I’ve just put down the phone clumsily and my eyes are stinging. The children are playing in the garden. My chest is tight and I feel desperately panicked, I want to run out of the door, keep going and never come back. I feel the need to spill some of the words that have been humming in my heart like a swarm of angry wasps for the last few weeks but can’t think of a soul on earth I would burden with them.
This is one of the times my children are no comfort, in fact I push them away. I feel as though I can’t meet their clear grey eyes. I am prickly, repelled, overwhelmed. Rationally I know these feeling will pass. That they are temporary blips on my preciously carved, rigorously guarded happy life but right now…well – it seems impossible to even breathe though this.
A few weeks ago a nice woman rang me to pass on some sad news about a death and to invite me to a funeral, she begged me to come and asked me to maybe say something or do a reading.
I wasn’t kind to her. I should have been and I wasn’t. I was polite but cold. I asked how she had got my number. I told her I was very sorry for her loss but I definitely wouldn’t be coming. I put the phone down very carefully.
Steve asked who it was as he passed through the room. I told him it was British Gas. I let ice form around my heart, over my eyes, felt the frosting on the small mammalian part of my primal brain where I shoved a million newly birthed, mewling squirming thoughts and slammed the door shut.
A week later walking in the park with some friends, in the sun, I surprise myself by mentioning it. The words come quickly, unplanned, unbidden. They say kind things, thoughtful stuff. They reassure me I made the right choice. I smile and turn the subject. The truth is I showed them only a bit 0f the truth. A glimpse of the peak of an iceberg. Under the water, unseen and unimagined, century old ice waits. The debris of decades swirled in its acquired strata.
I don’t show anyone that.
Like Pandora’s box my primitive grey cell won’t stay closed and slowly, insidiously, those thoughts have wriggled to the front until now, as I sit here in front of the blank screen peering past the swinging door, there’s nothing there, not even a fragile hope with crumpled wings and a torn petal skirt.
Her name was Fiona. Her pet name at home was Tally. That’s what most people who knew her called her. I liked her a lot. We had a lot of things in common. We met at a support group. The group quickly hit the dust as they did back then. Unprepared as I was to deal with myself, with my past, I felt like I made a real friend in Tal though.
She had a lot of admirable qualities. She was really clever and very determined. Funny too in a sly sarcastic way I really got. She stuck out university and got a first. For a while she held down difficult demanding jobs. We stayed in each others lives. Through teenage stupidity, broken hearts, keep fit kicks, a spell of early morning running. She came to all the gigs of my awful grlzz band phase, read the books I recommended. I read the New Scientist to keep up with what she was talking about. We tried an ill-fated jazz jive class, kept junkie secrets and shared single girl cocktail fueled nights out. We tried countless new starts, each time ending holding each others hand as we jumped off the wagon together.
In the end I felt tired of treading the same circle around again and again. I wanted to spiral my way out of my personal misery and choose a different kind of life for myself. I found myself at the bottom of a stinking barrel and rightly concluded it was now or never.
Either you recognise this evangelical rhetoric or you don’t. If you’ve moved through it you’ll have your own story and if you haven’t – hurrah for you, or guess you’re just not ready to hear it yet.
I pruned Taly out of my life as ruthlessly as I uproot the bindweed in my garden. I hardened my heart, moved and changed my telephone number, I threw away my mobile, so easy for late night texting wavering. I still don’t have one now. I burnt out neural friendship networks and worked hard to form new ones.
It wasn’t that she wouldn’t be supportive, we were always supportive of each other, it’s just one of us would always fail and pull the other one down. Not always her, often me. It’s just this time I could only push my own stone up the hill – I couldn’t carry any of her weight. I couldn’t risk it and so I abandoned her.
And now I sit here in my beautiful life, in my beautiful (mouldy) house, with my beautiful children and I feel like a monster.
That was Marion on the phone. She was distraught, tearful, angry. She is a nice woman. They live in a nice house in Bristol. I know because a resentful adolescent Tally and I robbed it once when we needed money. She says I abandoned Tally, dropped her when she really needed me. That I couldn’t even be bothered to go to her funeral. That maybe if I hadn’t of hurt her so much she would have sorted her life out. That I had been a bad influence. That she had a box of unsent letters to me under her bed. That she had so much promise. That it was a dreadful unbearable waste. That I was a shameful excuse for a human being.
She doesn’t tell me a thing I don’t know. These things are all the truth. And I know that if anyone I know reads this and even kind people I don’t know they can soothe me with rational truths. It’s just that these are not the only truths.
Under the water lurks more unpalatable truths about survival and selfishness and thank-god-it-wasn’t-me. Also a terrible fear that it may be me if I can’t hold on, if the path slips from under me. That Tal’s abyss is waiting under my feet. That my refusal to even think about going to the funeral is as much to do with a superstitious fear of infection of the unbearable itch as a desire to avoid hypocrisy. I have many grey early morning thoughts about why it was her and not me, what is the difference? I just don’t know and not knowing means I can’t guard against it.
I think there are no satisfactory answers to these questions. It is all down to the vagaries of fate and we are responsible only to ourselves to snatch whatever happiness we can. I try to apply my philosophy of people doing the best they can to myself. It is slippery and will not fit. I have a stone instead of a heart.