distance Essay

Three Hundred and Ninety-Eight Point Two Miles

Samantha Blaney muses on family, identity and all the many ways that we keep connected, in this beautiful essay – our final piece for the theme.

by Samantha Blaney

I think about distance. I think about the stock response I give to people when they ask how I got here, to this city. It’s late at night and I think about how I say to them, I came here for work and I forgot to leave. Sometimes I laugh after that punchline, other times I shrug my shoulders and look wistfully to the north. With people all over the world displaced, desperate in diaspora, swimming and clinging for life, thousands dying in seas near where we holiday in the summer – I sometimes can’t remember why I have chosen to be so far from my family, from my unit, from my true loves, in this, this one life that I have.

I think about the distance from my niece’s heels to her head, how it’s longer every time I see her. I think about the spaces in her mouth where milk teeth once lived, the jaggy, ragged big teeth moving in. I think about the distance between each word she speaks, her breath echo and her thought new. I think about the actual physical distance between us. Three hundred and ninety-eight point two miles. I comfort myself that I could drive there in seven hours, I could make it, if, well – if I needed to. If I got one of those phone calls, the get here if you can phone calls. The call you never expect, but it creeps up on you on an idle Tuesday afternoon. You know, those phone calls. I could get there. I could.

I check the weather at home every morning. I like to know how hot or cold you might be. Will you need the heating on? A blanket on the sofa? What is the difference in our degrees, what is the distance in our weather? Sometimes it’s an enormous, ten degrees of difference, other times Scotland has a heat wave, and I message our family WhatsApp group: sunny today, huh?

“I check the weather at home every morning. I like to know how hot or cold you might be.”

Each time I see my Granny, I see the distance in her stride smaller, her gait fractured. I see the distance from her youth to her old age. Who is this old lady? This imposter? This auld granny in place of my Granny?

I think about distance each time someone here asks me where I’m from. My thick and unapologetic Glaswegian accent giving me away with every glottal stop.

I think about distance every time someone asks me to travel outside zone two.

I think about distance and how I never thought I would heal, which is the real reason I came here. I think about distance every time I’m on a train home to Scotland and we stop at your station. I can see the ghosts of us waiting here together to go home to Glasgow. I can see your mum. I can see the time that I travelled here on my own to stay with her on the farm, I’d be holding the dog, and sometimes he’d be wearing a jumper, but he’d always be snarling at you. I see all the ghosts of our hellos and our goodbyes over the years. It’s a place you’ll still say your hellos and your goodbyes, but, for me, it’s just a stop on a journey when I travel home to Scotland. The trains don’t stop, the board updates, the next train is due. It always is.

I think about the distance from my heart to yours. I think about my newborn nephew. I think about the distance between his right ventricle and his pulmonary artery. It’s such a small space to cause such big trouble, but it does. He’s only been here a few weeks, and yet I cannot imagine our lives without him. Perhaps he has always been here, watching gently from the wings, because his presence is in my skin, my eyes, my heart. My my – what a sweet boy you are.

I think about the distance from the start of me to the end of me. I wonder where I am on my timeline. I hope I’m still in my first trimester.

I think of the distance from the root to the tip of my Himalayan ivy, she sprawls and binds and twists around the old wobbly bookcase where she lives. I think of the distance from here to the Himalayan mountains. I wonder if I’ll ever see them.

I think of the distance between my dad and his parents. I think of the distance between adolescence and manhood when you lose your parents so young. How that distance is shortened immediately. How you must grow up, whether you want to or not.

I think about the distance, and I realise that there’s not as much as I thought.

That we’re closer than I imagined. That the distance is bridged in the most miraculous of ways, and in the most mundane too. They’re both important. Both needed. Both welcome.

Because I’m only ever a train ride away, a phone call to say, a spare bed to stay.

I close my laptop, walk the thirteen steps to my terrace. I look to the sky, the sun warms my face, the same sun warming yours, so there can’t be that much distance between us after all.


Samantha Blaney | Instagram: @SammyBlaney

Samantha Blaney is a Scot in London who, when not dropping her Rs in a bid to be understood, can be found practising yoga and writing her first novel. Her work can be found on Dear Damsels, and in her tribute to her Grandmother on The Grantidote.

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