Kardashian Tales of, like, Whoa!

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A staircase, yesterday.

Tomorrow evening marks exactly two years since Mark and I went upstairs together for a quick husband-and-wife congress, and only one of us came down again. (Alive that is. The other was in a body bag. Does that count?)

They tell me it gets easier. Even people who have lost their spouses tell me this, and they are generally the only people I am prepared to believe.

In fact, I had a text from one of my widow phone-a-friends last night testifying to this very fact.

“It gets easier with time. Honest.”

But my response was:

“I know you’re right. But it doesn’t feel like it should, though.”

What I meant, of course, is that it feels disloyal, somehow, for ‘things to get easier.’ This is a pointless sentiment, I know, yet I find it tempers almost everything I do.

Because certain things have got easier.

I am no longer wandering about in the mist of disbelief – I’m living again. I can feel the rush of the wind, the warmth of a tentative north-east sun, the pot-holes in the pavement beneath my feet.

I am enjoying the occasional, sometimes difficult-to-reconcile, company of another man.

And surely the barometer of whether things are improving: I am able to get affronted about trivial shit again. (Did Khloe Kardashian REALLY blow Kanye’s engagement surprise for Kim? I mean, like, what is her problem??)

But each time I have these moments of reprieve, it’s as if grief’s thumb reaches out from behind the silver-lined cloud and lodges itself into my forehead.

I guess this is because the reality of Mark’s death – the fact that He is no longer here, and never will be again – doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get easier. Unlike Kardashian tales of, like, whoa!, His death is a genuine fucking affront.

And be it two years or twenty years from the moment we climbed those stairs, it always will be.

A Little Post-Christmas Pep

English: A postcard from 1919, with artwork of...

English: A postcard from 1919, with artwork of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those in search of a little post-Christmas pep, please refer to another website. Possibly that of hardy pep-perennial Noel Edmunds, or anyone from Steps. This post is for curmudgeons only, so if that’s you, pull up a chair.

The Big Day is over, and thanks to good friends, five kids, three dogs and Tesco’s wine department, I’m out the other side.

I’m not going to lie – in those moments when I allowed thoughts of my husband to seep in, it was tough, especially as I spent the day within the Instagrammed glow of my oldest friend’s beautiful and very much intact family. Me, my daughter and the dog, amid what ‘should have been’.

I found myself gazing at my friend’s husband as he set about the tasks of a family Christmas – placing a Santa-sized footprint on the hearth, filming the kids as they opened their gifts, painting the new guinea pig hutch, responding patiently to the incessant calls of Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!

My heart ached for Mark, for all that He was missing – most notably the look of delight on our daughter’s face when she opened the most repulsive present ever conceived – a shitting daschund toy by the name of ‘Doggy Doo’. But also all the feasting and the festivities, which were the aspects of life He loved most.

At one point, glassy-eyed and full of fizz, I grabbed hold of my friend’s husband and snivelled into his neck.  It took me another flute of champers and a bout of Michael Buble-inspired mirth to pull myself round.

I’m bobbing along on the surface of the season like one of those turds that won’t flush, and still have a New Year and the 39th birthday of my husband to contemplate before I can fully relax into the countdown to the second anniversary of His death.

I did tell you to refer to Noel.

The Plaintive Parp of the Cartoon Horn

And lo! As the toxic trinity of Christmas, Mark’s birthday and the second anniversary of His death approach, the widow finds herself spiralling further into the bottom of a wine bottle with no desire to re-emerge.last photo - together

Actually, she could just do with getting away for the next eight weeks. Ideally somewhere hot which doesn’t involve air travel, and where TV programmes featuring “Top Chefs” or Matt Baker are banned.

I haven’t felt like myself for the past few days. (My new self, I mean – my old self departed 22 months ago along with my husband.) This is a shame, because I was kind of getting used to the new self. The self who is perpetually miffed and who pretends to be all hard but really is as flimsy as a warm fart. That self was no fun unless she’d had a drink, but at least I was learning to live with her.

