7 Eleven and the slurpees we’ve never shared

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One of my favourite childhood memories is going for an evening walk with mum and dad around our block. We’d walk to the 7-Eleven on the high street and buy a slurpee. On our way back, I remember finding a pizza box that someone had taken a shit in, strewn just behind a parked car. The laughter that came christened my face with creases by the corners of my mouth. It was such a non-event when I think of it now, but for some reason it’s far brighter than the others.

My childhood was a derelict wasteland of intrigue and imagination. There was magic to be found in the devastation of 1980s London if you were a child. The allure of exploring half destroyed mental hospitals could easily fill a long summer day with a bounty of fresh injuries and total hilarity. With the minor strikes and the BMX bikes, it was dirty and real and beautiful. In the slight sepia image in my mind, everything was grubby-gold and I clung to it tightly like real treasure for years, letting my branches grow all around it.

Snapshot blinks of the things I remember don’t include fluffy pink rainbow princesses riding unicorns to meet the princes of their dreams. They show hippies with wide-stretched mouths and hair flung wild around their faces, throwing bricks at police cars. They are Club Slags and Cosmic Cabs and little secrets in every corner. They are filled with the whip of real life and things some would rather ignore.

This bittersweet melancholia was something I wanted to relive through the childhood of my own children. Perhaps not the violence, but the deep wonder of everyday dirt. It wasn’t just the My Little Ponies and the Dr Seuss that I wanted to share, but the rebellion passed down to me from generations of Guerrillas and gardeners alike. Not an incitement to crime or disarray but a spark that would burn through a human lifetime and go on to save the planet.

Seven years on from losing a child and I know that I’ll never be entirely the same. Who would want to heal from that anyway? Because to deny the pain is to also deny the love and that’s not something I’m willing to do. So instead you take one in each hand, like a shit and a wish, and see which fills up first.

Although his nappy never needed changing and he never got to throw a tantrum in a supermarket: raising my little ghost baby has still given me plenty of sleepless nights and worry for someone other than myself. Raising this little one has been harder than you could ever imagine. Not because he was teething or because his progress at school was slow. Not because he puked down all my good blouses, interrupted my every conversation and turned the house into a raging shit-tip: but because of the lack of all those normal things. Raising my boy has been a vague leap of faith into another world that I’m not even sure I believe exists: reaching blindly into the dark and touching nothing.

None-the-less he is seven. Not ‘would have been’ but IS. Irrational and pitiful though it is to think that way, I’ve really no cheerier choice to choose from. He’s seven. Just like his furry four-legged brother. And I track his growth instead through my own and through the imagined world I abandoned in adolescence and hoped to reignite through parenthood. Though neither of us can see him, rest assured he is very much there: occupying the spaces I’ve spent these years carving out for him. He’s there, just before my eyes close in a blink but gone again thereafter. He’s in the beams of light and the joy I feel when I see flowers swaying in the breeze. He’s in that parallel universe that runs shoulder to shoulder with this one, asking me all sorts of questions and absorbing the world breath by breath, the way children do.

And I was asked the other day, if I was going to write another blog for Dylan’s birthday again this year. Though seemingly innocent, the question was loaded with apathy and the sort of exhaustion people feel when someone has ‘gone on about it’ for far too long. Because we have to admit, there’s an unsaid time limit on compassion that most want to deny exists. But it does and I’ve been guilty of it too. And those who don’t speak about their perils are quietly hailed for their inner strength and way better liked than the rest of us who can’t help but say what’s in our hearts or minds. The reason for this is simple. When someone struggles quietly, it seems like they ask nothing of you. And that’s easier because then you don’t have to worry about what to say or how to react to something that has no resolve. To something that simply can’t be fixed anyway. But it’s important to remember that though they ask little of you, they’re also giving you little of themselves in return.

We’re not good at hearing a story without a happy ending. I don’t think we’ve learnt how to just sit with it and accept it. Some things can’t be fixed and it’s important to realise that not everyone who shares their story is expecting attention or love or resolve from you. Sometimes you have to just say what’s in your heart because wearing a mask makes your face sweaty and if you never remove it, you won’t know how nice the elements can feel against your skin.

I gently and respectfully refuse to stop ‘going on’ about this. Not because I want attention or pity but because there’s only so much bullshit talk I can take. I don’t have stamina for all that three-piece-suite speak or cleaning product chatter. At some point someone is going to have to say something from the heart just so I can breath. And that’s just the fact of who I am and who I have always been: finding shit in a pizza box makes me feel ‘woke’, what can I say.

