Monday, 29 December 2014

I see dead people.

They’re flickering on the screen in the faded colours of an old polaroid, as real as you or me despite the shaky camera work and the muffled sound.  But then they are you and me.  You with your dandelion hair in a dark aura around your thin face, hardly recognisable from the man you are now, all padded and bearded and jowled.  You look more foreign somehow than I ever thought you were, finer featured, like and exotic girl with a too-big nose.  I gasp when I see myself.  Twenty years younger and twenty pounds thinner, my arms bare and defined, the flesh impossibly tight, and I’m so pretty.  So very, very, gaspingly pretty.  I never knew.  I have my hair up and seem to be wearing a dark lipstick though the seventies were long gone by then, and a top with roses round the neckline that I still remember buying in Portobello Green.  And the children are all there too, the oldest about 7 in a Laura Ashley dress that makes her look like a little shepherdess, The boys achingly beautiful, as was she, both still babies at 4 and 2, the youngest in a red velvet shorts and bib suit that his grandmother bought for him, and the elder smiling sweetly at the camera with not even the ghost of the tentative, guarded man he has since become, visible on his happy, infant face with the wide chocolate drop eyes brimming with happiness.

They seem to always be with you whenever the camera swings towards you, finding you in the same place, unspeaking, zoned out, separate from everyone else.  How did I not see this when I was younger.  How did I not notice you were withdrawn, awkward and antisocial?  And I’m funny, making jokes, laughing, grinning, when I’m not listening to my cousin George murder a country and western song, and quite rightly look bored out of my mind.

It tears my heart into little pieces like its no more than an old tissue stuck in the pocket of a rarely worn coat.  Those dead people, you and I, and our little babies.  Dead without a proper funeral to mourn them.

And as the camera pans around the room, I see the rest of the dead.

My mother, risen again to sing a Scottish song that I learned at her knee, her face animated, her arms joining in the chorus.  She’s in her element.  Gone several years now.

My father, singing One Enchanted Evening, his theme song, his every gesture so familiar to me that I feel him in my bones.  Gone two years before my mother.

My dear brother in law, my cousin Irene, her husband Peter, Arthur, Annie, Uncle Tom, the other Uncle Tom, Aunt Ella, their son Tom (don’t call Tom in heaven or you’ll be trampled in the stampede).  All gone.

We’re sitting watching dead people sing, smoke, get drunk and celebrate, recorded on grainy film so we can watch them briefly resurrected twenty odd years later.

My kids are delighted by their younger selves, enchanted by seeing themselves as babies.  But I can’t look for too long.  Those babies are dead and in their place are pretty nice adults who, to varying degrees, tolerate me, though the beautiful boy in the waistcoat whose eyes jump with devilment hasn’t been home for two years and hasn’t sent me as much as a birthday card in that time.  I preferred being the girl in the video to the woman I’ve become.  i knew my place then.  I was the centre of something.

It strikes me I know more dead people than those left alive.  And you and I will never celebrate another wedding anniversary with our family around us, at least not to each other.  We made it twenty five years, half of what my parents managed.

On the one hand it’s nice to see everyone again as they were in life, but on the other hand, watching these videos are like being put on the rack and tortured.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Another first

First holiday in three years that nobody has googled 'I'm Lonely' and felt the need to reach out to me.  That's a good thing.  Not that I mind, if you happened to have done this.  You can write.  I'm always happy to hear from you.

Busy work

Ooh how I cried at the Golden Wedding video.  I got through most of it with only a slight biting of the lip until we reached the end and there was a tenor singing 'Time to Say Goodbye' over snapshots of my parents taken over the years, then I burst into painful tears.  It hurts.  Loss is unendurable, and yet endure is the only thing you can do with it.