This New, New self feels flimsier than ever. Crushed beneath the weight of the people I have lost. I can hear it coming, the weight, like an acme anvil whistling down from the precipice above. And I’m Wile E Coyote in the valley below, waving resignedly to the plaintive parp of the cartoon horn.

Perhaps it’s the season. Perhaps it’s because He would have turned 39 in January. Perhaps it’s because a new series of Take Me Out starts in the New Year, and we were about to watch that when He died. Perhaps my desperation to see Him again has reached a new level, because it’s coming up for two long years and there’s no let up in the amount I’m missing Him.

Which wise-arse said this gets easier?

A Dispatch from Widow Twankey

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Me, last night.

I’m in love with a dead man.

Head over heels, lindy-hoppin’, hells-a-poppin’, TomKat-couch-jumpin’ in love. With a dead man. I think about Him and my heart swoons.

I remember the night we met. He was wearing a blue turtle neck jumper, blue jeans, and smoking a Marlboro light. He smiled at me and I was hooked.

“Mother,” I said to The Long-Suffering One that same evening. “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.”

And I did, four years and a small amount of petulance later. (“Well, when ARE you going to ask me to marry you then, for fuck’s sake?!”)

So in all of this – this being truly, madly, deeply in love with a dead man – where could there ever be room for anyone else? And furthermore, what sort of head-banging masochist would put up with being in a relationship with someone who was still in love with said dead man? Particularly one with a small child, a red wine addiction and a habit of unexpectedly breaking down in the throes of grief?

I have been forced to consider this question this week, after a good friend who only cares for my well-being, called me Widow Twankey and instructed me to ‘get a life’. I would have preferred a comparison with a more romantic heroic lead, but I suppose if the hairnet fits…

She said it in response to my admission that I’m lonely and might quite like a friend who is a boy. Her outburst was tempered with humour and red wine, but based on the adages relating to these two concepts and truth, I kinda know she meant it. Others are probably thinking the same, of course, but lack her eloquence to express it.

So, in considering this question, here’s where I’ve got to. I’m in love with Mark. And we exist together in the impenetrable love cocoon that I have created inside my head.

I’m just not sure how to go about letting anyone else in.

Dave Myers’ hair as a metaphor for bereavement

Dave Myers’ hair isn’t the only tragedy of Saturday nights.article-2438145-185958B600000578-5_634x521

I bumped into a fellow widow in Sainsbury’s earlier (we get around, us widows) and we were discussing one of this blog’s favourite subjects – the tyranny of the weekend.

She agreed that the sagging void represented by the upcoming 48 hours was one of the worst things about finding yourself without a spouse. (That and the fact that your entire world has shrivelled to resemble melting Tupperware.)

A typical Saturday night for me is role-playing Timothy Lumsden with my Mother – but Timothy if he had a mobile phone and a drink problem. In fact, my Mother has been staying with me for a while for reasons I won’t bore you with here, so the Sorry! theme has extended throughout weeknights too.

And Mother has been observing. Clocking. Taking notes.

And she has brought it to my attention (through the medium of furrowed brows and mother-daughter telepathy) that I spend most of my evenings texting people and draining wine. While my daughter wears a groove in the laminate with her scooter.

Having thought about it, this is definitely a post-Mark’s death phenomenon. Endless messaging was not a feature of our evenings as a couple. I don’t even recall what we did in the evenings actually. Just existed, together, I suppose. Then retired to bed with our comics.

Now, I seem to rely on it. Live-streaming the outside world into my lounge has become part of my widow’s safety net. More evidence, if any were needed, of a regression to a sort of petulant grief-induced teenager-dom.

Mother has now moved back into her own house.

But I can still hear the sound of the brows knitting together through the wind…

ROFL?

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ROFL!!!! (credit: imgur.com)

I was in London for a few days earlier this week and, as always, being away from the Motherland made me antsy.

