Saturday, January 15, 2011
Three Days in Hebden Bridge
Ever since discovering that Tony lives in beautiful Hebden Bridge, I have wanted to write about my own time there in September, 2004. Gem and I spent three days there visiting my sister, Connie, and her two beautiful adopted daughters, Kira and Freya.
Connie is my next in age sister, sixteen months younger than me. For all the years of our childhood, we shared a bedroom. We registered the slightest fluctuation of each others’ moods. We fought intensely sometimes, but loved each other fully, unquestionably. When I remained in Canada and Connie decided to go to England to attend university, that pattern was interrupted. Her absence from my life was like a question that I had to answer every day, until it became a part of me, like all the other barbs that are snagged on the walls of my soul.
I’m not aware of it before I arrive in Hebden Bridge, but my sister’s 12 year relationship has recently ended. Her eyes are no longer receptive, lively, but are bitter with concealment, haunted with pain. She carries her fear like a shielded flame. She and her little girls entwine their arms around each other constantly. Her eyes follow them hungrily everywhere they go.
We’ve lost our easy words with each other, but we walk all over Hebden Bridge together. Gem takes pictures, and I absorb myself in my nieces, holding their hands, peering into shop windows, stopping to buy them each a soft toy. We go out for lunch, and five year old Kira climbs onto my lap. “My Mummy is sad,” she whispers audibly into my ear.
On the way home, Connie pushes three year old Freya on a swing in the small playground near her house. The expression on my sister’s face is frozen, drained of essence. My husband wonders privately to me if we are intruding, and should leave before the planned three days are up.
My sister cooks dinner, and I paint the girls’ faces. Freya peers delightedly at the result in the mirror, and Gem captures the magic of that moment. Later, he goes out by himself in search of a pub. I stay and help my sister put the little ones to bed, and then we talk. “I don’t know how I’m going to do this alone”, she tells me. She starts to weep and the swallows her tears in an audible gulp. Gem comes back having found what he sought. He finds us stuck into the wine, laughing hysterically.
Two days later, as Gem and I walk to the railway station, I am aware of an abiding peace and beauty all around me. It seems in direct contrast to my sister’s fragility. The loveliness is almost painful. I’m not mourning the loss of my sister, but rather the passing of a time when were in the same flux and our stories were concurrent.
When we leave, Connie hugs me fiercely, kisses my cheek. “I love you,” she says. Her words sound almost surprised, as if she has suddenly just realized that it’s true.
Six years later, and so much has happened since our brief visit to Hebden Bridge. Connie has moved with her daughters to Canada. They live in Ottawa close by another sister, and are building a good life for themselves. Connie teaches at a highschool there. She is vibrant, alive, happy. Kira, now eleven, plays the French horn in the city youth orchestra. Freya, aged nine, takes ballet and gymnastics.
Another change: my hair has turned snow white, and I’ve chosen to leave it that way!
Although I hadn't looked at these pictures in several years, seeing them now, I am instantly transported back to the mellow sunshine of those three poignant days in Hebden Bridge.