Wednesday, 16 November 2016

What a difference a year makes

This week Facebook has mostly been showing me photos of my book launch which happened 'this time last year'. I can't be the first person to wish that Facebook would stop helpfully reminding me of the past.

This time last year, I had two book launches. The first one was in London on the Monday. It was a magical day, partly because I was launching my first book in Waterstones in Piccadilly but mostly because I let my daughter bunk off school to spend the day in London with me. Even more magical with hindsight, was the fact that my mum managed to persuade her two sons that, in spite of having only recently come back out of hospital, she was determined to go. I don't know if she knew that she wasn't long for this world but we certainly didn't. This time last year they caught a different train to me and went out for a different lunch and then we all travelled home on the train together. This time last year my daughter sat with my mum playing Scrabble on the iPad with my brother while I slumped exhausted in the next booth. This time last year, we all posted this photo on Facebook. This time last year she was alive. Three weeks later, she was dead.

This time last year I did a fashion show in my kitchen for you. For some reason I was a nervous wreck about this stupid book launch and about what I was supposed to wear. I tried on different outfits and you took photos of me, pretending that having photos would make it easier for me to decide, although really, you just liked taking my picture. You said the purple dress was your favourite but that you didn't want other people to see me in it because it would make you jealous. So I picked two other outfits, one for the Monday (the one we thought my mum would like best) and one for the Wednesday. I love looking at the photos that you took of me, not because I love looking at me but because I love looking at me looking at you looking at me. I can see your presence in my eyes.

On the Wednesday, everyone was there again and this time you came too, in disguise as a friendly photographer. My children were there and I hadn't told them about you yet so you hung about casually taking pictures. You were wearing the dark blue shirt and trousers that you wore every time you needed to look smart. You wore short sleeves even when it was freezing, partly because you didn't have anything smart to wear on a top of your shirt and partly because you were a raging furnace all day long. It was as if you'd absorbed the heat of the forge into your very being. In Waterstones I managed to surreptitiously introduce you to a couple of friends who loved you immediately, observing something that I loved about you too, that you were a man who was comfortable in his own skin, who made other people feel comfortable in theirs. I didn't need to take care of you; you were happy in the background observing. I kept thinking that I should introduce you to my mum but my mum was on cloud nine, running around taking her own photos, feeling proud and liberated, happy to be out on the town, happy to see her daughter finally succeeding at a dream. The moment never arose.

The children remember you from that day though, even though they didn't yet know who you were. My little boy, jumping about excitedly with his shiny blue balloon, let it go so that it sailed high up onto the ceiling of the bookshop. You climbed up onto the table and fetched it down for him, handed the string to him in the manner of a magician, your big hand meeting his little one just for a moment. 'Paul fetched your balloon for you?' my daughter reminded him the other day. 'He was really kind.'

You never showed me the photos that you took of my book launch for some reason but I found them after you died. They were the best photos taken that evening. This one is of me and my friend Anni. You liked Anni from the moment she shook her finger at you and told you that you must look after me. She liked you from the moment that you shook her hand and promised her you would. It's not a great picture of Anni but it makes me smile to see the light in my eyes as I'm smiling at you.

In all of the shots of that evening, there are none of you and none of my mum. You were both behind the camera. Neither of you would be around for long, not nearly as long as you should have been. But this time last year, you were both alive and I was in love and things were good. What a difference a year makes.