Birthdays

Noise of letter flap on the door opening and closing – ah that will be the postie with all those cards… Nope, pile of junk mail. Oh well, could have been worse, I suppose, could have been bills…

I find my birthday pretty redundant as a ‘special’ day – it’s a rubbish time of year to have it, it’s often forgotten or it is quick afterthought between the rush of Christmas nonsense and New Year celebrations, the latter also meaning even if you feel like doing something special it is pretty hard to do it – restaurants are booked up and also tend to be closing early for Hogmanay, similarly even a night out in the pub with couple of friends is overshadowed by everyone else crowding in there to celebrate New Year.

And that’s assuming anyone is free to be around for doing something, most often they are busy with festive season stuff already. I’ve not been out the door once to do anything on my birthday – did think about going up to the movies nearby, but going tomorrow so didn’t really fancy going up today as well. Considered nipping into town and having a wander around, maybe take some pics, look at the sales, maybe treat myself to something with some money I was given for birthday and Christmas, but rained until late afternoon and to be honest there’s nothing special I wanted so it seemed pointless. Kept thinking I should go off and do something, but everyone else I know in town is busy with family, travelling, getting ready for tonight etc so no-one to meet up with to do anything even slightly special as a treat for the day. If I wasn’t going round to chum’s this evening for Hogmanay I doubt I would have gone out the door or spoken to another human being in person all day.

As I said, it’s a rubbish time to have a birthday, just thinking about it doesn’t make me want to celebrate, it just depresses me. Besides which I don’t really see why I would want to celebrate it, similarly no idea why I’d particularly want to celebrate New Year. Celebrating it infers you think there is something good to look forward to. These days I often feel that I am just waiting for the next bad thing to go wrong, for the next accident, bad illness or worse. Career, finance and romance front all look equally bleak as they have previously and I don’t see why 2014 would be a shining beacon of hope for things being better. Bugger birthdays and bugger the New Year celebrations and frankly bugger life; fed up with it all and don’t see much likelihood of anything changing for better (certainly hasn’t in recent years), and far from happy celebrations days like this just leave me feeling more isolated and more depressed about the grey, oncoming, unfriendly future.

Christ but I could do with snuggling up with my purring kitties again…

It’s been a while

It’s been months since I last posted here; sad to say the blog was just one part of my normal life I slowly withdrew from over the weeks and months – even my own bookgroup I set up years ago and other regular activities just slowly stopped, I had neither the energy or desire to take part in them or anything else. It was a bad several months ending an awful year, frankly, and left me emotionally exhausted. Lost a couple of friends, lost the second of my lovely furry companions, my darling old kitty Cassie (leaving the flat feeling terribly empty) and there was the constant worry as we waited for a date for dad’s much needed heart surgery. And when that finally came in mid November it didn’t go as smoothly as planned, not by a long shot. A five hour or so operation, delicate, complex but still relatively routine for the specialist cardiac surgeons, two or three days in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), couple of weeks in the general ward then home to recuperate over a few months as you build up your strength again.

That is how it normally goes, but there’s always the one in so many thousand where it doesn’t work so well. And after all our stress and strain over the last year and worrying and hospital visits and waiting for surgery and fretting about it didn’t we get the short straw, just because obviously it hadn’t been a hard enough time already. More work was needed and my dad was out for a full week before I got to see him so much as barely open an eye, a week of travelling hours back and forth to the other side of the country to the specialist hospital and worrying and waiting before I even got to see him slightly awake. Weeks more before I heard my dad speak to me for the first time in weeks. What would have been mum’s birthday came and went, never an easy emotional time for either of us at any time, under these circumstances that date took a sledgehammer to the morale and had a bad effect on dad too.

