A friend knows when to talk things through, but, most of all, a friend knows when to keep absolutely quiet. And to put the kettle on.
— Pam Brown
Standing at the kitchen door as the kettle boils for my final drink of the day, I’m flooded with memories. They don’t come all at once, or in order, but they come. Maybe they’ve been here all along, and I’m simply dipping in and out of them.
My triggers are mundane. The line of neighbouring roofs beyond the ivy-covered fence. The washing line that bisects the little square of garden. The grasses and nettles bordering the short path to the gate.
The memories that arise span decades but the most potent are from 2020 and 2021 when lockdown brought the walls of my world in close. Local walks for exercise or groceries. Working from home. And this garden.
Evening video calls with friends I could no longer meet in person. My drink — coffee or beer — on an upturned cardboard box on the grass beside my chair, or the little table I eventually bought for working from home. Talking until it got chilly or too dark for my friends to still see me. Worries shared in a spirit of trust. Hopes and fears and the day-to-day events of lives upended by the pandemic. Laughter too. The teasing only really good friends can do safely. Little things that mean so much and keep friendships alive. Keep friends alive, sometimes.
One memory comes at me, intense and immediate. It’s daytime. I’m on the phone with a friend, idly plucking at the branches of the tree by the gate as she tells me of her fears of hospitalisation. She’s scared but accepts it’s what she needs right now to stay safe. I can’t help, really, but I can listen as she talks it out. We part, unsure how long it will be before we can talk again but certain we will.
Another day. A morning. Another friend and big news I’m almost the first to hear.
Taking a new friend on a virtual tour of the garden as she sits in hers, hundreds of miles away.
Behind me, the kettle is coming to the boil. I think of the many times I’ve started evening calls with Fran here at the open door so I could share the view with her, before going inside where it’s warmer.
Another memory comes hard now. My gaze fixed on the mess of knots in the washing line as I hear hard truths from a friend who needs things to change if we are to continue.
Another. Sitting on the concrete doorstep, holding space as a friend unburdens herself of the frustrations and anger of her day. It helps, I think. We part after a hour or so, neither of us aware it would be the last time we’d talk.
Friends are not the only visitors. So many times I’ve stood here watching birds at the feeders I kept stocked so diligently. A family of hedgehogs. A squirrel. The cat that befriended me during lockdown.
The grass is longer now. I’ve not cut it in ages. The ivy I spent hours trimming back during lockdown serenaded by Taylor Swift is out of control. The tree which dominated the garden is no more, having fallen victim to storms two winters ago. The gate no longer closes.
The click of the kettle brings me out of my reverie. I sigh for all that is past. All that has changed. All that is gone. There is sadness, for sure. The poignancy of loss. But there is joy too. The privilege of trust that allows space to be held for whatever we need to bring into the open. This little garden is a physical representation of that kind of safe space. Physical or otherwise, such spaces are vital to our health and wellbeing.
I make my coffee, bring it to the open door and sip at it for a moment. A friend told me once, “You have your good memories. And I have mine.” It’s true, and there are new memories to be made, in this garden and wherever I find myself. It’s not too long since I brought my chair and table out for an evening call, and I will do so again.
I close the door and lock up for the night.
Photo by Laura Adai at Unsplash.