Mainly because of The Big Buildings and All The People, but also because I am convinced that I am cursed and that a plague is poised to descend upon my house as soon as the train wheezes out of Darlington. (And not least because of the price of a plate of bacon and eggs: Ten pounds fifty, written like this: 10.5. I mean, come on!)

In my post-sudden death of husband angst, every time my phone wolf-whistled at me from my handbag I was convinced it was a text informing me that a key family member or beloved friend had been hospitalised or was deceased.

And news like that would come through via text – after all, it’s how I delivered news of Mark’s death to most of my friends. Which in retrospect seems heinously crass, but then, so is sudden death.

On hearing the whistle, I scrabbled about frantically among the receipts, bobbles and dog shit bags only to find it was my niece sending a picture of a puppy wearing a onesie entitled: ROFL!!!!

But aside from the terror induced by incoming messages, my phone also caused me to weep like Gazza this week with its tyrannous predictive text. Whilst searching for my Mother’s number (something I don’t have cause to do when I’m at home, bring that we’re attached at the hip), I entered the letter ‘M’ on the keypad. The phone helpfully suggested:

Mark Mobile

The number I had rehearsed for ten years came up on the little screen. I haven’t had the heart to erase it.

Erasing it, you see, indicates that you are somehow further towards the holy grail of Acceptance. But whilst my husband still exists on my phone and online, He continues to have a sort of metaphysical presence.

Which deluded as it may seem, is preferable to no presence at all.

ROFL.

On turning 38

Bontempi

Bontempi (Photo credit: Jacob Whittaker)

The last thing you need on a post-birthday hangover are the strains of a child’s Bontempi organ bouncing off your eardrums.

However this morning my daughter has rediscovered the cursed instrument which has hitherto been hidden in a cupboard for months.

It has been in the cupboard for reasons other than her inability to play a note. There is a demo tune on it which takes me whirling back to a moment in time that I’m trying hard to forget – specifically, six days after M died.

The woman from The Humanist Society had just arrived to talk to us about M’s funeral service. Did we have any stories we wanted to include? What sort of man was my husband? Their son? Her brother?

My daughter, still high on the constant stream of visitors and piles of placatory sweets from the past six days, was corralled in the living room with my sister and the Bontempi. They spent the half an hour or so making up a daft dance to the demo that she is playing now, on a loop, downstairs. When we had finished with The Humanist we emerged from the kitchen, wrung out and catatonic, and had to sit and watch the dance. Over and over again.

I’m tired of this. Tired of the reminders of what I have lost and the traumas I have had to face. I spend my time finding distractions, but I am tired of waking up without Him, not remembering going to bed.

I’ve just turned thirty-eight. I shouldn’t be this weary.

Within a couple of hours, I knew I would be free.

Napoleon at Saint Helena.

Napoleon at Saint Helena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have two books on the go at the moment.

The first, and surely the most impressive, is my ‘serious’ read about Napoleon’s incarceration on St Helena (fascinating peeps – did you know Boney’s balls were pickled post-mortem and are now on display in a museum in France?)

The second is my ‘bathroom’ book – Chris Evans’ memoir about being utterly alcohol-soused in his early career, and how he came through it.

The chapters in the latter are scientifically word-counted to the length of time it takes to excavate a turd. But in terms of cracking reads (see what I did there?), it’s on the button. I started off hating the guy and now I want his ginger babies.

What is it about the narrative that appeals? His raw and boundless honesty, that’s what. He’s done some crass things in his time, but he’s totally up front about them. No holds barred. It’s a Catholic confessional wrapped up in 200 pages.

It is hard to be full-frontal about things that general society considers to be distasteful, particularly if you are in the public eye. I am very much out of the public eye, yet some of the things I have done since my husband’s death have confounded those I am closest to. Myself included.

I’m only halfway through his book, but already Evans has done some toe-curling stuff. As a listener to his morning show I know how the story ends, but there could have been so many other ways for it to go.