We soldiered on, Christmas, New Year and my birthday on Hogmanay came and went and were depressing, sad, empty non events, dad still very ill and in intensive care after weeks of care, me pretty much on my own. A friend was kind enough to give me a lift through on Christmas Day so I could visit him, relatives visiting him dropped me off at the family home where I spent a miserable five or six hours on my own in an empty house waiting on my return lift back with my friend. I’ve never been in our family home alone at Christmas, it was terribly upsetting and with everything else going on it pitched me further into a very dark place. Thank goodness for calls from others like my wider family to cheer me up as I sat at home alone. Oh, wait, no there wasn’t a single bloody call. Not a one. Just because Christmas Day hadn’t been miserable and lonely enough already. And the dark thoughts swarmed around – get used to it, this is probably how Christmas will be when you are older. That time of year can be hard for a lot of folk and this time it really broke me; a similarly miserable birthday and New Year added to it. Really felt like giving up, but had to keep going.

Eventually by mid January my dad was well enough (barely) to go home and fortunately as I work mostly online I could take my laptop and work from back home – not ideal but do-able on a short term, so I moved back home to Smallsville for the best part of a month, worked as best I could trying to do a full work day from home while helping dad as best I could, doing the housework, cooking, shopping, talking to health folks, arguing with one particular batch of bloody idiots who demanded he come in for regular tests when he could barely make it down the stairs. Was pretty bloody tired out by all of this, but worth it as dad improved hugely, from being very tired and unable to do much to being able to do more, do stuff for himself, get around, got his appetite back and as his strength returned his morale got so much better, it was good to see after the long, long bloody road we had to stagger down. Could have used a good long break after all those months, especially as I had no real holiday for the last year – I had one week off for the Film Fest in June as usual but on the first day dad was taken into hospital with his heart attack, so that wasn’t much of a break as I was back and forth to hospital (still got to see a few of the films but my heart wasn’t in it) and I saved most of my remaining holiday days for when the surgery happened knowing I’d need them, but with the much longer stay I used up far more than I thought I would.

Back home in Edinburgh and slowly trying to get myself back into my regular life – months have gone past since I last went to my own book group so I’m planning to get back starting with this month’s upcoming meeting, and go and enjoy the regular Edinburgh Literary Salon, already been back to my first event at the Tales of One City readings, felt nice to get back to going to functions and events and talks again, even got friend who has similarly been running back and forth from Edinburgh to Glasgow to help with ill relatives out for her birthday (took her to the new patisserie on the Bridges for a treat, delicious, then a nice wander round the galleries too). Hopefully we continue on the upward curve this year, I think we bloody deserve it. May even start thinking about visiting the cat rescue folk at some point and see about taking in some new kitties. Let’s see …

Happy birthday, mum

It should be my mum’s birthday today. She should be here with us and delighting in the flowers I always arranged to have delivered to her. I’m trying my best not to dwell on it, but it’s bloody hard. She should be with us and she’s not, she was ripped away from us. I don’t think I’ll ever really come to terms with that. I miss her every day and I worry about hard it must be for my dad.

I’m trying not to dwell on it, but of course it wells up. I’ve planned ahead a little and made sure I don’t need to spend free time doing extra work as I often do of an evening. And I’ve picked up one of my favourite films cheap recently and kept it aside especially for tonight: Singing in the Rain. It’s very difficult for the Black Dog of depression and despair to get it’s foul smelling fangs into you when you have Gene Kelly singing and dancing with that wonderful, big smile of his. I think I’m going to try and ignore most everything else and go and watch my film.

Happy birthday, mum, I love you, always.

