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.