The INCH bag was my only companion, and the thin straps dug in hard, but along with the pain, they gave reassuring weight to my plan. Thirty carefully chosen and precisely arranged pounds that took two years to pack! Back then, when I decided ‘I’m Never Coming Home’, it was just the start, and the INCH preparation was finally over.
The village was quiet. I knew it’s patterns, the inhalations and exhalations of the place – work attained, school populated, exercise routines completed, roads abandoned. It had turned inwards, and my attention turned outwards. Nobody saw me leave. By midmorning there was only the odd delivery van, no problem to me on my route along the footpaths. It was Autumn time, after a dreary Summer, but for all that abundant with fruit, so, in spite of everything, I was seen off with a blessing!
Stiles marked the danger points, where the roads cut across my route. They were well hidden though, mostly. Some weren’t, thanks to the Ramblers who came each year to find and restore them, re-establishing their rights. I got it (their point) but didn’t count myself as one of them. You had to wonder whether the thickets around the stiles were entirely ‘natural’ or whether they’d been cultivated, especially when so many of the bolts holding the rotten stiles together were missing, and the only thing keeping them standing were strings of barbed wire across the handrails! Like the Ramblers I was on the wrong side of the argument, but pressed ahead despite the barbed warnings, and in spite of the scratches and puncture wounds stinging my hands.
The roadside verges made me wistful. The tiny plants, ones that I’d struggled to identify in May, had fully revealed themselves by Summer, but had now been cut back in the annual strimming. The only thing left was the medicinal smell of the meadowsweet, let out all at once. When the dust had settled the plants would be indistinguishable again, prickly green. I gave a sad nod to their ripped stalks, then splashed some water onto my stinging palm, finally wrapping my fingers tightly over my scrunched-up scarf. I could treat my hands properly, but I’d have to wait for the woods. The most I was aiming for, as I worried the minor, but salutary, wounds on my hand, was my ability, when things got harder, to remain able to think properly. It was a familiar wish, and so it didn’t completely seduce me. I should have known more clearly by then that I needed something beyond thought: something more instinctive. I headed upwards, up the side of the hill. I didn’t want to be at the very top since that would be as exposed as I could get, but I wanted some height to keep clear of the roads. As I searched for somewhere to stop I thought about mum and dad, and couldn’t help myself from wondering what they would make of my disappearance:
‘Mum thought I didn’t know; that I was oblivious to the little intrusions here and the prying there. Why couldn’t she just face me head-on and ask? – ever! She acted like I was so far from intelligibility that there was no point. So, she indulged herself didn’t she? You can’t honestly believe that reading my diaries was an act of understanding can you? But then, me leaving like this will only add more doubt, more evidence, more justification.’
I tried not to dwell on these misgivings, recognising them for what they were: my mind’s domesticated methods driving a wedge between my intentions and my resolve. The way I dealt with this moment was going to determine my life from then on. I didn’t have to go. I was my only witness to the entire thing. But there was no possibility of timid ideas like that stealing a march. I’d done the groundwork, and already mastered myself. There would be something to call me to account in all this, something out of my hands. The INCH plan was underway, and the momentum I’d created saw me through the worn out warnings obstructing the way.