Anniversary

Today should be mum and dad’s anniversary. It’s peculiar and quite depressing how a date once wrapped in happier memories becomes a slow, heavy weight on your heart as time goes on. Switched on the TV to try and distract myself a bit and what’s on but a Buffy repeat and it just happens to be the one where she is coping with the sudden death of her mother. Oh thank you, universe, that’s really what I needed to see this morning. Couple of things I can do later so I think I will take myself out to do something. I love you both so much, mum and dad, always.

a damned date

I’ve been trying my best all day to distract myself with music, comedies on the radio and work, trying to keep my mind off the damned date. I’ve grown to loathe this date, I’d cut it from every calendar on the planet if it would make a difference, but it wouldn’t. It’s exactly two years since mum was ripped away from us, just like that and nothing’s really felt right since.

ahhh, Paris je t’aime

This time exactly a year ago I would have been sitting at pavement table in a brasserie in the Latin Quarter of beautiful Paris. I think that was the last time I can remember being really happy, blissfully unaware of what was waiting for me just a few weeks down the road. I don’t mean I’ve been sitting around in sackcloth and ashes since we lost mum, I’ve gone out, I’ve done things and even laughed, but its all like little distractions and the great, dark centre is always there waiting and not a day goes past that it doesn’t hit me like a hammer a dozen times and I don’t feel like I’m really me anymore or will be again, just someone who looks like I used to, going through the motions. And Paris has become larger in my head, not just because I love the city and its culture (of the two places I would most like to live in the whole world one is Paris, the other is right here in Edinburgh) but because it is that last time when I felt so freely happy and with what happened so soon afterwards Paris has come to mean something more to me emotionally, a precious space where everything was still alright. Which probably sounds daft but its what I feel. Oh to be back not only in Paris but in that happy space instead of feeling like I’m going to fall apart endlessly through each, long day.

Rue Vavin and brasserie

birthdays

Its my birthday today, my age clicking over in time with the ending of the year. I’ve never cared much for my birthday, always feels sort of squeezed in there as everyone darts around getting ready for New Year and this year I can be bothered even less with it. Dad warned me that my card was one mum picked up ages ago – she had the habit of seeing something she thought perfect for someone for a birthday, Christmas etc and she’d get it then and put it aside, often months and months in advance (or even years – one of my cousins doesn’t know it but she had put aside a certain something for her to be given on an upcoming special occasion, its just sitting there ready). So I opened the card today and there it is signed love mum and dad. And I felt as if someone hit me in the chest with a sledgehammer and that was me out of it for quite a while. I’d much rather have it than not, of course, but it was still bloody hard and I was struggling already (birthday is bad enough but New Year is often depressing at the best of times). The last birthday card I will ever have signed by both my wonderful parents. Goodbye 2008 – you started so well, with the promise of a trip to Paris and I was very happy. Then you became the worst year of my life and I don’t even remember half of it going past because even when I think I am functioning okay I don’t think I am and am still running on autopilot a lot of the time. Go away 2008, you’re not welcome here anymore, although somehow I doubt 2009 will make me feel any better. I no longer want the future.

Christmas

Its been a pretty mixed Christmas for me and dad this year, as you can imagine. The normal opening of the presents on Christmas morning was pretty subdued without mum being there. Even little things like signing Christmas cards had been especially hard for my dad; I knew that before he said, as soon as I opened my card from him the other week there I felt a terrible pang because I knew right away how much it would have hurt him to be signing those cards from him and not from him and mum. Life is full of once absolutely normal activities and rituals like signing cards that are now tipped with barbs which dig in and remind us sharply of our loss and its worse for my dear dad. We took up Christmas wreaths to the cemetery for mum and also to her brother, the Comrade, which was terribly hard.

I know some folks say don’t put yourselves through the wringer like that, but its impossible not to go. We did our best though and dad made a huge effort in the kitchen, with my cousin and her hubby over for dinner as they usually are. Obviously not on a par with the cooking and baking mum created (which was outstanding) but we did our best and had a good meal and a decent afternoon and evening drinking and chatting away. Very mixed day, as I say, it wasn’t all sadness, we had good moments, but everyday there’s something which gets us and at this time of year its far more pronounced.

Happy birthday, mum

Today should be my mum’s birthday; it’s the first since we lost her with such awful, shocking, sickening suddenness. Right now I should be getting a delighted phone call from her after she received the big bouquet of birthday flowers I’d always have sent to her. She loved getting that big bunch of birthday flowers and I loved how happy they made her. Sometimes they’d even still be in bloom when I went home for Christmas a couple of weeks later.

