I see myself. I am an observer. An ordinary holiday maker laying stretched on a white plastic sunbed; my towel scrunched beneath me, my hot cheek stuck to my hand as my head rests upon it.
Marinating in Piz Buin my ears are filled with 80’s, 90’s, keep going, pop songs. A paperback; yesterday’s pages crispy, today’s pages damp, is visual on top of my beach bag – Primark – £6.99 – more than I’d wanted to pay for a throwaway but it has adorable pink pom poms dangling from the handles.
Sauntering toward the pool, in a fitted floral bikini, I’m not self conscious; I’ve had a full leg wax and Brazilian. I’m slim in a comfortable way. My hair is styled in a short wavy bob. I look down at my feet; my nails are painted in Russian blue. I love them.
I linger at the poolside appreciating the hot sun baking me nicely at 39 degrees whilst I search out my children among the bobbing heads. Caitlan and Paddy are negotiating a gigantic rubber ring; laughing, plunging, splashing; their factor fifty legs and arms entangled. With large green diving goggles suctioned to their faces they are the sweetest frogs I’ve ever seen. They wave madly at me. I return with an SOS wave, smiling so wide there’s no posing for cool selfies here. I like my smile; the sensation of its corners stretching up and outward. I don’t care if I’m inviting wrinkles. I want a face that’s lived, not a smooth, alabaster bust capturing a version of me.
Leisurely swimming, my arms stretch out wide in a circular motion and my knees come together propelling me forward. I feel the strength in my limbs. My stomach muscles tighten as I surge back and forth. Twenty lengths – easy!
At the deep end, folding my legs, I use my hands to wall walk to the pool floor. I resist my body’s instinct to float up. I sit cross-legged, holding my breath, enjoying a moment that’s completely mine. Until I see a set of Russian Blue toes that match mine. Submerged I pull Caitlan’s leg. Surfacing I meet her mischievous green eyes; she constantly looks like she rolled down a hill, she’s bursting with adventure. Paddy’s face pops up over her shoulder. His smile is totally disarming. A friend To Everyone states a school certificate on the fridge door back home. I hold my hand straight and stiff, the thumb resting against my forehead to form a shark fin. I hum the soundtrack to Jaws and the games begin.
They play water polo. My husband is ultra competitive. He lunges for the ball, throws it to Paddy who tosses it to Caitlan who scores; she is her father’s daughter.
Resting my back against the pool side, the tiles rough against my skin, I look up at the glorious sun; its heat rejuvenating. I want to bottle this moment. I could selfishly say I wanted this minute to last forever but then Caitlan and Paddy would be 14 and 13 eternally.
My husband swims toward me. I like how he looks in sunglasses, his hair wet. Putting his arms either side of me, we kiss. It’s slow and tells a story. A marriage, not made in heaven but made from sunshine and rain.
Reaching up to the handles of the pool ladder, I put my foot on the first step and feel the muscles in my arms tense as I pull myself up. Water falls from me. I run my hand through my hair, droplets race down my already hot back.
I’m running with my husband, to the beach, the kids up front. My breathing synchronizes with my stride. The grassy ground, hard-baked and cracked by the intense Turkey sun, is beneath me. Running is my thing; I fall into a comfortable rhythm. I’m connected to the earth, to the infinitely clear blue sky above me; In my own way I’m beautiful: my strength, my gregariousness, I make every day mean something.
My husband passes me, he becomes a dot in the distance, I can’t see the kids and I feel a tightness across my chest and a hoarseness in my throat. At the beach bar I’m breathing hard, bent over, puffing out a stitch. My family are in the sea, jumping over waves with frothy white crests. I look a little mad but I’ve an aura that catches the attention of the odd passer-by. For a brief, infectious moment they too feel carefree. My happiness is contagious.
Sitting at the beach bar, my throat a little raw from running, I enjoy a cappuccino. I recall the night before. Our early dinner to avoid the all-inclusive rush hour The amphitheater sipping mojitos and tequilas with rainbow umbrellas pierced through limes and oranges. Below us, the stage with twirling mini princesses. We played gin rummy, twenty one and traffic lights, serious stuff with Euros at stake. Something niggles. I hadn’t won a game. I couldn’t keep track of what card, what suit, went down. Me the master cards woman outwitted by teens?