So Happy Birthday to the little love that lived in me for a while. You are the most golden of all my memories always. And today you’re seven. Like the deadly sins and the days of the week. Seven like the double oh and the beautiful seas. Seven like colourful spinning chakras and stories to be told. Like being born in two thousand eleven: you are seven.

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Really big fish

I’m not always sure if everything he told me was strictly true but I am sure how thoroughly entertained I was by his brilliant stories.

Stories of prisons and fishermen and being raised by political gorillas in shanty towns where weed smoke filled his lungs long before he’d ever learned to actually smoke. Although they’re not written down, I do remember every single one. Those stories were his social currency and he had a wealth of them to share with whoever stopped by.

I miss him, of course I do. All the time. And no matter how long it’s been since he died I can still hear the warm vinyl crackle of his voice in my mind.

Losing him was a hard thing to do. Because it’s not something you do willingly when a person dies. And there’s no training or preparation for the process you’re going to go through. But learn to lose we must in this life and that’s a hideous reality to accept. Like getting sucked down a rabbit hole, suddenly everything becomes frighteningly surreal. Like giving birth in reverse: wiping the slate clean is no easy feat. 

In the momentum of things, sometimes I think that I forgot to grieve because I don’t see any evidence of how the process unfolded. And then other times all I see are the broken pieces of the world he used to inhabit and I wonder if grief takes place regardless if you consciously welcome it or not.  Is it just our new way of life, this endless sadness that settles like an unmistakeable scent, into the fabric of everything you own? Like the elderly with their stagnant houses and the gradual slowing stillness of the energy that once propelled them into life.

We talk about him all the time, my mum and I, and although it’s painful, it’s also comforting because it helps to keep him close, helps to summon a little of the energy he possessed. Besides when someone dies, it’s really the only way you can still have a relationship with them. Still honour the love you shared while they lived. I can’t imagine the loss she must feel because I can barely understand my own. But I do know she’s making a good go of it without him, because she is no stranger to grief and she doesn’t give up as easily as you’d think. I’m proud of her and he most certainly would be too.

I realise now, 5 years on, that grief doesn’t just devastate, it also offers us something by way of a gift. A transformation, an understanding, a tenderness that thoroughly changes us through its harsh lesson. It shatters the illusion of permanence, yes, but it strengthens our hold on the ones left behind. It teaches us to love harder, to laugh more and to take nothing for granted.

When someone you love dies, emotions assume the weight of a physical mass, swelling till they eventually consume you. It stretches you so that you become bigger on the inside than the outside and suddenly nothing makes sense. Learning to let it do it’s work is the hardest trick of all.

5 years on and I wish now that I’d recorded the micro details of his actuality as well as the bigger ones. I wish I could remember the tattoos he had, the creases and the exact colour of his skin. I wish he were here to meet the beautiful woman who has taken care of us since he left, and see how she’s effortlessly become the love of my life. I wish he could walk me down the aisle once more, and though I doubt he’d approve, I’d drag him down there anyway. After all, his stories were built around all kinds of complicated, unconventional and mischievous characters, how could it be any surprise that I eventually turned into one 🙂

 

“I’m six motherfucker, six!”

He would have started his day with the fresh excitement of boyhood: desperate for those presents, that cake, that party.

He would have been at school: a term time birthday child unlike his mother. How would he have endured the birthday beats there? What would he look like in his school uniform? Would he have been much liked by the playground bastards?

Death is a dirty full-stop. A punctuation mark that punctures the soft flesh of possibility. Once the key has been pressed and it’s been wallop-printed to the paper with its metal-arm clank, no more questions can be answered and nothing can progress beyond this point.

Though I can describe him to you in the minutest of details, from the image of him that continues to grow in my mind, I won’t ever really know what his voice sounds like. What colour his eyes really would have been. Whether he really would have looked like that little boy in the advert with the Smith’s song playing in the background. Instead, his life plays out in my prose. Like a novel that no-one can read but me.

So the world turns and we are dragged forever forward, whether we like it or not. Though he makes sure that the space he left unoccupied, screams out in decibels too painful to ignore: I am still the only one who can really hear it. So I cram the space with words and plastic ornaments that tastelessly overpopulate the tiny death-garden where he should never be.

Six years on and my little boy and I are no longer timid about the story he has to tell or the existence he did once have. No longer scared of how others will feel when we mention it. So we do mention it, all the fucking time. Not to ram it down people’s throats but to keep him alive, in the only way that we can.

