Winter. I am afraid to walk back to my boat in the dark. I am afraid to become that person I was a year ago, too afraid to leave when darkness hit. Flinching whenever someone walked past. My mind rising in suspicion every time someone watched me moor up, noting that I was alone.
I was afraid to lift my head up when walking along the towpath in the day, afraid that I would be recognised. Afraid that I would be attacked.
I arrived at this mooring at the beginning of March. I could not comprehend the amount of repair that my mind and body needed after that experience. And all of a sudden, 7 months have passed. In safety.
And however I have attempted to romanticise the tougher aspects of my life as a coping mechanism, I am at a very real point where I cannot afford to be here any longer. I am stuck. I cannot pay to repair Maggie. I cannot spin a storyline where my home is being damaged. It’s fine if it happens to me- I can go hungry. I can go cold. But when I see the dripping of water from the small skylights and know that there is a real danger of the interior of the boat becoming water-damaged- that is different.
So, I either stay here, with the safety of the mooring, electricity, neighbours, somewhere to park my car, unlimited water and coal on-site- at the cost of being stressed every month, barely having spare pennies to rub together and being unable to pay for any improvements. I can hope for things to change. I can hope for things to improve, that somehow if I continue working hard, then fortune will eventually come.
Or I leave in the most challenging point of the year to take off that financial strain and face the cold and the darkness of living alone on the Cut once more.
Do I have the mental fortitude to do it? So soon, when my plan was to leave in the Spring of next year? Can I face the Winter with leaking windows, a broken inverter and damaged batteries? Can I spin that into a storyline? Can I cope with that? Can I manage to overcome those hurdles and come out the other side still optimistic?
I have been stuck for a while.
The only options, I thought I had was to work harder. Find an extra job. Work all hours that I could.
And now I’m at a point where I am exhausted. I am so tired.
Is it possible to be exhausted but still be happy? Because don’t get me wrong, I go to sleep happy and I wake happy. There are obvious things that would make my life more enjoyable. But I know that this bubbling in my chest, this shortness of breath and pounding of my heart is for a reason and it’s not indigestion.
I love my life. I love what I do. Where I live.
But I know that I am coming to a decision that needs to be made very soon. Stick it out until Spring. Or go off into the cold.
Or be faced with selling the boat completely. And leaving the Midlands. And starting afresh somewhere else.
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
The story hasn’t become clear yet.