For the final day of our recent The Stories We Tell course at Cortijo Romero, in Spain, we invited people to write or tell a personal story that had not previously been told. The only rules were that it should not be more than a certain length, and that it should be true. This is what Amelia wrote:
“Once upon a time a young woman was living in her house with her husband and her three young daughters in a town in Hertfordshire. She had grown up in a nice house in a nearby town with her father, the doctor, and her mother, the doctor’s wife, and her little sister, and in due course she had gone to a nice girls’ boarding school where she had a fairly rubbish education but the school did, reputedly, ‘turn out a very nice type of gal’.
Then she did a secretarial course, which is always useful, and then she trained as a nurse at a prestigious London hospital and then, at a friend’s 21st birthday party, she met the man she would marry. He was kind and unthreatening and interested in her and it was time to have a boyfriend. She knew absolutely nothing about men or boys.
She took him home to meet her parents. Her mother said, ‘You don’t have to marry James you know, you are not on the shelf yet.’ At the time she was twenty-two. Her father declined to come to the wedding or, subsequently, to meet or acknowledge her first child until that child was more than one year old. James was just not the husband they would have chosen for their eldest daughter, he came from the wrong social background.
Twelve years pass and now she is living in her house with her husband, who is still kind and is hard working and reliable and a good father to their children, and the children are healthy and have friends and they go to school, and each morning when she goes upstairs to make the beds she lies down on the bottom bunk in the children’s bedroom and often she stays there until it is time to fetch them home from school and make their tea. And so time passes…
Then two things happen. Someone lends her a book called The Feminine Mystique by Betty Frieden in which she reads about ‘the problem that has no name’ – about women leading apparently perfect lives with husbands and children and beautiful homes who are nevertheless deeply depressed, and she knows she is not alone.
One winter Sunday she is sitting on the floor by the fire surrounded by children and husband, each engrossed in reading or playing, and she sees in the paper an article about a trekking holiday on horseback in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the south of Spain and she reads it through and then she reads it out to her assembled family and she says, ‘That is what I would do if I could,’ and not one of them responds in any way at all – she may just as well not have spoken.
And then she thinks, ‘Sod it, I am going to do it,’ and eight months later she arrives in Orgiva to join the group of people and horses she will spend the next two weeks with, riding from village to village, crossing the mountain pass, climbing Mulhacen to the Siete Lagunas, the seven glacial lakes near the top of the highest mountain in Spain, falling in love with her horse Odin and learning to be herself again without the defining props of husband and children.
And when she returns she finds employment outside the home while still caring for her children and a new chapter opens and she is no longer depressed.”
Next month we’re taking The Stories We Tell to the legendary Skyros Centre on the Greek island of Skyros (‘One of the world’s best holidays’ – The Sunday Times). Our course runs for two weeks, 21 July to 3 August, and we’re pleased to be able to offer a 10% discount to readers of A Few Kind Words. Simply quote promotional code JSJ10 when you book by phone or online at https://www.skyros.com/courses/health-and-wellbeing/
Dear Amelia – what a beautiful story. What a beautifully written story. My eyes filled with sadness, my mouth curled into a smile and my fist punched the crisp Spanish mountain air! Thank god for books and stories that keep on saving us. Thank you for yours. Lucyx