Saturday 8 October 2011

First date nerves

I've woken with sweaty palms and a jittery stomach, struggling to remember what's approaching to make me so nervous.

This morning the baby didn't rouse me, nor did my alarm. I'm under the duvet looking up at the fingers of pale light along the edges of my bedroom curtains and slowly remembering that I don't have to get up. I don't have to do a long run today. I have to rest.

The race is tomorrow.

Oh God. I swallow down a sudden blockage in my throat. I feel as though I'm preparing to go on a date with someone I really, really like: the anticipation is overwhelming, as is the worry things won't turn out the way I'd hoped. All the signs are that it will be great fun, if occasionally awkward or effortful. I'm having to bat away self-deprecatory imaginings: what if we don't get on? What if all my preparation was in vain? What if I have spectacularly misjudged this and the whole thing is a total disaster?

My mouth is dry. I fling the covers off and go to the kitchen to make coffee.

Downstairs I count out spoonfuls of dark brown powder and wait for the kettle to boil, half-listening to the rolling water and tapping my fingers on the counter as my thoughts turn. Of all the mornings in the world not to be running, this is the very worst. Now more than ever I need the soothing anaesthetic of a steady pace, a thumping heart; the back-and-forth piston of my arms and the sound of my own breathing loud in my ears. I need to be distracted by physical effort to shut down this noise in my head.

I pour the coffee and sip and pace. In my skittish state the hot, bitter liquid goes straight through me and I have to bolt for the bathroom. I realise I am actually trembling.

From upstairs comes the sound of baby Betty waking up. I hurry to prepare the breakfast things, glancing up and out of the window as I do so. The grey sky looks back at me neutrally. There are no birds, no neighbourhood cats stalking through the bushes. Even next door's rag-tag bunch of kids are still indoors and silent. The suggestion of a breeze lifts one or two leaves on the willow tree. I am aware of an intense feeling of anticipation. Even the garden seems to be holding its breath.

Breaking the silence, my phone pings with another good-luck message from a friend. I mutter ungraciously under my breath. I wish I hadn't told anyone now, I think, blatantly ignoring the nonsense of this. (The kindness and generosity of my friends and family means the National Autistic Society will reap £1,000 when I cross the finish line on Sunday.) If only nobody knew what I was up to and I could slope off and do this thing with no expectations.

And another thing -- what on earth am I going to wear? The heatwave has passed, thank goodness, but it's not entirely clear whether autumn has properly arrived either. I scroll feverishly through weather forecasts, which mention a cool start, a warmer morning, possibly rain, possibly winds. Layers? A hat? Never has my wardrobe caused me such anxiety -- except perhaps for the last big date I went on, which happened almost exactly four years ago and resulted in the biggest love of my life.

Thinking about this I brighten and straighten my shoulders. I'm a good judge of character. This may be the first time I've done this but I've been around the block enough times to know when I'm onto a good idea.

And besides, how many dates involve thousands of spectators cheering you on?

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