Since the moment of the earth shattering news a soft mist descended. It seemed impossible to grasp hold of anything. To gain purchase on anything. Even a thought. This was compounded by the departure to a foreign land of the significant other. Footsteps became uncertain slippery things. Remembering the steps to plough on through the day eluded me. I’d hover in the kitchen in the mist with many tasks to be completed and no skills left in the well. Waves of children descended with unmet needs and questioning eyes. The shock was to the core. The sadness I felt for those closest to him, robbed of him, enveloped me. The unfairness of it was unshakeable. The sight of the mass-vaccination of GPs mere days after his funeral, a tough pill to swallow. So close.
Silent observers were taking note. There was a fast approaching birthday to be celebrated in this mother of all Januarys and the observers seemed to suggest that I ought to access a quiet determination to ace it. I stood idly by, swaying in the mist, wondering if it was possible at all. Something I taught myself years ago during a tough time seemed to dangle in front of me, just out of reach. Act as if everything is fine and it will be. Eventually. Perhaps. It didn’t fast forward the process then. The process catches you in the most unexpected moments. For the most unexpected length of time. A life-time, the truth be told. There’s no stepping over it. No side-stepping it. But it did give me flashes of the future, this acting. I summoned it again. Come a little closer. Let me catch hold of you.
‘What will we get him for his main gift?’ Marque 2 enquired two days before it. Dead worried about marque 3’s birthday which looked all set to be a wash out. January birthdays can be tricky enough. But in the height of the third wave of the pandemic with soaring numbers and scary variants, with no visitors allowed and the father back working abroad, with the limited shopping and the mother a mere shadow figure – he was right to be worried.
‘Oh that. Yes. I got that. Didn’t I tell you?’
‘No you didn’t Mum’. I squint my eyes at him trying to remember how I forgot to tell him. He’s been sweating away about this silently, trying not to bother me.
‘Sorry. I thought I had. I was sure I had. I think I must’ve had a nervous breakdown on one of the days there’, I say laughing. He laughs too.
‘Yes, it was yesterday’, he offers assuredly.
‘Yes. I’ve never seen you looking so pale in my whole life. And so silent’. Uh oh. Time to do a better acting job.
The acting skills disappear wholesale during the home-schooling hours. A sort of Tourette’s kicks in instead. Thoughts flash across my addled brain and grunt out all by themselves. One must not be spoken out loud. And certainly not to the youngest who sits at the table with me. With a mountain of subjects to plough through and a hill of instructions with no teacher in the room. With him flicking at the baubles on the Christmas tree beside him that should be long gone. I jump up from my chair for the umpteenth time to prod, instruct and cajole. Out it comes anyway.
‘I’m going to be fired’.
The words sizzle in the cold air like spitting embers. I try to grasp them. To pull them back. But they’ve landed on the top of his head, singeing him.
‘Well not fired exactly and not your fault of course. It’s just that I really need to get this document off in the next 5 minutes and it’s very difficult trying to concentrate on it while home-schooling too.’
A moment of parenting glory. I should write a book with my top positive motivational tips. As guilt riven compensation I select him to accompany me on the trip to get the final bits for the birthday. He has excellent ideas and great taste. We excel.
Marque 3 has his 16th birthday on the 16th. Sweet. The sun shines strongly in the morning as it did on the day he was born. The father drops in on the Alexa on the mantle-piece for the present giving ritual and later for the cake and the toast. It’s as if he’s here. Almost. We video call my sister for the takeaway. Marque 1 sends a takeaway to her house also. The birthday exceeds all marque 3’s expectations. He declares himself to be ‘chuffed’. We’ve aced it. A light frisson of joy pulses through me.
Back in the post-birthday mist we chug on with another week of work, college and home-schooling. The Tourette’s has been brought under control. Instead I hear myself declaring, a little too loudly, that I’m really enjoying the opportunity of working so closely with marque 5. A super rare time to be savoured I tell everyone down the phone, strictly for his ears.
‘We’re having fun’, I boom.
‘Are you sure about that?’ he asks and he laughs.
There’s pranking and merry banter in the house and I immerse myself in it. Plonk myself right in the middle of it and imbibe. A spectator looking for signs of a way back in.
I write today in the light of a massive shift. Perhaps it was the snow yesterday that did it. To begin with it was the same. We sat in front of the fire with our coats and hats on and watched a ridiculous amount of re-runs of Friends. I was chief watcher. Rocking with zombiefied laughter. Then we had a movie night – lest any brain cells be given a chance to kick back in. The shift came in the early hours of this morning. I was awake at six, brimming with energy out of nowhere. I could’ve stayed in bed for another two hours but I ran with it. Got up, showered, cleared up, breakfasted, and opened my laptop. I went not to work files but to writing. I had an idea for another book over Christmas and had begun the outline process. I clicked on the last document I had worked on and up it sprang. All that I didn’t remember doing. Clean, clear, crisp ideas from what seems like a lifetime ago. The opening scene even. It was last saved on the afternoon of the day of the bad news. Three weeks ago. It didn’t cross my mind once in the interim. There was no appetite for anything much, least of all creativity and making up worlds for pleasure. But today, for no known good reason, the mist has burnt away entirely, magically. It’s as if someone has a hand in it.
Life sparkles as loss is carried high. In hearts and minds forever.