If books are literary medicine then Dominique Browning’s “Around the House and Garden” should be the salve prescribed to every woman who finds herself abandoned in the former marital home.
When Mark left I truly believed that I would never come to terms with it: that the memories scratched on to every surface he had previously called home would eat me up until there was none of me left. But it didn’t happen. Of course it didn’t happen: we women are stronger than that. We keep on keeping on until the day comes when memories are simply that: no longer threatening to have us coming undone at every turn but lying, still, washed, harmless, beneath everything we have created since.
Though it is true that, four years later, I still sleep on the far left side of the bed, clinging on to the edge for fear that my very presence will sully someone else’s dreams, elsewhere Mark’s shadow no longer haunts the house. This is my house now and I lay claim to everything in it: to the treasures I have found and bought without his consultation, the remnants of relationships I have enjoyed in his wake, the evidence of our little boy growing up without his Fathers constant sleight of hand. This is my life now: and though in many ways it a lesser life than the one before, though the car doesn’t work, the living room fire died, the house is falling down and today, oh joy of all bloody horrible joys, even the toilet has given up the ghost and requires the administering of a bucket of water to flush it: regardless of all of that, this is my life now and in my own quiet, barely acknowledged way, I celebrate it daily.
Along the journey from Hysteria to Acceptance (making stops at Sorrow and Complete and Utter Madness long the way!) I was supported by the voices of women, both family and friends, my darling, precious Brocante readers, and when everyone else was tucked up in their own beds and it was just me and my four walls, the voices of women in the books I used as talismans against my own self destruction. Books written by women who had already tread the boards of marital failure and lived to exquisitely tell the tale.
That the arrival of a gift from Sarah Ban Breathnach, containing the 10th anniversary edition of Simple Abundance and a copy of Moving On should have been so timely, arriving as it did just a month before Mark left, strikes me now as rather spookily foretelling, and looking back, I remember receiving the beautiful pink and green parcel and going upstairs to our bedroom to jealously guard it, closing the door behind me and opening it in floods of tears and not really knowing why. Knowing only that though there was something seriously wrong with my relationship and that this gift from the stranger who had effectively shaped the woman I was, acknowledged that somehow I was still worthwhile and there would always be a tomorrow.
But at that time, though I tucked Moving On into my Comfort Drawer, I couldn’t bring myself to read it because I simply wasn’t ready, so in the weeks that followed, weeks when I couldn’t write and lived on cucumber, in those weeks, I read and re-read Dominique Browning’s “Around the House and In the Garden”, a book I discovered through the pages of Romancing the Ordinary, and a book that would come to be my guide to allowing your house to gently heal your heart.
And so it was. That Summer of 2006 I trawled nurseries and boot sales every weekend while my son was spirited away by his Father. The house never looked lovelier, and though for a while I believed that Mark would be seduced homeward by the pretty auriculas in the little laundry room or the candles constantly burning on the mantelpiece, eventually I came to understand that I had to do it for myself, or not do it at all, for there was nothing to be gained by domestic ritual or puttery prettiness other than the peace it cloaked my shoulders in. That it was indeed time to move on…
So I did. Sarah Ban Breathnach did. And Dominique Browning did, until the day came when the magazine she edited collapsed and once again life changed shape. A calamitous fate no doubt for Browning, but a serendipitous one for us, as she has once again put pen to paper to transcribe her elegant telling of what it is to have your world up-ended, and yet again have to re-invent the future you had so cautiously etched upon your heart.
Slow Love (excerpted in the New York Times magazine here) tells the story of what happened to Dominique after the rug was pulled from under her career and how as a result she embraced a new way of living, described in her own words as “engaging with the world in a deeper, more meaningful way, learning to appreciate the beauty of everyday moments, and taking time to share them with one another“, inspired by the aftermath of navigating all the “speed bumps” we encounter in life, “the ones that surprise and challenge us, and the ones we put there ourselves, with purposefulness“.
That we should be so sharply defined by what we do, is an error integral only to life in the 21st century, but in Slow Love, Dominique Browning sets about exploring what it is to exist without the confines of a job title, and after an all too necessary period spent lolling about in pyjama wearing despair, sets about showing us yet again that there is life after the mini deaths we mourn so very, very deeply.
So until Slow Love is published I am prowling around Dominique’s blog, and remembering the kind of clarity one gains in the aftershock of losing what we once held dear.
Life goes on, Readers. If there is one thing I know for sure, life goes on.