I am an Island by Tamsin Calidas

I am disorientated. I don’t know what to trust or believe or feel any more. When your body fails you and you stop trusting yourself and your instinct, it alters your bearings.

I try to keep myself busy. I go out walking. When I am tired of walking, I just lie down. I am so exhausted that sometimes it feels as if it is the only thing I can do. Lie down in the grass, on a hill, and feel gravity holding me even as my eyes fall into the sky. Sometimes I just close my eyes and sleep. Often when I wake, it is nearly dark. As I feel the evening dew on my face, it is as though some inner hurt is soothed. I do not sing or whisper their names any more. I just stand and watch the sun set. I write my own name in the wind. Then I walk slowly home. I start to wonder if I should carry on with my job. I am not coping. I am finding it increasingly difficult to look after the under-fives in the school. Sometimes I have to make excuses to leave the room.

It is hard working in a world made up of tightly knit families when I cannot turn to my own. My brother is overseas, my sister is estranged and my parents have not been to stay since a disastrous visit the previous year, during which my father anaesthetised his usual anxiety by getting drunk and abusive. It is horrible to find your own father stealing whisky from the house like a teenager and your parents screaming at each other in front of you. I am tired of having to lift him up off the floor. In the end I had to ask him to leave, and he looked me in the eye and said, ‘I wish I had never come.’

I know, deep down, he didn’t mean it. As upset as I was, I remain protective of him. I know it is his way of coping. He is as worried about my mother as the rest of us. They stayed in a one-bedroom rental cottage down the road, because ours was a tip amid fresh renovations. For all her pretence, it didn’t escape me that she could not find the bathroom or the bedroom, or simple things like the fridge in the kitchen. Everyone has secrets and problems. Knowing I cannot share them for fear of adding to the chaos makes it harder. Our roles are disrupted, my parents behaving like children.

Sometimes it makes me question if I am crazy to long to be a parent myself. Yet it does nothing to lessen my desperation for children of my own. It hurts even to see friends who have young children, creating another distance that means their sporadic visits become even rarer.

I am a season out of kilter. My heart is still frozen from such a long winter. Infertility is like a great fault line running not just through my body, but through my life. It is strange to think that when I die there will be no part of me that continues. It used not to matter, but now it sometimes stops me in my tracks.

When I am feeling brighter, I know in my heart this is not true. When I die, I will be in all and everything. I will breathe a lungful of sun and a heartbeat of moon. And even though I am childless, my spirit will beat with the fullness of love. I will be out in the wild places, free on the winds. In the high clouds and the early dew. In some part of the soil, or salt, or the lift of a wave. I will be in a songbird’s throat and on the spit of spray of a gull’s wing. I may not be seen, but I hope that in my death, as in my life, I will be felt. That my life will help to nourish other lives. And that one day, in my own small way, I will be mother to all.

Most days I go to the shore. I watch the sea furling and unfurling as I stand with Maude, listening to the waves. In the half-light, the geese are calling. A graze of sound on the horizon, tearing a low glimmer of sky. Out there, in the further darkness, a stirring wind is up.

Whitecaps crest an incoming tide. Above, gulls are circling, thin cries skirling, white feathers fraying against the sharp edge of the northerly wind. Sounds blur, carry, lift or are lost. Every few minutes, a gust of spray hurls itself fierce against the sharp limestone rocks. My cheeks are wet with spray. I listen to its steady-building crescendo, a lull, and then its inevitable fall. A low rushing sound follows, like a slow, heavy release of brakes.

I whisper softly to the waves, ‘If it’s meant to be, one day a child will find me.’

I gaze at the horizon. Its fragile light has never looked quite so far away, so untouchable. But as I breathe, I feel those waves quietly gathering and spilling a deeper strength inside me.

  • I Am An Island

  • THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

    'Memoir of the year' - Vogue

    'A wondrous, sensuous memoir of salt-stung survival . . . clear-eyed and poetic prose' Sunday Times

    'A fascinating memoir' - Daily Mail


    When Tamsin Calidas first arrives on a remote island in the Scottish Hebrides, it feels like coming home. Disenchanted by London, she and her husband left the city and high-flying careers to move the 500 miles north, despite having absolutely no experience of crofting, or of island life. It was idyllic, for a while. But as the months wear on, the children she'd longed for fail to materialise, and her marriage breaks down, Tamsin finds herself in ever-increasing isolation.

    Injured, ill, without money or friend she is pared right back, stripped to becoming simply a raw element of the often harsh landscape. But with that immersion in her surroundings comes the possibility of rebirth and renewal. Tamsin begins the slow journey back from the brink.

    Startling, raw and extremely moving, I Am An Island is a story about the incredible ability of the natural world to provide when everything else has fallen away - a stunning book about solitude, friendship, resilience and self-discovery.

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