After the entertainment, the kids meet up with their German friends and we follow them to the beach disco. They are not shy – I like that about them; there’s no awkwardness. They prank around and dance in a circle. Pop and Garage beats out, its base shuddering through my feet and upwards. The kids jump in unison, arms punching the air, singing along, chanting. I notice the tall blond boy; he’s playfully pushing Caitlan around. I see the first spark of attraction between them.
I glance nostalgically at my husband. His eyes reflect a nineteen year old girl, in a bright red dress, playing pub darts. She’s at the bar counting coins from a pink, soft leather purse she purchased in Greece. He cheekily chats her up. He’s confident; she finds him alluring. He’s says his name’s Tinker.
Hips swaying, shoulders shimmying I’m dancing and I feel on top of the world. I look above at the glitter balls and the pink and blue LED disco lights and WHAM and DURAN DURAN pop randomly to mind. Tinker pulls me to him and we move in unison. Thirty years and we’re each other’s shadow. My head nestles into his neck. I kiss it gently. I’m still in love.
I think I’m tired, too much sun perhaps. The music becomes an aural assault. The glitter ball stings my eyes. Walking to the chalet the kids tell me the night was bangin’ but their voices are distant. Their is a nagging persistence in my brain that all is not well; nothing it what it seems.
I see myself; the rose tinted glasses removed. I’m the same but different. Still the short wavy bob, but my frame is fuller, my poise diminished, my posture stooped but the easy smile flickering at the first glimpse of my family is me. My heart is still huge but my head is muddled. My body is awkward. I laugh; it’s warm and real and I feel comforted by that.
I’m putting sun lotion on Paddy’s back; it’s what mums do. My arms feel weakly heavy; they are alien to me but I continue to rub and I massage a little into his ears. He’s so gorgeous, I want to encircle him in my arms and keep him safe; always.
A member of the animation team spots us. He knows Cait and Pad. Yesterday they went paintballing with him. He’s a bit of a joker. He’s young, about 26, his nose is large but it suits his face. He has a six pack and is hench as Caitlan would say. I note a glimmer of interest in his eyes; he’s not sure what to make of me, of us.
“Hey Paddy, Katrin (he can’t pronounce Caitlan), hoopa hoopa it’s pool games.”
In unison Paddy and Cait scramble off their sun beds and join the forming crowd of teens and menopausal men.
Tink is already in the pool. Shit! Getting off the sun bed, without help, is a feat in itself. I turn onto my side and raise my outer leg toward the ground – my bottom is now upright and on full HD view; wide angle). Straightening takes a while. The muscle spasms, the rigidness at my joints, the pain that’s deep in the marrow of my bones, make moving exhausting.
“Yeahhhhhhh – I’m upright – independently; joy!” I’ve begun to talk to myself. It began as quick, motivational comments and now I mutter most of the day, often incoherently.
Squatting I retrieve my camera from my bag. It’s not lady-like but I can’t bend over; I get dizzy and fall. “But it’s hard getting up from a crouched position; very stressful on the knees.” See! I’m talking to myself again.
Chart music vibrates from a large speaker, it floats into my ears and beats in my heart, I feel light and elevated and young. I linger momentarily and embrace it. My hips sway gently. I yearn to dance so fucking much “But it’s difficult, my legs beat to their own drum now”.
I reach for my cane; my fingers are stiff, it’s hard to grasp. Walking slowly toward the pool, I consider each step, it’s a slippery surface, I teeter then regain balance. My gait is unusual. I see sunbathers speculatively watching me.
“What do you think is wrong with her?” they ask in hushed tones “MS, Motor Neurons, Stroke”; they’ll never guess; on holiday with little to distract I’ve become the center of attention. “I’m a celebrity. Cool!“
Sitting on the poolside, my legs dangle in the water; they are lean no longer – such a shame. My husband swims over and lifts himself out of the pool.
