Wednesday, 15 February 2017

What's going on?

I bought a Best of the Nineties CD a while back from a service station. I was on a long journey and I'd forgotten the CDs. The truth is, I forget a lot of things. I was bad enough before you died; I'm hopeless now. My mind is just never on the practicalities of life. I'm away with the fairies, head in the clouds, a walking cliche of a hapless artist. I'm even worse at the moment because I'm chatting to men on dating sites in between appointments, distracting myself with thoughts of some kind of future love. Crazy, I know, that I could even think of having another relationship, but there it is. It turns out the human spirit is amazing in its capacity to rebuild and to hope in spite of everything. It turns out I can hold the past and the future in my heart at the same time, though sometimes I forget to focus on the present.

Last week, I left my wallet (unusually full of cash) on the bus. Luckily I got it back with the notes still inside it. I'm annoying like that. I always get things back. In some ways I'm the unluckiest person I know but in other ways I am lucky. I hear my mum's voice telling me that I need to learn to be responsible but I know I'm a lost cause. I will never learn to be responsible and I will never learn my lesson. Instead I learn only that the world is mostly filled with lovely, trustworthy people. Yesterday I took my friend to the cafe on the corner for a cup of coffee (because I'd forgotten to buy coffee so there was none in my house) and, as we left, we waved goodbye to the cafe owner but I forgot to pay. (I went to pay him today, of course, because what goes around comes around and I like to add to the statistics of the lovely trustworthy people in the world). Today, I took the dog to the groomers on the way to work and forgot to pick her up on the way home. But I had a good reason for that.

Today I was just leaving my writing group, checking my emails as I walked and thinking about you and how you used to hate the way people do that, heads down staring at screens instead of looking around them at the wonder of the world, when an email appeared in my inbox telling me that your bench had been fitted yesterday. Yesterday. On Valentine's Day! I'd known that it must be on its way soon but they'd said that they would give me two weeks notice when it was going to be fitted so I was surprised, and pleased. How appropriate that it should have been secured to the ground right then when I had only just written a blog about giving you a bench for Valentine's Day, making full use of artistic licence as I'd ordered the bench at the beginning of December with no idea when it would arrive. How utterly perfect that it should have been done just then. And how unutterably sad too to see your life reduced to a bench.

I've been practising mindfulness recently, learning to name my emotions, to watch them pass like clouds, rather than diving headfirst into them, digging around for answers. I've found it immeasurably helpful over the last twelve months, to watch that cloud of grief come and go, knowing that there is nothing to be done about it, knowing that there is no intervention that I can launch to change things. But sometimes, like today, my emotions move so quickly that I can't catch them. It's like I've walked into a time-lapse photography sequence with the clouds whizzing across the sky so fast, that they merge into one mass and I can't make anything out. I think I catch a glimpse of joy and wonder but it is replaced so quickly with sadness and shock that I'm not sure what's what. There is a dash of hope in there for sure but it is eclipsed by doubt, and yet there is love, always love. I was smiling and crying too, shaking so much that I had to sit down.

On the one hand, how perfect and how lovely that you or the universe seemed to have conspired to put your bench there just then, as if my present for you was also a present for me, a reassurance, again, that there is more going on than I can understand, that there is some kind of mystical order even in chaos, that love abounds even when it seems all hope is lost. On the other hand, the bench is like the end of something. It has taken nearly a year to get it organised and there are only three weeks to go until the anniversary of your death. 'Bench' has been on my to do list for a long time. When I tick it off, what is there left to do? It is the last memorial I have planned. Only my memories remain now, memories that I still try to capture, hoping to immortalise what we shared in words even though memories, like clouds, can't quite be pinned down.

I went to look at the bench after work, before I picked the kids up from school, forgetting the dog in my excitement. Rushing and distracted, I managed to scrape my van on a parked car. I left a note, of course, because what goes around comes around and, though I don't care at all if someone bumps into my van, I am aware that some people love their cars as if they are children. I dashed to the bench with barely enough time to take it in, just a moment to check that the location is perfect (with its view of the water wheel and building)  and that the inscription is right, complete with the full stops that your mum and I laboured over:
In memory of Blacksmith, Paul Harding who loved Sheffield's industry and landscape:
much loved, much missed, remembered always.
And I checked that your words were there too: 'Stop: feel the Sun' and the dates 1963-2016. Full stop. But I couldn't stop and feel the sun. I was in too much of a rush and it was raining. Still, I paused for a moment and felt the smooth wood under my hand, looked up at the clouds and told you I love you again. And then I ran.

Back in the van, I was listening to the CD, when the Four Non-Blondes started playing 'What's Going On?' and I was cast back, as I often am, to one day in the autumn, the autumn of the year before you died (how strange it feels to say that now). You had sent me your letter saying that you wanted me more than anything in the world and we had spent the afternoon negotiating the terms of our new agreement, no longer just confused friends or lovers, but two people embarking on a proper relationship. We had walked along the road into town that evening chatting, holding hands, feeling content and we had found ourselves next to some kind of pub in a marquee where a band was playing and we'd stopped to listen. They were playing that song and we sang along, muddling up the words and laughing at our mistakes, dancing together in the cold night air.

Next, I took you to a memorial evening for the poet, Ann Atkinson, testing you out in a strange setting (I was to take you to a few - book launches, literary nights, funerals, gatherings of mothers and small children). You performed beautifully. You chatted to my friends and members of the poetry world as if it were perfectly normal for you to be found sipping wine on a Saturday night in a room full of poets (you had ironed your only shirt at my house earlier and put on your smart trousers, not having learned at fifty-three that just because both garments were dark blue, it didn't mean they went well together). You sat in wonder all evening, absorbing the words of the poets, letting them fall like snowflakes around you, holding tight to me all night long as if you feared I might float off and never return. (I have photographic evidence. The only photos in existence of the two of us together). And at the end, when the poetry had stopped, my friend who was compering, suddenly said, 'I feel like we should dance' and you immediately stood up and offered your hand in invitation. And I took it and we danced under bright lights at a poetry evening as if it there were nothing odd about it at all. And something fell into place that evening. The next day, my friends who had been at the evening were asking who you were and my friend's mother-in-law spoke with confidence: 'he danced with you,' she said. 'that's a really good sign.' And it was.

It was a really good sign too, when your bench was fitted on Valentine's Day. A sign of what, I don't know but it made me feel good, like somehow, someone or something is still holding me in spite of everything. At the moment, I have a feeling of well-being, like something is falling into place. On Valentines' day my friend brought me flowers with the message: 'For loves lost and loves to come.' The truth is, I don't know what's to come. None of us can know. My thoughts, like this blog, are a muddle of the past and the future and the present, my emotions merging like those speeded up clouds. I don't really know what's going on. But I know this much: I will never learn my lesson and, when the time comes, I will love again. Because, though I don't know what's going on, I know that at the end of the day, nothing else matters. It's all about how much love we can give and receive in the time that we have. And I know that there is still an abundance of goodness in the world even in the darkest of times.

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