It’s A Small (Small, Small, Small) World

My daughter and I have recently returned to the homeland after a trip to Eurodisney.untitled (10)

She, light of spirit. Me, light of wallet.

And of weight, given the amount of time I spent on various squatters, home and abroad, in a state of abject angst.

Everything represented a challenge to me, from the boarding of the Eurostar (now my only remaining route off the Island as flying, ferry boats and the front-crawl are out), to dining out.

Being on the Metro felt akin to being buried alive. I feared intruders in the night in our tiny, ground floor apartment. And those irritating little hairdryer-powered scooters they all skitter about on over there were like swarms of hornets out to get me and my child at every corner.

Fortunately we were in the care of an understanding and endlessly patient friend, who organised and ushered us around like a small but highly troublesome school party, and dealt with my sudden gush of tears on the RER with a deft wipe of a tissue and a rousing chorus of ‘It’s A Small World’.

And of course, being in Paris itself was a challenge. Mark lived there, studied there, flounced around its trottoirs wearing turtle-neck jumpers and smoking Gauloises with well-rehearsed Gallic insouciance. We loved, Paris, He and I, almost as much as we loved our Geordie homeland.

Time away is becoming more and more difficult since Mark’s death. Crushing transportation fears aside, the truth is, I simply don’t want to go anywhere. Coming home, to our little village, I feel a weight lift in my heart. It cocoons us, this place, and increasingly, I don’t want to leave it.

“You’ve got some help, mate,” my friend told me as we bade farewell at the end of our Small World weekender. “You’ve always been anxious, but it has reached a new level.”

The world has indeed become smaller. But at this rate, I’m worried it’ll soon end at my front door.

The Stephen Fry of the playground

I’ll admit it. Young children bore me. Up until they reach the age of about seven, I couldn’t be less fascinated by what they have to say. The_Thinker_Rodin-2

They undoubtedly feel the same way about me though, so I don’t feel too guilty about the admission.

(I refer to my child here, by the way. Yours might be the Stephen Fry of the playground, in which case I’d love to buy them a latte and have a chat.)

But is a five-year-old child capable of introspection?

Last night mine interrupted Masterchef to tell me she was going to the bathroom in order to have a think about Daddy.

“About who?” I asked, distracted by the pannecotta on the screen which looked indisputably like a breast with a huge nipple. (Greg’s grin when he saw it suggested he thought so too.)

“About our Daddy, what died,” she replied.

Off she tootled to the john and shut the door behind her.

She was in there a long while. After Greg had sampled the breast (predictably, he LAHVVED it), I knocked and opened the door.

“Get out!” she barked. “I want to be on my own so I can think.”

When she came out I asked her what she’d been contemplating.

“I was thinking about when Daddy died,” she replied.

“Oh. And did you feel happy when you thought about Daddy, or sad?”

“I felt happy and sad.”

Like Dianne Weist in Parenthood trying desperately to connect with her surly hormonal son, I found myself saying;

“I’m here if you want to talk. Or if not, talk to Mrs X at school. Or perhaps Mrs Y. Or Grandma! Or Aunt!”

She nodded at me like I was deranged, then asked for an Oreo.

Finally I find myself genuinely interested in something she has to say, but unlike her views on Barbie and the Secret Kingdom, she is suddenly unwilling to share.

Left Central Incisor: A Lament

Today I am in mourning.imagesCA951OM4

For a tooth.

My daughter’s left central incisor, to be precise; in the space of a few more wobbles, it will be the first to succumb to the Tooth Fairy. (Who now charges upwards of a pound for collection BTW. A pound! In my day etc, etc).

As the mother of an only child this is a new experience for me, but I imagine the departure of a first baby tooth is a milestone for most parents. But this loss signifies more than just a quid from my wallet.

Mark and I heralded the arrival of each and every one of those baby teeth with the zeal of Percy Thrower and his first runner bean shoots.

“Come and feel this!” I’d shout, forefinger jammed between the poor bairn’s drooling jaws. “What do you reckon? Tooth… or bit of biscuit?”

We watched as she went from gummy, gurning toddler to a little girl with a full set of perfect, Haribo-chewing gnashers.

The smile she has now is the same one He knew, the teeth the same ones He helped nurture and clean. But not for much longer.  For incisor will follow incisor, canine will follow canine, and before long she’ll have a new set of tombstones which will completely transform her face.

The loss of this incisor signifies that she is growing up. And with tragic, wearying inevitability, He is missing it.

 

 

Sphincter-clenching transgressions of youth

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Eee, hiya Rodney!

Up to now, the only ‘flashbacks’ I have experienced have been mainly based on the sphincter-clenching transgressions of youth; you know, being ushered off stage at a gig in the Student Union after drunkenly taking over the mike, or shouting ‘Eee, hiya Rodney!’ at Nicolas Lyndhurst as he came out of Pimlico Tube station during his serious acting phase.

This weekend, I experienced a flashback of the moment – the very moment – my husband died, and unlike a mere ‘memory’ of it, the flashback transported me to the bed in Mother’s house where He lay before me and I sat looking at Him wearing nothing but a cold shroud of disbelief.

The flashback accosted me on a single track country road in Shropshire of all places, where seconds earlier my only thoughts had been how glorious the weather was in this hitherto undiscovered county. Ergo, it had no place nor reason to suddenly confront me in the way it did. But it did, all the same.