6 years in this weird quiet sort of hell and I can’t say that it’s been wasted time. There are things I’ve learnt that I would never have otherwise known. I’ve learnt that some mothers are pack animals and they will drive the weaker of us from their group for fear that the same will happen to them. I’ve decided that these women are worthy of my contempt. I’ve learnt that if people can’t truly share in your grief then you can’t truly share in their happiness. I now see how cruel social media and the HD of other people’s perfect lives can be when you’re feeling  particularly low. I know that people have no idea how to speak of pain or sadness when it’s not something they can feel directly and that their fear of a slightly awkward situation will rob them of a compassion that could have been so beautifully shared. I’ve learnt that no matter how much ‘progress’ I make, part of me will always be stuck in a hospital corridor somewhere in 2011 screaming for my baby, whilst part of me lives for the future where I have seen all there is to see and lived to tell the tale. I’ve learnt that things can be taken in the blink of an eye for no reason at all and that we just have to treasure the shit out of them whilst they are with us. Most of all, I have learnt that it’s ok to be a little broken and a little less perfect when you have suffered something like this and I know now how to forgive myself for my occasional fury – after all, there are plenty of people ready to stick the boot in, why I should I be one of them?

So I shake off my inhibitions and I open  my mouth wide and proud, with the  cherry lips of a choirgirl, nose to the sky and I sing my version of the Murderdolls song directly to him: “you’re six, motherfucker six”. And although it’s an entirely inappropriate song for a child, I sing it to him just the same. Because what harm can it do now? And besides, I know he would have loved it.

It’s not a birthday in the conventional sense, no. But it’s still a birthday none the less. And I wish so hard he was here. Here to meet his hairy 4-legged brothers. Here to make me feel almost normal again. Here, with me, so I can watch him live and grow and be brilliant in the anarchy I know he would have caused. But another thing I’ve learnt in life is this: it doesn’t really matter how many candles you blow out, some wishes still never come true.

 

 

The Unbearable Lightness

There’s an all important pearlescent dribble that slides down our slopes and warms our wombs. Crawling through the cave of our cunts: they even say it has a tail. Like a lamp it plugs us in and turns the dull purposelessness of our design into something bright and brilliant: or so it would seem. I can’t deny how inexplicably beautiful it feels to beam from the inside out. It amazed me that at my heaviest, I could also be so light. And in that lies the paradox of all things. How can something die in the place designed for life?

There’s no worthwhile explanation. Nothing that could fertilize the too barren soil of my soul.

So there was a void. There was a gaping gash-wound so deep that I became a tunnel, big enough to bury even the biggest train. Frantically I threw out some of the dearest things to make space for the growing hole.  Not just people, but bits of me too. Parts of who I was that I will never get back. Parts that probably wouldn’t fit me anymore anyway.

I thank my lucky stars that there were friends who refused to be discarded, refused to back off. Those loyal lunch box and linen stealers, the ones who come thick as thieves in pairs like Jobber and Giambrone, or alone like the beautiful-faced wolf girl. Whether they have the strong arms of the polar bear warrior mamma who bravely birthed the Amazon, or the plentiful heart of the green eyed hard-girl who raises her fist to the world and cries for dead birds. No matter if they are a free spirited moon swan, the perfectly protective pink panther who has been there from the start, the softly savage De Palma, the raven haired witch sister who softened the severity of my sadness somewhat with sunflowers and haikus, the former pieman with the honey nature, the loyal ball-busting bambi-eyed wifey, the big hearted tin woman, the beautiful blondie who birthed my most favourite feline, the kindly compassionate one who Can Do It and WILL do it one day, the dos ossos, the coolest aunty with the contagious cackle and the button collector who went ahead on that tragic path and recalled the painful details to help me navigate through it: I will never forget how they weathered the storm of my sometimes unbearable personality and they will stay forever etched in the essence of who I am. So in the next life I’ll recognise them when they come tripping through the door, tea-stained CV in hand.

And I once sang at the top of my little voice, ‘from the darkness came light, from the blackest of nights‘, from behind my battered Come And Praise Hymn book, without questioning the purpose of choirs and childhood crooning. Without once considering the impact this conundrum would continue to have on me. So I fantasize almost as naturally as I catastrophize. Because from one thing springs another, like an endless rhythm of waxing and waning. Except from within me, (I think cynically), nothing springs naturally but my words. And maybe in the end all I really need to make me complete is the birth of a bloody good book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running free

What do we need, where do we go
When we get where we don’t know.
Why should we doubt the virgin white of fallen snow,
When faith’s our shelter from the cold.

There was always a bit of him in every bloke I fancied. He set the precedent, created the mould. With his long blonde hair and his keen light eyes.

