Thursday, 7 July 2016

Casualties of loss

The tow hook on my campervan is deeply embedded now into the metal bumper. I have reversed into things so many times since you died that I have lost count. Driving is another activity that has become hazardous. I remember the advice I read online for the recently bereaved: if you are crying so hard that you can't see where you're going, pull over. Once or twice I had to. But it's not so much the tears that alter my perceptions, it's that my whole awareness has shifted. My focus has changed. Objects in the rear view mirror should appear closer than they are and yet I am looking so far back into the landscape of my memory that I run into them constantly. Reality hits me, like a brick wall, time after time. My eyes aren't on the road ahead anymore either. Instead they are looking into the past or searching for your presence - in clouds, in trees, in the faces of passersby. I still look for you even now. Today, I actually stopped and walked back down the street and peered at a man in a red van. There was something about him. I just had to check. Maybe you hadn't swapped this life for the next, but had just changed your profession and the colour of your van. The driver nudged his mate and they laughed.

The week my mum died, I ran into the back of a man in a shiny white car. He was cross. It was a new car, he said, like this changed everything. He really didn't want to have it repaired. I apologised, handed over my details, explained that I was stressed. His car was the least of my worries, though I didn't say so. A few days later I put diesel into the tank of my vehicle by mistake. I ground to a halt a few yards from the petrol station though it took two young men from the local garage to suggest that perhaps this is what I had done. I sent you a message with a sad face and you replied immediately: 'stay there. I'm on my way.' I had never been so happy in my sadness as I was to see those words, to see your face when you pulled up alongside me, to feel your arms around me in your warm brown fleece, enveloping me with love and care. Being looked after is not something I am used to. It was a treat to see you during the working day and my tears turned into laughter as they always did when you were near. We sat in the campervan together, snacking on Waitrose provisions - stuffed vine leaves, chocolate rice cakes, millionaire shortbread. It was the closest we ever got to a camping trip, parked up at the end of Ecclesall Road, waiting.

You waited alone for the rescue vehicle while I went to see my therapist. 'You go,' you said. 'you need it today'. I didn't need to explain. You understood. You always did. The death had been a shock even though we had been waiting for it for six long years. I needed to talk it through. 'I'll be fine,' you said.

Later you watched with glee as the man pumped the fuel out of the tank, intrigued by the mechanism, asking questions while I hung about, content, just then, to be a dumb girl. I couldn't understand anything the man was saying. Grief can do that too. He taught you how to use the gas conversion and I let my mind wander, knowing that you had it covered. I have no idea now how to do it. I've no idea how to fix the pump either. That too has broken since you left. I thought it was broken once before and you said you'd have a look. While you were fiddling, I realised I hadn't turned the electricity on. We said you were the catalyst that made it work. You were a catalyst for a lot of things. I just needed to have you around and things were ok.

Since you died, it seems like everything has broken. It feels right somehow that things are grinding to a halt without you. First it was the TV. The reception went fuzzy a few weeks after you died so live TV was gone. Which made sense. Why should the TV be live when you weren't? Luckily we still had Netflix and On Demand, but some time ago, that went too. Turns out we can't always have what we want at the click of a button. We were down to watching the old DVDs but a week ago the DVD player froze. The drawer won't open anymore and Rise of the Guardians is stuck forever now. Now nothing plays at all. The silence is comforting. The landline went down in sympathy a while ago as well and though the broadband stutters into life every now and then, often it fades away, like it too is tired of the effort of keeping going.

My mobile is still working though I dropped it heavily soon after you died and the screen shattered so badly that I could no longer see what I was typing. I don't know when or where I dropped it. There are great holes in my memory. It is another thing that isn't working. My daughter and I have been playing Mastermind with a secondhand game but I have no recollection of buying it even though I know we haven't had it long. I often have no idea what I have been doing from one day to the next. I liked the shattered screen on the phone; the pattern had a certain beauty to it - like a butterfly or a spider's web. (I search for meaning in the strangest places now.) For months I have avoided repairing it as if fearing that somehow if I got it fixed it would be a sign of 'moving on', 'letting go', 'getting better'. I like the visible symbols of what your death has done to me.

There have been other casualties too. As if losing you were not enough, I have lost a friend or two. Not everyone is comfortable with broken things.  Other friendships hang by a thread. I struggle to relate to people in the ways I used to and common reference points have fractured, though I have gained new reference points and new friends too. Some people come closer, while others retreat. My world is rearranging.

Soon after you died, I was crying so hard as I tried to phone a friend that I spilled boiling peppermint tea all over my thigh. I couldn't get up quickly enough, was in too much emotional pain to quite feel the urgency of the physical pain, too scared of my emotions to put the phone down. By the time I'd realised how badly burnt I was, it was late at night and my leg was swollen, raw and blistered. Hoards of friends on Facebook offered advice, while neighbours got out of bed to deliver aloe vera plants and people offered to babysit while I went to A & E. I was swamped with care. It is easier to help a friend with a burnt leg than a friend with a broken heart.

Today though, I fixed the screen on my mobile phone. One day I will repair the bumps and bruises on the van and maybe I can find someone else to fix the pump. Perhaps, when I am strong enough, I will even be able to sit for long enough at the end of the phone to find out, via the call centre in India, what is wrong with the broadband and the TV. But the scar on my thigh will always be there and the scar in my heart will be there too. Maybe I will move on one day and maybe things will get better, but I know I will always feel this pain. Because this pain is the other side of love.