I reacted the way I suppose most people who become reacquainted with a moment of extreme trauma do; by hyper-ventilating and threatening to be sick all over Shropshire’s ancient hedgerows.

Later, equilibrium restored, wine glass in hand, I found myself secretly frightened by the flashback. Unlike Rodney’s exit from the Tube, this was a genuine revival of the worst moment of my life, and it had the power to mentally and physically eviscerate me. And scarier still, it had come from nowhere.

Fortunately I had been in the company of a friend when it happened, but what if I had been alone, or worse, with my daughter?

Suddenly those transgressions of youth don’t seem so bad after all.

The Tao of Sudden Death

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Many years ago I worked for a well-known chain of booksellers. The shop was in an out-of-town shopping mall near Bristol, and I once served Colin Jackson. (He bought the Guinness Book of World Records. Presumably to prove to his mother that he really was holder of the title for ‘Longest Peanut Throw’. No really, he was.)

The sales counter was always festooned with those irritating little books of quotations that are apt to be bought and then immediately misplaced behind the settee, and as booksellers we were required to promote them with each sale.

It always confounded me as to why anyone would buy these books. They seemed to contain nothing but a selection of mawkish quotes about life and love and ‘self-realisation’. Yet they were in perpetual need of being restocked.

Since Mark’s death, I have turned into the sort of person who would buy one. I have become a consumer of quotes and affirmations, one of those people who retweets schmaltz written in dreamy script set against an image of a tranquil Scottish loch.

Because in trying to make sense of Mark’s death, of its brutality and its unjustness, I have sought answers everywhere. But really, no-one knows what to say.

For example, I asked my Dad one night: “How can I ever accept this?”

Dad thought about this and poured himself another whisky. “You can’t because it is unacceptable,” he replied.

This is a man with a PhD and a good line in advice, whose word I tend believe more than any other. Yet when it came to sudden death, he was as clueless as everyone else.

Quotations are comforting in bereavement, even the twee ones, because they are proof that someone has been there before; and by consequence reach out to those of us who are stuck for words.

I’ll end with one I retweeted this week:

I keep myself busy with the things I do,
But every time I pause, I still think of you.

Force-Fed Red Bull on a Waltzer

This morning I looked in the mirror and Jackie Stallone leered back at me.  It tends to happen following A Bad Day, which is what yesterday was.untitled (8)

I’d spent much of it peering in at myself from above, wondering how the hell my life had come to this.

It was perhaps not helped by going to watch The Wolf of Wall Street, which was akin to spending three hours being force-fed Red Bull on a Waltzer. At two hours in, I was so wrung out I actually thought I was going to be sick.

My friend and I went for noodles afterwards and I cried into my Szechuan Pork. Then I suddenly felt anxious: to see my child; to get home; at the sight of rain falling outside. I drove home as the light faded ahead of me, not quite believing that the sun was setting on yet another day He had missed.

It’s days like these when only my Husband will do. I want it to be His voice telling me everything will be OK, pet, and not to worry. I want it to be Him waiting for me when I get home, not a sideboard full of His picture.

I have Mother, of course, and my sister who take on much of the rage on my behalf, but sometimes I feel so broken that even the sisterhood cannot minister to the pain.

Yesterday, The Grief and The Disbelief got me, and like one of DiCaprio’s hookers I had no choice but to lie back and take it.

This morning, though, I patched up Jackie as best I could and told her that she must carry on. I dropped my girl off at school, walked over the fields with my dog and looked on at another day.

Following behind with a defibrillator

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The auburn curls.

Everyone believes their spouse to be exceptional; as a lover, perhaps, or a parent. Or a bore.

My husband was exceptional in many ways, right down to the exceptional nature of the genetic affliction which eventually saw Him crashing out of life in an exceptional manner one unexceptional Saturday in February.

Genetic science has not evolved enough yet to understand why Mark’s aortic dissection happened in the first place. They’re saving His remaining DNA for a point in the future when somebody in a lab coat and big glasses is able to work it out. (The geneticist did explain it all to me, but my brain reacted as it always does when confronted with science – implement the shut-off valve and begin thinking about wine.)

The fear now is whether my daughter may have inherited whatever rogue element was to blame for her daddy’s death.

Most of the time, I am able keep my fears in check. I watch her running full pelt down the road and manage to stop myself from following behind with a defibrillator, ‘just in case’.

Yesterday though I had a moment of tear-filled panic. I was brushing her hair and noticed a couple of depigmented strands in amongst the auburn curls. Three or four white hairs, like lengths of cotton. I admit that I am apt to overact, but hear me out on this.

Mark too suffered from hair depigmentation – it ran in a line, starting in the hair on His head, down through an eyebrow, the wiry hairs of one nostril, on through His beard and into His chest hair. Use your imagination for the rest.

After His aortic dissection, the geneticist suggested this depigmentation might be significant in why it happened. A tenuous connection to the Neural Crest Mosaic, which links the cells responsible for the development of pigmentation and the aorta in a growing foetus. Or something equally baffling to a simpleton like me. It sounded convincing at the time though.

So yesterday, I found myself plucking the offending strands from my daughter’s head, examining them in the sunlight, placing them against my black jeans, mentally preparing a frenzied email to Mark’s geneticist.

My daughter is exceptional – to me, at least – but I hope to Christ this is one area she remains run-of-the-mill.