“You’re scaring the holidaymakers,” he says abruptly. He’s not impatient with me, his voice just always sounds abrupt, a little rude, He’s telling me I’m at it again. Giving a running commentary to my life.
I look straight ahead and feel the increasing pressure of keeping my head upright, unsupported, only a neck brace, between me and pain. Paddy is racing across inflatable stepping stones. He’s a whippet in neon orange shorts. The way his body moves, hia quick reflexes astonish me. He’s on video, I rewind and watch, again and again!
Caitlan is so cheeky. She was out first round but no one noticed. Now she’s in the final of the ‘Spoon Diving Competition,’ with two bulky Belgiums wearing inappropriate shorts. We all know only Daniel Craig does Speedos. I watch her, she’s got a killer look, her toes just touch the edge of the pool and she’s leaning forward. She has a glass hour figure; her legs are strong and tanned; her flamingo bikini is perfect; feminine but modest. She glances at me and I give her the thumbs up; she’s already a winner. I love her so much I can barely breath.
My husband assists me to my sunbed. I’m a disaster: my leg dragging, my fingers involuntarily flicking, my neck hunched into my shoulders. Sitting on the edge of the plastic bed, I’m withdrawn as he covers me in sun screen. I say something benign, to fill the silence of reality, of disability. Something about getting a full flush at cards tonight. He says something equally meaningless, yet his pause speaks volumes. We both know I’m not the wife he chose.
I lay stiff; an embalmed mummy unable to alter position. I lose myself in music: Latin, Maroon 5 and Eur. I retreat to a parallel universe. I’m the old me, gracefully leaping from one inflatable step to another. Paddy is behind me but I’m too fast, I stick my tongue out at him and leap for the sky and plunge into the water.
I’m plunging to the bottom of the pool, waiting for the bubbles and white water to settle. Where is that spoon? My heart is racing and I’m struggling to breath. My lungs are bursting but as I spot the spoon excitement oxygenates me and I grasp it tight to my chest. Resurfacing, the animation team clap and my husband gives me that look and I know in about ten minutes we’ll be naked somewhere…but it’s SciFi.
Walking from the pool to our room is wearing; the day takes its toll. Friends don’t always understand…that when I’m with them, that’s my best genre; Chick Lit. Behind the scenes I’m Drama, Thriller, Horror. Pregabalin, Amitriptyline, Tramadol, Naproxen, Oxycontin; my hand trembles slightly as I pop pill after pill. I’m a rerun of Trainspotting.
Our room in spacious with two sets of twin beds divided by a lattice partition. We take turns in the bathroom getting ready for dinner. I sit on the wall of our patio; the kids intermittently appear with a snippet of information about endangered animals (satellite T.V.).
“You look pretty mum.”
It true I’m wearing a green emerald dress that cups my breasts, comes in at the waste and floats round my legs. My skin is golden. I look a picture of health.
It’s still hot; we walk together toward the restaurant. It’s ironic that the hotel gardens are home to tortoise. I watch Shelly move, each step she plods is laboured. ‘Forest Gump’ comes to mind. The impulse to drop my cane, pull my arm free of my husband and run, strikes from nowhere but I swallow it. Instead I move closer to him shutting out the loud voice in the silence, “Run Alison, run!”
Dinner is always a success. I absolutely love all-inclusive. I sit at the table and Patrick places a dinner plate in front of me with tasty morsels from seven continents – of course noodles go with chicken tikka! I look at my son who thinks of me before himself and I feel joy.
Getting food from plate to mouth is taxing. I’m grinning because my meatball rolled across our table and onto the floor; oops! I look at Kitty, she spotted my misdemeanor and we share a secret smile.
Laying motionless in bed, my husband asleep long ago, I feel sad. I live a life I didn’t choose. I won it in a game of fate. My bones are hollow, dry, brittle, dusty. I was born with this malformed spine, with its missing discs and fused vertebrae, that sits in a spinal column that’s too narrow, where the cord is pinched and compressed. My heart tightens; my husband and children didn’t chose this life either.
Tomorrow we go home. We say goodbye to adventure, to a hot, burning sun, to soft golden sand, to pool games and teenage romance. I say goodbye to me.