A simple thing about not walking on my own

IMG_3846When I was much younger I spent a lot of time in the Scottish Highlands. My mother, whose family came from Ballater in Aberdeenshire, was evacuated there after her house was bombed. I think she was eight.
        We stayed in a little cottage that was almost as cut off as I suppose you could be in that part of the world: no mains gas, water or electricity. A phone that sometimes stopped working for no reason. Any further down the broken track beside the cottage, out down alongside the river Gairn, and we’d have been gone, somehow. I remember toying with that thought, shifting between being scared and being excited. My mother (she chose the place, not my father) had a strange habit of taking things to the brink, and often other people with her, or instead of her, even if she didn’t know that was what she was doing.
        I loved it there.The first time we visited the place  was the summer of the drought: 1976. Every day the sky was blue and Mum would send us, my sisters and I, out saying she’d blow a whistle when it was time for lunch. Sometimes I’d do something with my sisters, which usually ended in a row or somebody getting bored, often I’d head out on my own. I liked meeting tourists, German of French campers who’d pitched a tent in out of the way places and who were often so surprised to find a curious ten-year-old turn up wanting to know where they’d come from. So I was often on my own, but not entirely.
        I used to spend so much time walking, and when I was walking I know I was never lost – lost in the sense of being gone, dissociated, or zoned out. I was there and I remember it vividly: the feeling of the heat and the colours like a kind of extraordinary haze, and the distance from anywhere; and the height, the mountains. But when I wasn’t walking, or talking, and I sat down to rest, I got lost. An edge of some sort was never far away.
        This year’s the first time I’ve been back there since I was that young and not felt weighed down by an awful sense of everything that happened afterwards. Now is now, and I find not walking on my own about as wonderful a thing as can happen. I don’t go diving off into myself. Those flitting seconds when my mind turns in on itself sound like thunder around me and somebody notices. So I need to notice.
       I pass men walking on their own sometimes and I think I’d rather not.

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