On Small Rituals to Keep Us Safe by Lauren Vevers

I wear the same coat to the hospital every day. The first time I pull it on, a crash of sickening anxiety rising in my body. In the early hours of the morning, outside the Intensive Care Unit, a familiar waiting room. I clutch the coat close. I can smell her perfume on the collar or I can’t and my mind is playing cruel tricks. In these periods of acute emotional stress, time twists in unusual ways; reality is soft like damp clay. I’m making deals with a God I don’t think I believe in. I’m clinging onto her and hoping. I’m also expecting the worst.

The coat is dark blue and practical with a fleece-lining and generous pockets. Like everything my mam owns, it’s in immaculate condition and looks brand new. She would wear it on walks with my dad in winter. They’d track their steps and proudly report back how far they’d made it. Around March of this year, I spot the coat hanging in the wardrobe at home. I need a jacket for a camping trip and it fits the bill. She’s happy for me to have it. Many of her clothes are from before, when wearability in a wheelchair wasn’t a consideration. When I put it on, I feel closer to her and that scares me. It’s a perfect fit. I’m almost 29, the same age she was when she fell pregnant with me. It’s happening too fast and I’m not ready yet.

For my mam, everyday rituals kept dark things from the door.

I grew up with the same mindset because fear is infectious and because I was scared in my own right. I was sensitive to the unpleasantness which crept in at the corners; I fixated on death and illness and loss. So it’s no surprise that, when she falls ill again, I reach for the blue coat day after day. In the beginning, it’s a comfort and I find solace in repeated action of reaching for it before I leave. Later, it becomes a talisman. My mind tells me that mam’s recovery is dependent on it. I know she is getting better because of the care she’s receiving in hospital. But I can’t help but believe in the power of the coat.

The illusion of control brings me consolation against the unsettling randomness of the cosmos.

I have always relied on small rituals but I don’t know at what point those became rules and when those rules became restrictions on how I live. If I’m about to go away, I pack a bag and then I re-pack it and I pack it again and repeat. My house has to be tidy at all times; I can never leave dishes festering in the sink. Any minor changes to my routine are seismic shifts. It’s exhausting. There are other rituals, though, that are much less claustrophobic. Writing is one of them. When I write I open up to possibility and hope floods in. I write to investigate pain in a way that’s containable. I write so that I can leave the coat by the door.

Lauren Vevers is a writer and director from Newcastle upon Tyne. Her writing has been published in The i, Notion, The Real Story, Hobart Pulp, Popshot Magazine, and others. She writes about theatre and feelings for Exeunt and A Younger Theatre. Her plays, ‘Trashed’ and ‘Bassline’, were included in the Pint-Sized Playwriting Longlist for 2018 and 2019. She was a participant on the BFI Northern Exposure Lab. Her debut short film as a writer / director, LOVE SPELL, was recently awarded funding from BFI and is in production with Freya Films. Lauren also runs creative writing workshops for young people and community groups in the North. Say hello via email at laurenmaryvevers@gmail.com or on social @laurenvevers.

Other writing:

‘so altered and infinitely more’ in The Real Story: https://therealstory.org/2018/08/17/so-altered-infinitely-more-by-lauren-vevers/.

‘searching for Marlene Dietrich in Berlin’ forthcoming in She Found It At The Movies: https://redpress.co.uk/collections/red-press-bookshop/products/she-found-it-at-the-movies

‘family magic’ forthcoming in On Relationships from 3 of Cups: https://www.3ofcups.co.uk/shop/on-relationships

Thank you,

Author: Carmen Marcus

As the daughter of a Yorkshire Fisherman and Irish Mother, my writing brings together the visceral and the magical. My debut novel #How Saints Die was published with Harvill Secker in 2017. It won New Writing North's Northern Promise Award as a work in progress and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2018. My poetry has been commissioned by BBC Radio, The Royal Festival Hall and Durham Book Festival. As a child of an 80s council estate I am an advocate for working class writers and stories. I’m currently working on my first poetry collection The Book of Godless Verse and my next novel. I try to live up to the words of my first critic and primary school teacher ‘weird minus one house point.’

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