‘Just breathe, just breathe,’ I mutter, jagged huh-huh-huhs dragging back and forth. My footsteps clap in my ears, the soles of my shoes slapping the pavement of my hometown, walking fast along familiar streets. I have simply come into the town centre to drop off some bits at a charity shop, but it’s become a moment of trauma. Here is the corner where you would wait for me on your scooter as we crossed to school in year 5, here is you aged six running into the shop ahead of me to chat to the owner that is a friend of ours. Here I am crossing the road outside the solicitors where I changed my will after you died.
I throw myself through the next available doorway. A pound shop. The fabric on my mask acts like a paper bag for the hyperventilating. It draws in across my open mouth, and out. I force myself to breathe through my nose as I walk the aisles, trying to shout over the anxiety that has taken over.
‘Garden lights! Anti-slip bath mats! Cat food!’ I yell, internally. ‘Bleach! Gnomes!’ It works, sort of, and my pacing slows to a browse, the anxiety dials down, and then I am simply standing, looking normal, as if casually contemplating the choice between one type of make-up remover or another. My heart is bumping along a little fast, but steadily. My legs are not tingling. It’s ok again. I can breathe.
Moving back to Glossop was always going to be more challenging that staying away. Every pitted pavement, every doorway, holds a memory of Dan from one stage of life or another. It’s unavoidable. But mostly, it’s fine. I lived here for twenty plus years before Dan came along; many of my memories pre-date him. These old recollections sometimes also raise a flutter of the heart, but for reasons of shame rather than grief. There is the gutter I was sick in at sixteen after the pub, there is the one I was sick in at nineteen, and so on.
I would not have come back to live in Glossop had it not been for my partner, H. I could not have faced going home by myself after one of these mini panic attacks on these familiar streets. I knew I would need someone at home that could comfort me straight away, someone to listen when I say ‘Today Dan was everywhere but I still couldn’t find him. He was at the bus stop, in the chippy, on the swing in the park…’ someone to hold me when I need to be held as my tears fall. H does this for me. He wraps his arms around me, says nothing, and lets me cry.
Now, I leave the pound shop, purchaseless, and cross the street that has become ordinary again. The Dan filter has lifted, the portal to that other world has closed. The tarmac is just tarmac. My thoughts can settle back on today, to what to have for tea, to the football that’s on later, to H listening to me and to being safe again. I take off my mask, and breathe.