But I have found unexpected wisdom and comfort in his words. Whilst he doesn’t deal in grief directly, his reflections resonate with me at this moment in my life. Take this one on alcohol for example:

“I remember taking several drinks on board and waiting for the periods of cerebral protection to kick in. With the thought of this safety blanket wrapped around me I could look forward to forgetting about the growing muddle of things in life I didn’t want to face. Within a couple of hours I knew I would be free.”

If my husband’s death has taught me anything, it is that you can’t guarantee your reactions to anything.

When it comes to the crunch, you’re a stranger. Even unto yourself.

Hymn to Him

Hello keyboard my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

You're so cool. (Except perhaps in those wellies)

You’re so cool. (Except perhaps in those wellies)

And tonight I just want to riff about my husband. Thoughts of Him occupy me so completely, but I am unable to express them to anyone but this multi-buttoned musketeer. The words form on my tongue but come out stutteringly, meanderingly, without flow or point.

Besides, why would anyone want to know about how I was always so proud that it was HIM I was going home with at the end of a night?

Or how when I first met Him we used to sit smoking roll-ups til morning, stubbing them out in a Lambrini bottle, which became a brown-silted graveyard for fag ends?

Or how He played ‘Romanza’ on the guitar with the devotion of a father nurturing a child? And how we used to sing together, to our daughter, ‘Dream A Little Dream of You?

How He introduced me to JJ Cale, War of the Worlds, Robertson Davies?

Or how He spoke in a low, deep voice – slowly and without pauses?

How He drank Black Sheep bitter and would always order beef curry at the Chinese?

How our last words before bed were always: I love you pet.

How He was without doubt the most courageous and beautiful human being I have ever met, and I still can’t believe He’s gone?

“…I look back and am amazed that my thoughts were so clear and true, that three words went through my mind endlessly, repeating themselves like a broken record: you’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so cool.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzR4Agcsuh8

A macabre, head-banging, delusional freak

English: Low cost above knee prosthetic limbs:...

English: Low cost above knee prosthetic limbs: ICRC (left) LC Knee (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Great Aunt Edith died fifteen years ago, yet her husband (now a death-defying nonagenarian in the rudest of health) still keeps her prosthetic leg propped up by the fireplace in the lounge.

What a macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, right?

Me? My husband died in my Mother’s house. And sometimes, when Mum’s not looking, I go into the bedroom where He took His final breath, open the cupboard and allow my eyes to drift along the rail of her clothes to where His jacket still hangs. It’s right at the end of the rail, tucked away so it can’t be immediately seen.

Some days I just look, then close the door. Other days I sniff it, then reach into the pockets. There are three used tickets to The Deep in Hull, a half-eaten packet of Extra-Strong Mints and His pill box (empty). In the top pocket, there’s a pen.

Below the jacket, at the bottom of the cupboard, is the overnight case He had brought in anticipation of a weekend at Mother’s.

Inside: wash bag (too painful to look through now, but I know it contains toothbrush, toothpaste, razors – items which still hold His DNA), jeans, a brown leather belt, one pair of brown Dr Marten’s boots (size 9), various jumpers and underwear. He had brought the pair of unworn Superdry socks I bought Him for Christmas too, but I had Him cremated in those.

Meanwhile, downstairs at poor Mother’s is the four pack of Guinness M had bought about an hour before He died. It sits on a shelf in the porch, tucked far enough behind the boxes of washing powder and detergent that it is not immediately obvious, but still, I always check for it, glinting through the gloom. I have forbidden her to get rid of it or to allow anyone else to drink it.

In the light of this, and other evidence (the vacuum packed contents of His wardrobe, His guitar, His ashes), I asked my counsellor today, “Am I building a shrine to M? Should I be getting rid of all this stuff, in order to ‘move on’?”

She looked at me with well-rehearsed neutrality. “You have to do what’s right for you. Some people may not understand it. But others – well, they will.”

I thought about the macabre, head-banging, delusional freak, and his wife’s prosthetic leg.

I understand, Uncle Gordon. I understand old son.