Monday, 31 October 2016

Raising the dead


I've never been a fan of Halloween. As a child, I went to every Halloween party in a tutu, waving a magic wand made from tinfoil in the hope of protecting myself from all the black magic in the air. I could never watch the scary films either. I was traumatised by Bambi and Watership Down and never progressed onto anything harder. I didn't like any mention of death. In fact I often had nightmares as a child about dying and about losing everyone I loved. Halloween and I were never going to get along.

Since I've had children myself, I've got into the spirit of it a bit. It has seemed like harmless fun, just a chance to dress up and eat sweets. Until this year.

This year, the sight of smeared make-up has been giving me flashbacks to finding your body. This year, I paused before purchasing a scythe for my weapon-crazy six year old; I don't need reminders of the Grim Reaper. This year I felt physically shaken standing in front of the Halloween decorations that line the supermarket shelves as my children pleaded with me to buy skeletons that lurch out from plastic gravestones. Dead bodies don't come back to life.

I drew the line at the plastic gravestones and we stuck with bats and spiders. I'm ok with bats and spiders. In fact, I like bats and spiders and 'Dead Bat in a Tin' is one of my most treasured possessions since you died. That bat was precious to you. So precious that you loaned him to me for a writing workshop but insisted I give him back. Your brother found him above the visor in your van. 'Why would Paul have a dead bat in a tin in his van?' he asked. Why not? That's just the kind of guy you were (plus I had only just returned him the week that you died). I keep him safely now and still use him in writing workshops: imaginations grow wings and fly when presented with a dead bat, nestled in an old tin.

I have been thinking for the last few weeks about Halloween, about the irony of our death averse culture that makes such a big deal now out of celebrating death, just on this one day of the year, with no reverence for the actual dead. And about how Halloween has become almost as big as Christmas, almost as commercial, an environmental disaster of throwaway plastic crap. I've thought about writing about it, but I haven't. I thought about writing about it today, but I won't because mostly, today, I just found myself thinking how much I wish that I could make a tinfoil wand, don a tutu and bring back the dead.

Last night I found myself hugging your jumpers again and talking to you before I slept. 'If I could bring you back,' I said. 'I would never let you go.' It took your death to make me realise just how precious you were. Sometimes I want to be able to show people how it feels to lose something, someone, you love so much. I want them to feel, just for a moment, a tiny fraction of this pain so that they will hold on tightly to their loved ones and never let them go. I want to tell them that everything can disappear overnight, without even a puff of smoke. And to the people who daydream about someone they're not with, I feel like saying, don't wait, you haven't got forever. And to the people who aren't with the right people, I want to say, grow wings and fly. Life is short. Wear a tutu.

I wrote a poem about the destruction of my fairy wings when I was in an unhappy relationship and I sent it to you one day. Late at night you would often write messages to me saying, 'send me a poem, Beverley Writer'. You said my poem made you cry and then you said that it also made you smile. 'I know my heart will soar with yours,' you said. It did. And mine with yours.

I look at the bat in the tin, stroke his downy fur and imagine the scene where I can blow gently onto his body until his wings take flight again and he can flitter across the night sky, as bats should. Imaginations take flight. Writing is the only way that I can bring you back to life.