Today is Emancipation Day – my own personal, quietly commemorated independence day. Today two years ago I left an increasingly violent, volatile and dangerous marriage, and I showed up at some ungodly hour at my friend’s front door, with a suitcase and a black eye and a pink plastic folder full of music. My friend – blessings on her name – took me in and with her usual no-nonsense compassion made me the strongest Milo I’ve ever been subjected to. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m still on a sugar high. Still, it was exactly what I needed, and even the scent of Milo now brings the ghost of that deep relief of that morning: I’d done what I had to do, and just for that moment, someone else was taking the reins. I could rest in the knowledge that my friend knew what to do, when I didn’t.
It was a Sunday, and I didn’t sing for Mass at the Cathedral – how could I have turned up calmly for rehearsal, and then sung the Kyrie and the Sanctus and Benedictus, and the beautiful, peaceful, hopeful words of the Agnus Dei, when I’d just stepped into terrifyingly uncharted waters, and the frightening potential for homelessness? To say nothing of the very real fear of a jilted husband carrying out his threat to find me and kill me…I spent the day with my friend instead, allowing her to do my thinking for me, resting in her practical kindness, eating and drinking what was put in front of me, and ignoring the constant ringing of my phone with the increasingly desperate messages from the man who wanted me to come home, he was sorry, please forgive him, he’d learned his lesson…
I don’t remember much of that day, but I do remember deciding to sing Evensong, and I remember sitting in my friend’s kitchen, taking my music out of its pink plastic folder to sing through it in my head. And in that first moment of silent practise – the instant that the first notes formed in the maelstrom of my mind – I felt a sense of calm. The constant, low-level scream of anxiety that had ridden that space behind my sternum, which had distanced me from everything but the reality of oh my God, what had I done?, abated. Silence, when in those few hours I had become so used to quietly raging fear that I only noticed it in the light of its absence. I wish I could remember what piece of music that was. I feel like I owe it a favour, or a beer, or my thanks at least.
That was the start of a new life, the seizing of freedom, and a plunge into the darkness of fear, and flashbacks, and the very beginnings of the long, long process of making space in my soul for all that happened to me, all that was done to me, all I was forced to do. It’s been a long way out of that darkness, step by painful step, and I know that I’m a long way from that first fraught Milo-scented, music soothed day of freedom.
My friend will never know the depth of gratitude I have for her kindness, and I will never know the piece of music to which I owe those few moments of peace. I don’t even really know how to end this blog post, other than with a thankfulness I can never put words to, and the knowledge – hard and proud and unbreakable – that I survived.