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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The self-indulgent stillbirth.

Discussions reveal that not keeping my story to myself is symptomatic of a sociopath. It transpires that sharing my thoughts and feelings on this matter comes across as ‘a bit too self-indulgent’. And that it was ok in the initial stages of my grief because, like a car-crash, my audience slowed at the scene to get a glimpse of the horror: intrigued. So now, this late on, apparently I’m milking it.

If you don’t want to come across as a sociopath who stands to gain more in the sympathy of others than she has lost in the death of her child, then you shouldn’t really share all your womb-woe’s with such a big and impersonal audience. Or so I am told is the general etiquette of ‘acceptable public grieving’.

And all through myself I want to laugh. Because I thought it was implicit all this time, that what I was trying to achieve was a little bit of clarity in the blur of my own feelings, using the only medium that feels right to express it in. In hindsight I now realise I should have baked a private pie and filled it with all my fears and phobias and feelings and eaten it secretly like a bulimic bug in the basement. ‘I shoulda known!’ I cry sarcastically in my own head for NO ONE TO HEAR BUT ME.

There was me thinking I was being brave and helpful and who knows, even hard-core with the momentous miserablising of my own memoir. Oh dear, what an error, what an oversight on my part. I should have kept it covert like the cunt-clippings and the arse-crack grease that everyone is guilty of cutting and smearing behind their own closed doors. God forgive that anyone should share the bizarre initiations of our insecurities in a bid to batter them into bearable submission.

After a little time has elapsed and I have filtered feelings from fury on the subject, I realise that these sensible stiff-upper-lipped snatch-saviours are just misplacing their guilt over something they have that you don’t. The same as the bulbous-bellied net-mums who cross the road to avoid you when your baggy bump sags down redundant like an old fleshy apron. They don’t know how to hear what you have to say…and who can blame them.

And I know that everyone has suffered and I know that everyone has their hurt. And I am just as bad as the next person when it comes to dealing with other people’s misery. I can forgive them for feeling frustrated and wishing I’d shut the fuck up about my failed-nearly-one-shot at being a mum. I can understand, I really can. But I won’t shut up, not now and not ever. Not because I’m ‘self-indulgent’. Not because I collect sympathy like old shavings in the hope that one day I can fashion a new foetus with it, no. But because I love to write, I love to express and yes I sometimes like to pick the scab: sometimes the sadness and the stories and the saying it over and over, are all I have left of the little soul I wanted so very much to keep.

 

September’s here again.

I wrote this story, when I was teenager, from the curls in my hair and the melancholy in my heart. I called it September and the main character was a woman, not totally unlike me. It was probably only around three pages long, but it contained within it a whole world of romance and pain: a life in a nutshell.

The hippy girl meets a suitably hippy guy, they fall in love, make love and sell seashells on the sea shore. She falls pregnant and the scene cuts to the burying of a tiny box filled with letters and a moon shaped necklace. Shortly after she finds herself at a train station waving goodbye to the suitably hippy guy, a little sadder than when she first found him. By the end she finds herself an old lady, sitting in her favourite chair, her hair still long and her curls still strong. Smoking a spliff with the slow flames lapping around her like the brown autumn leaves a friend had doodled around the edges of my notepad.

I had no idea what I was writing about, it came out of the mist like everything else does. But suffice to say, I’m now a lot more careful what I write about. Uncertain whether I fully believe I’m a jinx or a just prophetic or whether there are only a few unique plots in existence for all our stories to base themselves on.

But September was always significant, because for some reason I decided I wanted it to be. It was the month I met him, the month we got married, the month we broke up in, the month Dylan was supposed to be born and the month that we organised our divorce. Amicable throughout, never raising voices or acting like total pricks. This irreparably tangled ambivalence is a soupy broth that does nothing for a well defined pallet.

So we’re saying goodbye, by signing bits of paper and drinking tea: the way everyone who has ever loved anyone should do it. Otherwise you run the risk of completely breaking your cool, and once you’ve done that there’s no going back. Otherwise you’ll be disappointed you didn’t stay on that wild horse right to the finish line, squinting as you watch it far off in the distance instead. Put pen to paper and let the ink do the talking for you. Sign on all the dotted lines and be thankful that not everything in life is War of the Roses catastrophic or Kramer vs Kramer depressing.

Love and marriage goes together like a horse and carriage. Loss and divorce like a river of remorse. And now, when I think of it, that horse was never as docile or as subservient as everyone assumed. It was only a matter of time before it buckled, throwing both the carriage and the people within into complete disarray. I can still hear, if I try really hard, the crackling warm voice of my dad, singing about the two horses: one white like a youthful dream of a life to come and one black like an ill-fated destiny fully lived. It’s no wonder I see serendipity in every event, no wonder I was drawn to the lover of horses and to the sadness behind every old eye.

In the aftermath of narrowly missing everything that everyone ever wants by a fateful whisker, I realise I won’t forget about all the coldplay & clips days, all the lights guiding us home, the losing of things we can’t replace and how I’ll always do my bit to fix them, no matter how far removed I may be.

Why? Because I’m an inexcusable cunt in all other facets of life and I need to do something to restore the balance.

How? By drinking copious amounts of tea and foolishly wishing for the best.