This is part truth, part lie. It doesn’t bother me that you are right. It bothers me that I think I did something wrong. It seems so shallow to need reassurance.
Insomnia, my once familiar torment, took a stranger turn the night after I scattered her ashes. Insomnia, those long minutes of sleeplessness ridden out until I could sink back into what was left of the night, changed to panic, an hourly waking from dreams of amnesia and failure.
Morning found me staring down the all consuming nothing. Because she, finally and forever, is no longer in the world, and there was nobody to hear my grief.
(This isn’t true.)
I took a week and spent it idly. I took too much to drink. I drowned myself in absence. I surrounded myself with friends.
It didn’t work, so I took a walk to the doctor. I took some pills and another week ticking over. I drowned myself in abstinence.
Grief is like moving in a still frame. Everything paused but still in motion. Numb and silent, I’m waiting, unable to articulate what I need. I don’t know what I need. I don’t know how to ask.
It seems so shallow.
Written in response to Low from the R.E.M. album Out of Time
I have put it off for long enough. Longer than the last time. Although the last time wasn’t my choice. It was hers, the one whose earthly remains I have put off collecting for long enough.
Today the drive will be through the drizzle of mid-May. The last time I turned my wheels in this direction it was the drizzle of late February.
Long enough ago, but still I need more distance. I need the sharp cleft chasm to become a valley, incapable of being crossed by sorrow. I need sorrow’s echo to die before it can even think of reaching me, so that I can stop pretending that I don’t still hear it.
Perhaps after we have scattered her to the winds that will carry her over the mountains. Perhaps then I can manufacture the seismic shift I need to break contact with the continent where I began. Perhaps I can find a way to flood the valley with tears I no longer want to shed and bury in that sea the memories of her last days.
It has been long enough and I would like to remember her in happiness, full of the life that gave me life.
I don’t like funerals. They have a disturbing habit of weakening my resolve. It’s the coffins. I look at a coffin and my inner core of steel oxidises in the rain of tears and gasps of oxygen brought together in my sobbing.
Her coffin was small. I looked at it by accident as we filed out, a family of crows. It was too small. Not large enough to hold the force she’d once been. She wasn’t a tall woman. Five foot four. She would try in life to claim an extra half inch, but in death the truth was laid bare, laid out for all to see, anyone who chose to look. I didn’t choose to look, not after the weirdness of seeing Dad-Not-Dad at rest in his coffin. His scrunched up face bore the pain of the heart attack that killed him. So this time around, I didn’t look. I didn’t want to see Mum-Not-Mum bearing in death the confusion of dementia on her once lovely face. Undertakers can only do so much with the canvas of the dead.
A small wooden coffin, its surface covered with flowers, witnessed by me by accident. My undoing, as it turned out.
A friend has a phrase she uses about me: I am popular with strangers. It’s an odd thing. I’m not that approachable and yet random strangers, usually men, feel the need to strike up conversations with me.
I talk to them. I’m polite. And then I move away from them. I don’t want to be stabbed or followed. I’m not an idiot.
I was talking to a stranger recently about the interface between the online world and the real world. It made me think about how I sometimes want to tell people I admire that I like what they do, but won’t let myself. Not face to face. The few times I have, it has been awkward and disappointing. Apart from Damon Gough. He’s a delight.
It happened accidentally once at a gig. I visited the merch stand to buy a CD. The singer took off the cellophane and signed the sleeve. The unwanted autograph then made me feel like I had to have a conversation. But what do you say to someone you don’t know? It was awful. Especially because it was obvious he didn’t want to be in the conversation either.
All very unfortunate.
Don’t do it kids.
There’s a day for everything, it seems. Today is National Teddy Bear Day in the UK. Who knew? I didn’t until Twitter told me.
This is my bear.
In my family my parents created a mini tradition of buying a bear for the first birthday of each of their children. It had to be a specific kind of bear. This bear was bought for my brother in 1965. By the time my first birthday came around in 1971, teddy bears were mostly a bit soft and weird looking. My parents couldn’t find a bear with the traditional articulated limbs and chest squeak, so my brother decided he would give his bear to me.
He’s a practical bear. As well as his dungarees and fisherman’s knit (made for him by me), he used to have a duffle coat and wellies for when he was out and about. He’s not that practical though, because he lost a boot and gave his coat to another of my bears without a second thought for what he’d do in case of rain. Like me, he grew up in Chadderton, so should know better.
His name is Teddy. Although, on nights out, he likes to go by Simon.
I am thinking about memory. This is a picture of my family in 1974. My dad’s cousin’s daughter got married. Because I was a cute three year old, she wanted me as a bridesmaid. I only did it because I got a pair of silver shoes out of it. Fuck, yeah. My brother was ten, my sister fourteen. I don’t know what they got out of it.
This picture is the only picture from my childhood that I’m aware of having survived my mum’s dementia. When you don’t recognise people in a photograph, the logical thing is to destroy it. Apparently.
Photographs don’t really matter, and I have dodged a humiliation bullet in no longer having photos of my teen fashion mistakes in existence, but it makes me sad that mum didn’t know who the people were in the accumulated family photographs she kept in an old Milady chocolate tin.
My childhood is in my head for the time being. Come the day when it’s no longer accessible, photos won’t make a difference. I enjoy looking at photographs, though. It’s like peering through time. I still pull that face. It means I’m ready to be bad. Want to take me on?
People die. All the time. Physically, mentally, emotionally. They die and they leave us behind to work it out without them. When my dad died and I saw him, what struck me first were his skinny ankles and weirdly elongated feet in their grey woollen socks, sticking out from the sheet that barely covered him. They are the thing imprinted on my mind when I think of my dad and his being dead. And then when I saw him a week later in the funeral parlour, his face a livid purply red, creased in the agony of the heart attack that killed him, I didn’t know him as my dad. The funeral director looked disappointed when I said it didn’t look like him. I felt bad, so I told her it was because he didn’t have his glasses on. I don’t know why I felt I had to make her feel better about the fact that the man I thought of as Dad had been taken away and returned in an altered state. Politeness perhaps. I was 39 years old when he died, the same age he was when I was born. That doesn’t mean anything, but I like the symmetry.
I am eating a mint imperial. Mint imperials always make me think of a man called Bob. Bob was the gentleman friend of my mum’s friend Doreen. Doreen was as brassy as an ex-hairdresser from Chadderton comes. I loved her, wanted to be her, with her bottle blonde hair swept up in a beehive. She was blowsy, my dad said. I thought he meant blousey, on account of her liking for frilly necklines that plunged. Later I learned what he meant. Doreen had a biscuit tin with a Spanish flamenco dancer on the lid. She used to let me take two biscuits, one a pink wafer, the other a custard cream. Bob was her frequent caller who would take her off to stay at The Balmoral in Blackpool every summer. Mum would take me on day trips to visit them. Lucky them. Bob would always have mint imperials at the ready. Hot and peppery, not quite a sweet, shocking but compellingly moreish. We would bowl around the Pleasure Beach, Bob going on rides with me that mum and Doreen couldn’t stomach. When Doreen became diabetic, Bob moved in with her and became the official bearer of her emergency Mars Bar.