The seafront is deserted except for a bedraggled stray dog and an icy wind that whips cold spray across my face. With a hollow boom, waves pound the crumbling seawall, fling white droplets into the air and suck back before the next assault.
I run, avoiding pebbles washed along the desolate promenade. I run, not from anything, not to anything. I run because I must. I run on emotions that punch at me like the swell of the tide. I run to light the fire of transformation, to warm a cold and turbulent inner sea to steam, to burn away the clinging scent of death. I run to uncover hidden emotions, to lift them to the light where spray and wind will wash them clean. I run to keep myself alive in precious minutes of freedom before returning to my mother’s bed where she lies in a semi-coma before her final breath.
Every morning, after I spoon-feed her breakfast and drop my son at the nearby primary school, I hike the hill to the seafront, climb over a low wall to the promenade and stretch my legs against rusted railings on the sea wall that drops to a deserted beach below. I gaze out along a line of tar-soaked breakwaters that yearly disintegrate under the weight of storm after storm, that keep beaches from disappearing altogether as water slams the southern coast. High tide spray from the Channel coats my hair, dampens my clothes and stings my eyes. I turn left on the promenade and run toward the Martello tower.
I run hard and fast. My chest hurts, my lungs cannot contain enough air to thrust me forward out of sadness. My throat rebels as I gasp for air. Work, lungs, work! Oxygen, burn this weight that pulls at me like a rusted anchor. Raise this sorrow to the tipping point of letting go. My chattering mind tells me I’m ready to let go. But deep down, there is no escape from the tie that binds a mother and child. Roots are deeper than any unruly mind can fathom, and won’t let go.
I run as hard as I can until the tightness of my chest screams STOP as I arrive at the Martello tower, a round concrete bastion of wartime ghosts, built in 1810 to repel an invasion by Napoleon. Memories rush in of an amusement arcade, ice creams and frozen lollipops on carefree teenage summer days. Days spent on steep pebble beaches, thin towels spread to protect from the bumpy lumpy rudeness of the cold gray stones. Now the arcade is closed forever and the tower houses a museum, closed in winter.
Can the pain in my lungs lessen the suffering my mother bears with such grim British stoicism? Only once has she requested a pain pill. I imagine it is too much pain for anyone to endure. She denies her agony, but her contorted body tells me otherwise. The stiff upper lip. Do I take on her suffering for her? Is that what every child tries to do for their mother? “Be happy mom, mummy, or mother, don’t be sad,” must be the thought of every good child.
I endured her years of sadness and hidden undercurrents of bitter disappointment. I ran from her sadness to Greece, the land of Zorba, sunshine and dance. I ran to America, land of movie magic and wide open space. I ran to where emotions could be expressed, laid out like colored saris on rocks to dry and be bleached by sunshine. I ran to India to let go of every cord that tied me to my mother’s sorrow.
Now I run between scattered pebbles thrown on the damp promenade. I run past peeling-paint beach huts, padlocked for winter, to where the sidewalk ends under Seaford Head. From the last tarry stretch of shingled beach I look toward the light of towering chalk cliffs stretching into the distance under the South Downs. Chunks of concrete and tide-pools block my path, the beach impassable at high tide. I can go no further.
I turn back and run to face the endless ordinariness and bursting intensity of waiting for the inevitability and release of death for my mother.
Nirvan Hope is a photographer, writer and Vedic astrologer living in Lakewood, Wa. She has published a memoir, “Three Seasons of Bees and Other Natural and Unnatural Things“, a novel “Gypsy Soup” and a book of poetry “Love and the Infinite.” Website: nirvanhope.com