Park as indoor/outdoor liminality

Being on the boat had always felt as if I was outdoors even when I was indoors. Grass nestled against the window on one side of the bed and families of ducks swam by on the other. I don’t think there’s ever been a year where I’ve felt so full of spring. The world was green and giving and expanding into me. It had no more sex parties, no more dance studios and no more live music. All joy and excitement was nature’s now.

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Park as submission to invisible natural enemies

The worst thing about bed bugs is paranoia about having bed bugs. My lover had returned home, leaving me to spend my first cold night alone on the boat. Phantom itching hopped across my body. Every mark on the sheets became blood spilled at a feast on my flesh.

Park as stranger danger

“I can’t swim,” the woman choked through tears and canal water. “We can’t touch you, we can’t help you, I’m sorry,” apologised the jogger who had collided with her bike. In only a month, social distancing had coded our bodies to fear the touch of drowning strangers.
Park as sanitised transgression

I knelt down on the bank and stretched out my hand to her. Half an hour later she stood in the boat’s kitchen wearing my clothes. Now it was she who stretched out her hand to me. Without the urgency of the rescue, I felt a sudden flush of social shame. Shaking her hand felt too naughty; not shaking her hand felt too cold. I compromised and squeezed hand sanitizer on both our palms. We stood in the kitchen rubbing our own hands together before tentatively shaking each other’s. Had she given me corona? Had I given her bed bugs?
Park as return to nature

I had long romanticised boat life, but only ever from a distance. I don’t consider myself to be a princess, but I do sometimes have two baths a day. My time was now shaped by elemental functions of survival. I gathered water in plastic bottles from a tap some distance along the towpath. I returned it to the earth, emptying the urine bottle from the composting toilet amongst the brambles.
Park as archive of human traces

The ritual confronted me with the usually invisible traces we leave behind. There’s a Sharon Olds poem called Ode to a Composting Toilet. Of its user, Olds writes,

We do not think
our shit smells good, but we do not think
the globe should be turned into a great cesspool
to accommodate our desire to part from our
offal as fast as possible.

So much of the world was built to accommodate this desire, a desire to keep invisible the ways we mark the earth and the ways we mark the lives of others. The virus exposed the fiction of bounded individuals. Denial of our interdependence became untenable.

Park as setting for all dates

A week after I had arrived, my lover was planning to return for a fourth date. In boat life, you can tell someone has a crush on you if they empty their composting toilet the night before you come over. I waited for dusk to conceal me from strangers on the towpath. But in the darkness I slipped and spilled the bucket on the front deck. I’d had no social contact for a week and I cracked. The briefly visioned paradise of boat life receded into distance as I cycled home for a bath. My housemates agreed that if I was living with them, I could see my lover outdoors from a distance of two metres.

Park as historic venue for
contact sports

I’ve always done a lot of play-fighting with romantic partners. My ex-girlfriend and I used to settle disputes through best of five wrestling matches. We once had a fight about a tuna nicoise all the way from London Euston to Glasgow Central. There was a kind of somatic score settling in rolling around Kelingrove Park a few times that allowed us to be nice to each other again. Or at least to fuck and then be nice to each other again.

Park as emotional distancing

This lover was no different, but being at a two metre distance took out all the play and left us with the fight. We bickered about everything from chocolate buttons to polyamoury. Words that would have been softened in touch hung barbed in the air. Sometimes I’d cry; sometimes he’d try to hug me; it always felt brittle.

Park as masochistic devotion

I sought other physical releases. I took up jogging. Strava documented my sexual sublimation as I screenshotted the trail I’d left behind. “HI BB” I scrawled all caps with heavy legs across Hackney Marshes. “Congratulations, this activity is your longest run on Strava!” The next day a love heart emerged amongst the football pitches.

Park as attempted make up sex

“If I wore my latex catsuit and you wore a condom, we wouldn’t even need to touch!” I was walking through Wick Woodland speaking to him on the phone. Every shade of green was in excess of itself, ripe, overflowing and lush.“This makes me so sad,” he said.