91. Stand Down, Soldier

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.

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85. IV

Morphine suits me. I’m dopey, happy, sleepy. I thought I’d be more grumpy from lack of food, but after eight hours, I’d gone past wanting it. I was definitely not bashful. A dozen strangers saw me naked, bleeding onto clean sheets.

Tea. Toast. Jam. Water. Co-codamol. Ibuprofen. Sofa. Film. Bed. Repeat every six hours for three days. Jet lag. Nausea. Period pains. Hangover.

Room number four. My nurse is called Ivy Rose and she’s my kind Irish mother for the day. I think she knows she has a beautiful name and pretends I’ve never said it before, every time I tell her. I thank everyone in a uniform for looking after me. I’ll be on my own soon. Independent. Just me and Siri. She can remind me to take my meds, ring people for me, and change the channel on the TV, but she can’t loosen bottle tops, or lift a kettle.

65. No Medicine For Regret.

Like some people, I can be overly self-critical of my past.

A few times, I’ve been sat in meditative contemplation, just passing the time of day, with the calm silence of my thoughts. Trapped on a plane, train or automobile. A captive audience for an unwanted memory to bubble up. I can’t escape it. Suddenly, unexpectedly, like a geyser, I remember. Something I was grateful to let go of and forget.

I am right back there, in that moment. Before the shame, forgiveness and acceptance. Looking around the corner of a future decision, I am staring at the possible consequences of my potentially stupid actions and urging myself to walk away, not do it, calm down.

What was I thinking!

I thank my lucky stars that the majority of my misbehaviour was pre-internet. There may be the odd photo or vhs still around, but the right of my past to be forgotten is freely obtained purely due to virtue of when I was born.

However, I have no time for those whose tall tales of their bravado are always from their youth, and have no recent stories of misadventure or failure. A little probing and the timeline and facts don’t quite add up. I see it as a weakness to pretend to live a perfect life.

My errors of judgement were not illegal and may have fortunately only resulted in physical injury to myself and not others, but didn’t stop once I ‘grew up’. My biggest, most expensive mistake, and another that has cost me months of my peace of mind were very recent. If I could go back, and do them differently, I would. I know my intentions were true, but I’ve been judged on my behaviour. Uncomfortable as it is, on reflection, I have chosen not to try to explain further to some people in my life. I know them well enough to think they probably wouldn’t change their perceptions or opinions of me even if they knew all of the facts, so talking would just muddy the waters.

What could have been is just that.