One day I was a child and the next I wasn’t. Turning the metaphoric (as well as the actual) corner to find him, sitting on the steps outside the off-licence in his ripped jeans and Megadeth jacket. He was new. 3 years older but still new. And from them on, so was I.

Of the gang of boys secreting from the estate, he stood out. Poisonous soulless fuckwits who revelled in hurting and humiliating wherever they could. I suspected a kindness in him that years later I would discover to be real.

So I became a collector of things connected to him. I immersed myself in things he liked, so by default perhaps I would become one of them. And it’s an embarrassing thing to admit that a lot of who I started to become was built around the interests of a bloke.

My crush on him forced me into a world of fiction. With pen kissing paper I crafted everything the way it should be and not the way it actually was. Lined A4 pads filled with romantic scenarios and how the two of us would one day come together. And I cringe now when I read them because it’s hard to take your first crush very seriously when you’ve been around the block so many times. If I was lucky enough for him to look at me or speak to me, I’d squirrel the encounter away ready for my wordy hibernation. Entire books based on scraps of something that could have been. And through him, I honed in on what I really liked and what I really wanted.

In later years I would discover that I could talk to him not just from within my head but in the real world too and finally came the time for me to put down the notepad (for a little while at least) and see how the real world compared. Although he never really had the same affect on me, there was always an appreciation, a softness I suppose you could call it, whenever I saw or heard of him. And those feelings, inexplicable at the time and now so very familiar, are still the basis for whether I really like someone or not.

I can conjure him at any given moment: walking with his hands in his pockets, wearing an oversized lumberjack shirt, flicking his hair out of his eyes. He smirked in a way that immediately made me think of sex, regardless how young I was or how little I knew about it. Him screaming ‘bacon’ at passing police cars, him putting my hat on his head on my 13th birthday and leaving behind the intimate scent of his hair, winking at me unashamedly while he pissed a heart shape on the floor of the underground car park and making my face burn with shyness when he asked why ‘I ♥ CB’ was scrawled all over my rucksack.

Hearing word of his death stunned me. Not high pitched and insane, not shaking and crying but somewhere still and adolescently sheepish within me. Not just because we were close in age but because despite never having been a part of my adult life, he somehow always seemed to feature. Characters fashioned from the essence of him made it into two of my finished novels and it occurs to me now that for him to have never faded in my mind, he must have burned so very brightly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A morbid sort of science

After giving birth to Dylan, we decided not to see him.

Making a statement of it like that, feels cruel. Reading about stillbirths and hearing about it from mothers who have been through it brings me to the understanding that it’s actually not all that common to choose not to see your baby. Not counting the mothers who were historically not given a choice and were forbidden from seeing their stillborn babies: most parents want to see their child and hold them in their arms.

It is mostly but not entirely without regret that I consider our choices as compared to others. I can see how it is beneficial and I know how the parental instinct is such that most would want to see and hold their babies no matter what. I stand firmly by the choice that I made whilst simultaneously using it to chastise the mother-woman within me for her uncommon actions.

The first person ever to question my motives was another mother from a stillbirth forum I sometimes visit. Almost 5 years later she asks me ‘but why didn’t you want to see and hold your boy after you gave birth to him?’ Boom, just like that, the first question in almost all my lifetime to have ever left me speechless. I hear the question out in my head in slanted twirly font like a wicked ghost. But no audible answer comes. I scrape like a dog digging for its once buried bone and things come, in stutter-spatters, loud-sharp and angry-scared.

Two things are true and two things are really fucking hard to say. The first is that I didn’t see what good it would do. No matter how much the midwife urged and pushed for me to do so, warning I’d only regret not having taken that opportunity. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see how it would benefit either of us. He was dead: what use would a cuddle have done him? I’m sure my thought process went something like that.

And the second thing is simply this: I was afraid that holding him would fuck me up. ‘Such is the extent of my self-preservation’, I think now cynically. If this was truly my reasoning then I think I hate myself a little more for it. Because other mothers willingly open their chests as a banquet for the vulture of relentless agony waiting to feast on them after losing their child; why couldn’t I have the decency to do the same?

It’s another way that I blame myself. Another way that I dislike myself. Let it queue-the-fuck-up with all the others and wait it’s fucking turn. Because parenthood, so I’m told, is a journey of self-hatred and guilt for the choices you do or don’t make. In that sense, for certain I am a mother. Was it right or wrong of me? I wouldn’t think poorly of other mothers who would have chosen to do the same (even though there don’t seem to be any of them out there). Why can’t I take such a benevolent approach when it comes to myself?

