Friday, 2 September 2016

I need to talk about Kevin

I found the book in the pile of unread novels on my bedside table when we moved. Little things like that turn up every now and then and throw me off course. One minute I'm blithely tossing paperbacks across the room into two separate boxes - keep, chuck - and the next I'm sitting on the floor fondling a book about a psychopathic child and his ambivalent mother because you gave it to me. Life is loaded with land mines, especially when moving house.

On the actual day of moving, I held it together pretty well. I watched the removal men carry the furniture from my mum's house without shedding a single tear and remained calm and collected as I ushered boxes into the new house. It was only later, when the supportive friends and the removal men had gone, that I fell apart. It was the Scrabble that did it. It was lurking there at the bottom of the box labelled 'Games', cradling score cards written in your handwriting and memories of contests gone by: BP vs WB. No more. Land mines. 

Blacksmith Paul or simply Paul was the name you were known by. I'd actually forgotten your birth name was Kevin until I saw it embossed in gold on your coffin. I'm not sure you would have been pleased to go out of this world with the name you came in with; no-one had called you Kevin for decades. I'm not going to start now. 

But I do need to talk about you. I need to talk about you a lot. Not everyone gets this. Sometimes I wonder if people don't bring you up in conversation because they're worried about upsetting me. Maybe they think that if they mention you, they might remind me of my grief. Maybe they think I should be over it by now. Maybe they think there's no point in talking about you because you're not here any more and I need to move into a future which you're not going to be part of. I don't know what they think but I know this: I need to talk about you.

Talking about you doesn't remind me of my grief because my grief is a constant presence, threaded through every fibre of my being, sitting like an elephant in the centre of my brain. It is much easier for me to talk about the elephant than to think of a topic that doesn't involve any mention of trunks and tusks and flappy ears. In fact, if they don't mention my elephant, I am liable, eventually, to bring it up myself: 'Speaking of grey school trousers, my elephant is grey....'

And not talking about you doesn't mean I will get over you quicker. Ever tried burying a live elephant? I'm no expert on grief but I am one hundred per cent sure that talking about you is helping, not hindering my healing process. (And anyway, I will never get over you. In time I might make friends with the elephant, or maybe shrink the elephant, or maybe grow so full of love that I can accommodate an elephant easily into my new life. But, get over you? Never.) Who knows what the future holds? I certainly don't. All I know is that, right now, I need to talk about the elephant. I need to talk about you.

And I can't move into a new future without revisiting the past. I only had eight months of you. I want to re-live every precious moment over and over. I will never tire of talking about you. No-one can know me if they don't know you and don't know my love and my grief. I can't walk around with this elephant and not introduce it as part of who I am, who I have become, who I will be. 

I haven't read Lionel Shriver's book. I've barely read anything since you died. I haven't watched anything either. How can anyone read a book with an elephant squatting on their brain taking up all of the space? The elephant has trampled on my nerves and thrashed its trunk around so much that whole chunks of my memory have been erased, so that I can't remember how a sentence began by the time I get to the end, so that words don't make sense. There's a great grey mass at the centre of my grey matter, blocking connections that I used to be able to make. 

I wonder sometimes how someone who can't remember where her keys are, who just had to Google the author of an award-winning book, who doesn't know what day it is or which year, can manage to write this blog. And then I realise that writing this is easy because writing is just doing what comes naturally to me and writing about you is as natural as breathing. Because my brain is ninety per cent elephant and it is such a relief to talk about it. I need to talk about Kevin. I want to talk about Blacksmith Paul. It might make me cry but it will also make me smile. Ask me about it. I want to talk.

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