We watched the news, watched the vigils, the days had an undercurrent that had not been there before, but with young children to entertain there was not much time to sit and absorb what was happening. And so it was only on our journey home that I felt myself becoming increasingly reflective, as we drew ever closer to a part of the country that was reeling, the reality seemed to intensify, particularly as we were overtaken by a bomb disposal vehicle, sirens blaring, on the motorway. Arriving to the free local paper on the doormat, filled with news of those that were there, those that helped, those that were injured, rather than the usual, more mundane stories of everyday life. Arrests being made in towns that I know, towns that are very near, fear and shock filling social media feeds. There was no normality to return to.
Manchester is my home city. I was born there, forever grateful to a hospital and the team within it that saved two lives during my mum's pregnancy. I lived there when I was first born, and again as a student, moving into halls just moments away from that very same hospital. I graduated in Manchester, twice, and on the second occasion it was also where The Husband proposed. My love of theatre was cultivated there, some of my closest friendships started in those streets, I have memories, such fond memories, round so many corners. I have worked in both the inner city and its suburbs, and it is the place I probably know my way around most confidently, having walked so many of its roads over so many years. Which makes it all the more gut-wrenching to see those familiar streets of home filled with sirens, with screaming, and then with silence, on the continuous footage that filled the screens on Tuesday. I always find coverage of these atrocities unbearable, it isn't worse this time because it is nearer, but it is somehow all the more vivid when the horrendous events take place on streets where your own memories overlap with the images being shown.
My first concert was in that arena, I have been picked up outside that building after countless gigs, emerging into the night with giddiness, on a wave of excitement, making memories with friends, running to a parent waiting exactly where they said they would be, ready to hear about songs and spectacles, and safely deliver us home. I have rushed with The Husband down those very steps, through that same foyer, to catch the last train home, singing favourite choruses with hoarse voices. That station has punctuated my commute, that cathedral a favourite spot, those shops the place I have wandered on lazy Saturdays, or dashed through in a lunch-hour. It isn't that I didn't ever think it would happen here, I think I always worried that it would, indeed it has before. It's more that now it has, again, I don't know how to reconcile the imagery from this week with that which went before.
I don't usually write about these things, I usually to some degree close my eyes to it until the initial overwhelm has passed, mostly I think because I feel helpless, and to try and not let that turn into panic and fear. But somehow, seeing those streets, my streets, I find that I have words I want to say. I love that city, and the horror of the news was tempered with the sense of civic pride in the place and the people that make it what it is. Seeing the crowds, at vigils, at walks, at services, and then yesterday at the run, a run where my best friend, and her sister and brother-in-law, a family that is practically my own, took part, adds more images, so many life-affirming moments filling those same streets, reclaiming them, turning them back into a place where the best kinds of memories are made.
It can feel crass to focus on positives when there are families who have lost loved ones so senselessly, inappropriately optimistic to talk about not giving in to fear or to division when people have been killed. There is grief and shock, and a sudden, deep rooted unease too. The city may speak of unbreakable spirit but, for some, hearts and homes have been irreparably splintered by what has taken place. In the face of such terror, though, as well as a sense of mass defiance, there was kindness. In the wake of one act of evil, were an immeasurable number of acts borne out of love, out of the best of humanity. It doesn't take away from the significance of what has taken place, or the devastation, yet at the same time it manages to outweigh it.
I cannot claim that I will remain steadfast, I know I will be more fearful when I next visit the city. Tonight we go to watch a comedy gig at a venue in Manchester, although not in the city centre. Tomorrow my husband leaves for work, taking the train, for the first time since our holiday. I am scared. When my friends were running yesterday I tracked their every step on an app, willing them around that course, making sure I knew exactly where they were, cheering them on, yes, but also because watching the little markers move gave a reassurance that I needed.
This is not an isolated incident, and it is not the only place to suffer in this way. The news is filled daily with such atrocities all over the world. It is no worse because it happened here, and I know that it shouldn't be the case that we are more shocked, more outraged, more moved, when the lives lost are closer to home. Undeniably though, seeing a bomb disposal van on a local motorway, seeing the headlines in a local newspaper, seeing the streets of home cordoned off, and patrolled with armed police, brings it to the forefront, makes it seem more real than pictures on a screen. I see my darling boy sleeping, laughing, exploring life with such gusto, such fearlessness, and would do anything to protect him. I hate the idea of him going out into this world, where things like this can happen. Yet I know the idea of him not seeing the world is worse, because then he would never see the incredible sights or meet the amazing people it has to offer.
And that is what I have to remember, the overwhelming wave of good, the endless kindness of strangers, the quiet determination of people who walked into their city the next morning when trains were not running, the chorus of voices that chose to sing together rather than shout at one another. It has always, to me, been an iconic city, with a mood, a culture, an identity all of its own. The response to the events has been incredible, but also, somehow, completely normal for such a special place, and for the special people who call it home. I love Manchester.