I’ll never hear that ever again. Instead I’ll be back through to Glasgow with dad and taking flowers to her grave. And I hate this. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. She should be here and she’s not. I feel it every single day, a horrible ache inside, a weight on my spirit I can’t lift, but this makes it worse and the imminent arrival of the Christmas period lurks around the corner like an unwanted visitor and how I hate the thought of Christmas without her. The world feels very cold and all there seems to be to look forward to is small diversions but no real delight. She should be here and happy with us and instead we’re taking flowers to her grave and her name is on a cold bloody stone and that’s not right.

Rusted pipe

Now the time has come to speak
I was not able
And water through a rusted pipe
Could make the sense that I do

Gurgle, mutter
Hiss, stutter
Moan the words like water
Rush and foam and choke

Having waited
This long of a winter
I fear I only
Croak and sigh

Somewhere deep within
Hear the creak
That lets the tale begin

Now the time has come to move
I was not able
Water through a rusted pipe
Could make the moves that I do

Stagger, stumble
Trip, fumble
I fear I only
Slip and slide

Somewhere deep within
Hear the creak
That lets the tale begin

Somewhere deep within
Hear the creak
That lets the tale begin

Suzanne Vega, “Rusted Pipe” from Days of Open Hand.

I’ve always loved that song by Suzanne Vega, right from the warm tones of the marimba which plays under it, counterpointing its warmth against the melancholy of the lyrics. Now it seems very apt. I’ve struggled very hard to write something on here for months, since we lost mum. I’m still struggling, to be brutally honest, I can hardly keep my eyes clear at times. I’ve tried again and again to re-start the Woolamaloo in the last few weeks and months. Months already, how can that be? Already more of this year has passed by without my mum in it than the months of it she was here with us and its so damned wrong. I’ve never left the blog alone so long; the fifth anniversary came and went and I didn’t give a damn. I’m finding it hard to care about much right now and yes, I know that’s selfish but again I really don’t care. Everything for me has become separated into Before and After now.

Each time I tried to restart I simply couldn’t. I’d look at the last post in March, still deliriously happy from my time in Paris and then at the following one, the brief one, all I could hold myself together long enough to write. And I’d think how did I get from there to here. Back home in Glasgow among the dozens of family pictures on the walls there’s one of me, a school picture, primary school years, little freckled face, bright red hair and blue eyes, next to it me in my mid twenties, long hair, cape, standing at my graduation. And I’d look at them and think how did I get from there to there to here? How did it happen? Why did it bloody happen? When dad was in hospital last Christmas, scaring the hell out of me, I remember returning to the family home. There was no-one in, mum had been in visiting him while I was on the train on the way through after my boss kindly told me to just leave and go home. And, worried though I was, I saw among the photos one of my uncle, the Comrade, who we lost a couple of years ago after a long fight. He’s smiling in that pic and in the instant I looked at it I knew it was going to be alright, that dad would be fine and be home with us for Christmas. I didn’t know it would be our last Christmas all together. And I found myself in April looking at that same picture and begging the Comrade to please, please, please make it alright now.

But he can’t and no-one can. And that hurts more than anything in the world.

No-one can fix it, no-one can make it better, its a wound that I know never heals. To hell with all that ‘time heals all’ nonsense; I never believed that for an instant before and I certainly don’t now. It doesn’t heal; like Lancelot’s wound it never truly heals. It might, as a good writer friend of mine who lost his mother a couple of years ago said, scar over the wound but the scar and the pain are there below it, they don’t go away. Dad lost his mother when he was just a boy; that was half a century ago now and the pain is still there. I feel tired all the time. I’ve slowly gotten back to sleeping more regularly, unlike my poor old dad who hasn’t slept right since it happened. But its not restful. I’ve never been great at getting up in the morning but this isn’t my usual reluctance to get out of bed and wake up properly. Its more that I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to go out and face the world that’s taken her away from us. Its a bloody struggle every single bloody day. Its a struggle to go to social events and weddings and gatherings, its a struggle just to go to work some days. I’m tired deep down and no amount of rest is helping that. My soul is weary, weary, weary and wondering is this it, is this all there is now but the slow, inevitable descent, losing the rest of the people you love until you find yourself one day alone and old and wishing it was your turn? I’m a cynic but also an optimist usually, but at the moment its hard to see past that sort of feeling.

