She’s still sat in the same position as she was when I let myself in three hours ago, but at least she’s drunk her tea. I know she only tried to eat that sandwich so she could take her tablet. Gently moving the ornaments closer together, I make room on the mantelpiece for the cards that arrived today. She’s been stroking his sweater all day, trying to remember when she knew the people whose thoughts she’s in. I put the picture of him in uniform holding his son, onto the coffee table.
“Joan?” I pause, whilst the word registers. She slowly turns her head to look up at me, and smiles weakly with recognition. Reaching for my hand, her grip is feeble and grateful. Tomorrow, she won’t let me go.
“I wrote down everything I did whilst I was here. I’ll come back tomorrow at 8 o’clock to dry your hair and make you some breakfast. Ring me if you want me and I’ll come straight round. I’ve got a key.”
I kiss the top of her head and manage to hold in the tears until I’m out of earshot half way down the street.
Buried deep within the walls, air in the pipes make them shudder, and they give out a desperate, low shriek, as I hold my fingers under the slowly warming water. I inhale through a hot wrung-out flannel pressed over my nose and mouth, count in for four and silently scream out for seven. I wonder if he still cries in the shower.
This mirror has seen so much.
Too busy living his own life to visit, never travelling the thousands of miles to say goodbye to his own father. She’s lived off scarce letters for years. He smiles in photographs with people we don’t know, on beaches we will never see. It’s unjust and I’m not ashamed to feel bitter that he is the one who will get the sympathy tomorrow, but this isn’t my battle to fight. I have to disengage. Become detached. No-one dare say it, but we all know why he’s come back. She won’t be living round here much longer.
I just hope time has rubbed his raw edges smooth.
I’m a lark, one of those annoying early birds, including Sundays. I’ve usually had second breakfast before “Match of the Day” has even begun, and a lazy brunch is far too late to make it the first food that passes my lips that day. It is practically lunch. I have often eaten my sandwiches at work well before noon, and I’m ready for bed at the time most ten-year olds are.
My reason for this extreme body clock is simple. Whenever I try to sleep-in, I lucid dream. They’re not always pleasant. Sometimes they are extremely, satisfyingly enjoyable. Yes, that is what I mean. If I’m in the mood, my imagination can conjure the perfect nocturnal delights that wake me at the precise moment of bliss. However, if I’m processing some difficult emotions, I can have a nightmare, that I try desperately to escape from, and often wake with sleep paralysis.
Do I want to live for something or die for it?
Even after all this time, I still sleep, if you can call it that, on my side of the bed. I’m used to going to bed alone, but when that wave of realisation crashes over me as I reach out for him, I still have to fight to breathe. His t-shirt no longer has his scent, and they stopped making his body spray ages ago. Even his junk mail has ceased.
I sometimes consciously plan to lucid dream, so we can spend time together, and he does occasionally find me.
I know he will never fully leave me and I recognise him in the faces of strangers in crowds or on the tube. Touched by proxy, I keep the train ticket as a bookmark because the conductor’s manner reminded me of him. I saw the same play three times because an actor’s character had the same gait. A million British men have his exact lack of hair. A colleague’s husband hugged me goodbye and I gasped as it was so familiar. They understood. Our son looks just like his dad did when I met first him. He has his own life now, so he’s around less and less, but I still often cry after I see him. I’m not alone.
“You know the time to act is now.
Before the sands of time run out.”
‘ Game On’ by Catatonia
Whenever I’ve yearned for real change in my life, I have had to take a leap of faith and just do it. Dithering and procrastinating gave me more excuses. Over-thinking and micro-planning what could go wrong or reasons not to do it. Fear of change. Am I bored? Did I really want something else or did I just want the pain of this situation to end? I knew I craved more but wasn’t prepared to put in the effort. I knew what I didn’t want but didn’t know what I actually did want.
Life never quite works out how you imagine it would. Roads not travelled and all that. I can try to do anything I want but can’t actually do everything I want.
I’m told I’m both a brave and an incredibly stupid “cards on the table”, “this is how I feel” bold statement kinda person. Go big or go home. People who are important in my life know they mean a lot to me, because I tell them.
And I fail so, so often. I get it wrong such a lot. Then rumination, insomnia, resolution, acceptance, peace. The past is the past. I was a different person then. It’s so much easier to forgive than to hold onto the bile of a grudge.
When I read an article about ‘The Top Five Regrets of The Dying’ by Bronnie Ware, it struck a chord. The biggest (or only) regret I still have is not thanking those people who cared about me when I was at my lowest. It spurs me daily to pass on the baton of kindness they showed me to others.
Somewhere between taking things slowly, savouring every mouthful and the joy of life is for living is where I want to be.