The series of pictures that I do have of Dylan mean more to me than any other item in this world. Because although other mothers will acquire thousands, if not millions, of photos of their children; I will only ever have just that one day’s worth. Just that one outfit. Just that one face expression. And I don’t mean that in as self-pitying way as it sounds, because at least I do have that (as well as the other lovely memories I have of carrying him in my body for the brief spell that we were together).

Losing Dylan has made me weird, like a mad cross-eyed hen, pecking and clucking crossly. I sift through pictures of my pregnant belly, I linger longer than I should on scribbles in note pads from that time, I treasure all the little things and pack them around me like I’m still nesting. I want to preserve all the bits I do have of him. All the things that prove he was real. It’s the ways we keep our ghost-babies alive.

In the same vain, science has caught up with this feeling. Way quicker than I did. And my fellow ghost-mum tells me about something called a Cuddle Cot . I won’t lie; I was stunned. In my mind I called something way worse and immediately saw an army of recently bereaved mothers hurtling toward me, thirsty for my blood. And though that’s precisely what it is, I wish the inner voice (that I’ve come to accept as my own) wasn’t quite so horrid about everything. Being a bit of a cunt can be exhausting at times, I should know.

So I endeavour to say something kind about the cold cot that doesn’t sound like a sales pitch or a sunny flowery solution to a hideous unfixable catastrophe. And so I’ll say this: it is a cot specifically designed to give recently bereaved families more time with their stillborn child. Reading the real life stories of people involved I can see it as gift of sorts. A sad one, but still a gift. The mother urges me that surely if there’d have been such a device at the time of losing Dylan, I might have changed my mind. Surely I would have, wouldn’t I? And I want desperately to agree with her, just to be plain and ordinary and feel all those text-book things. So just once I don’t have to be so contrary. So I ponder. Over and over I’m chewing on it like too-old flavourless gum, drying my mouth rather than moistening it, as if it makes the slightest bit of difference now anyway.

The same conclusion finally comes: I wouldn’t have used it. Although I do understand other parent’s decisions when it comes to the cold cot system, I just can’t share them. The uneasiness with which I accept this fact makes me wonder whether I am in the wrong. Is it Dylan frowning down on me? Is it God judging me for the hideous bitch/coward/bad-mother that I am? Is it just that it doesn’t take very much for me to feel guilty? Or that I wish I’d had the courage to hold Dylan when I had the chance?

I can analyse it all I want, it won’t change the facts. Instead I’m thankful that although there wasn’t the existence of a cold cot, there was the existence of the little yellow box from Sands. With a disposable camera and other beautiful things. A place for me to keep all my Dylan stuff and a way for me to preserve the moment of his physical existence, even though I didn’t squeeze his little body tightly to my chest as I should have done, just so I could feel his body once before it dissolved back into the universe forever.

A wheelie good idea

Some people are proper cycle-paths; they’ll put their own arses on the line just to try and make a difference. They look at the statistics on stillbirths, miscarriages and neo-natal deaths and they say ‘on your fucking bike!’

Wondering what on earth I’m talking about now? Is the suspen-sion killing you? Well here it is: the lovely Kim and Neil , gearing themselves up for a staggering 60 mile cycle across the capital.

Kimberley Course

They’re aiming to complete the challenge in under 6 hours through the night in the hope of raising a little cash for the charity Tommy’s. Undeterred by the smog and the stuffiness of summer in the city, this pair are properly prepared. Don’t try to let the air out of their tyres coz just like a pair of professional boxers, they’ll have to puncture!

Clicking onto their charity page and donating a little won’t stop me punning like a prick, but it will do a little something for a lesser known charity and a really genuinely good cause. It also gives a voice to the voiceless and helps to break the cycle of silence that stillbirths cause. It can be hard knowing how to speak to a bereaved parent about their loss or for a bereaved parent to know how to bring the subject up without bumming everyone else out. Parents who’ve suffered something of the like will know how hard it is when people ask if you have children, or how many kids do you have and so many of us just skirt around the subject or deny our truths to avoid shocking people who barely know us.

In many cases we go from the last stages of pregnancy to an overwhelming and heart-breaking nothing. (It still to this day, 5 years on, amazes me that pregnancy results in a real life actual baby for most who go through it.) Many of us return back to work without a maternity break, weeks after giving birth, to face people who had been counting down the days with us and the whole ‘business as usual’ bollox doesn’t really cut it at times like these. It’s not their fault and it certainly isn’t ours. But charities like Tommy’s and people like Kim and Neil, help to bring up the conversation in a positive way.

They’re doing it in honour of Dylan but it would be bloody marvellous if you wanted to donate and leave a little note or dedication name of your own.

Thanks to the loveliest people I know, from both me and Dylan. x