And I don’t think a lot of people get that. They see you, you seem normal. I walk, I talk, I make my usual bad jokes (inherited from dad) and they think isn’t he coping well. No, I’m not. I’m really not. I’m drifting. One of the anchors for my life has been ripped away from me and I’m drifting in the current without any ability or even urge to put my hand on the tiller. I’m on autopilot a lot of the time, just getting through the work day and going home. I get out, make myself go out, go to films, festival shows and I do enjoy them and they do distract me for a while, usually, but afterwards the pain is still there, lingering. It washes over me a dozen times a day, every day. I doubt the folks I work next to even realise there must be so many moments during the day when I have to stop for a moment and try to hold it together as another black wave comes across. And I don’t think some folks around realise how brittle it leaves me, how even small arguments or tensions at work or home cut right through because you have no patience and you have to bite your tongue and suppress an angry retort because emotions are right at the surface right now.

And I don’t think they get that at all. A part of me is broken and it won’t ever be fixed. When someone is in a dreadful accident they may spends months in surgery and then therapy to walk again. And even when they do they never walk the same way as they did before and always the memory of that trauma is there, waiting to pounce on them at any time without warning. Its much the same with loss like this. I’m slowly trying to learn how to get on, but even as I do I know I won’t be the same again. I’m not the person I was in March, that Joe doesn’t exist anymore except as a memory. Everything feels different now. When its bad I wonder why she isn’t there to comfort me as she always did. When it ever gets good again - if it does – I’ll wonder why she isn’t there to share it with me. And yes, I know in a way she will be, but its not the same, its just not the same. And I know I am being indulgent – some kids never get the love and security that I’ve enjoyed since the day I was born, probably since before I was even born on a New Year’s Eve years ago and I’ve had a lifetime of that love and I ache for those who never had that. But I’m still broken inside and the person you see is just a simulacra, not the same person as before. He might improve a bit but he’s not going to be the same again and there’s nothing that can make it better.

And that’s the bitterest part of all. Nothing can ever make it better. There’s no fix, no magic, nothing. Dad and I can alleviate some of it for each other but we can’t fix it and that’s the horrible, bitter reality of being born mortal. And I hate that feeling. Along with the sadness I feel angry at the world for doing this to us, for taking her from us just like that. Why so many evil, selfish people get to live to old age while my mum is taken at 61 I don’t understand. If its god moving in his bloody mysterious ways then I’d like to give the old deity a good kicking because he deserves it. The headstone went up just a couple of weeks ago and that ripped me open again. Dad and I are up there every weekend with flowers and it upsets us terribly, but at the same time we can’t not go up to visit her, to take flowers. I used to take flowers for my mum all the time or arrange to have them delivered to her on her birthday or mother’s day and I loved how delighted she always was with them. And now taking her flowers spills my soul open. I could barely look at the bloody stone. Its a lovely stone my cousin and I picked out, but I still can hardly look at it. My mum’s name is on a bloody stone and that’s just not right, its never ever going to be right. I feel sick and tired most of the time and the smallest thing can set me off, even emotional scenes in the movies or books I try to distract myself with; I’ve got no armour left, my shield is shattered, my lance broken and my armour is all undone and I don’t know if it can be mended. And if it can it will still never be the same. Its too much to bear sometimes. I loved her so much and the world took her away just like that and I can’t bear it. I still can’t work out how a heart so full of love can just stop. Why isn’t it enough? It should be and it isn’t and the universe doesn’t care.