I read Ruby Wax in a sort of half formed blog on Huffington about activity being her antidote, her escape almost from depression; her drive to do, do, do, to achieve.  I sympathise and recognise that.  Of course I don't have the big house in Notting Hill and the career in television to show for all that drive.  Instead I have kitchen cupboards with empty jars covered with chalboard labels, and painted furniture, and christmas plates with initials painted on them.  I'll wake up in the morning and think, 'yes, I must refinish the kitchen table' and get busy acquiring the kit (I do love kit) and start painting.  Currently I'm driven by the urge to change the world by tidying the study and organising all the kit for the various craft projects I undertake, then make a button box as a present for my bf's mother, and make paper flowers out of music scores for the husband's gf (why?).  But, unlike Ruby, I don't feel that this is necessarily a bad symptom of escaping from my problems and not facing up to my inner turmoil.  In fact, it calms my inner turmoil.  It's a natural tranquiliser for me, to do something with my hands and let my mind go into that 'flow' space, while at the same time creating something, albeit something frivolous, or even downright naff. 

I've been manic with it too, so I do understand the Wax frenzy.  I think I'm in a better place now and that my activity now tends to me more meditative, more nurturing, more therapeutic than juggling knives.  It's all about balance.  However, yes, it's still an escape.  But escape isn't necessarily a bad thing is it?  Hiding from danger is survival.  It's knowing when to hide, how to heal, and when you have to come out fighting.

She's also right about how depression is being not able to do anything.  To be frozen.  And this, when your identity is wrapped up in the things you do, that make you you, is a loss of self.  Who am I if I can't paint, or write, or clean a cupboard?  Just a bag of anxiety, fear and grief?  And if so, does that negate me further?  Of course it doesn't because it's what we do with our lives that makes us who we are, that colours our personalities - not in terms of achievements and goals, just in what makes us tick.  And what makes me tick is clearing out the craft cupboard, and making a box out of papier mache.  It makes me happy.

Blue Christmas

it's over.

Christmas and its overindulgent, overcrowded, overspent, overeaten glory.  I wish I could enjoy it more without the constant shadow of Christmas past looming over me.  Not only the bittersweet nostalgia of lost years and once happy memories with a sting in the tail, but with the resonance of the more recent events that clang in my ears, sometimes all too familiarly.
And then there's the family.  Real families, lest there be anyone, anywhere, still left in any doubt about it, are messier than their Hallmark Channel counterparts (and after my winter of madness when Christmas 24 kept me company through the wee small hours, I am something of an expert on this).  They are a blessing that takes you for granted, and seem to generate a Linus-like miasma of 'stuff' around them as they move through the house, sorry 'their' house, whilst still managing to make you feel like they'd rather be almost anywhere else in the world.

Despite, or possibly as the cause of my own stressful time, I still have this imagined rosy glow of Christmas with the family, where we all sit around toasting marshmallows and each others  like we're re-enacting Little Women, and I'm the beloved Marmee, but it never turns out like that.  It's still pretty marvellous, and an all too fleeting, precious, time that I know is borrowed from an uncertain future, but let no-one say it is easy.  Four, five, six personalities all crammed into two over-furnished, over-heated rooms, burdened by the idiosyncrasies of a lifetime of bickering and real and imagined slights, fanned by the undercurrents of the things nobody says to anyones faces (he always uses my mouthwash, she always wears my pants, she's nicer to the cat than me, the house smells of bum), and it's a wonder that I've only landed in the nuthouse once.

This year, for the first time since we decided to get married, Christmas of too-long-ago to remember - 31, 31 years? - I did not spend the holiday season with my husband.  Instead, he and his new partner took their new baby off to introduce her to her non-Christmas celebrating Jewish relatives in New York where the little mite can be inducted into the schizophrenic world she has been born into; the world of rewritten history:
Husband:  Well we never really celebrated Christmas
We have celebrated Christmas enthusiastically with all the trimmings for the past thirty years and his mother, celebrated Christmas with more pomp than Mrs Claus, with a bigger tree than Harrods, a turkey and canned Cranberry sauce, despite being Muslim.
But, no, now we don't and never have really celebrated, he maintains as his new partner lights her Hanukkah minorah which, presumably, they're not really celebrating either.
And whoosh, thirty years of my life, conveniently forgotten to make way for the new reality.
So he didn't come.
And what a relief it was.
I'm not going to say I didn't miss him a little, for a fleeting moment, since he's been as much part of the tradition as the hijabi woman at the top of the tree, and the Mexican creche, both of which he outdoes in terms of silence, but I didn't miss the itching to get away, the suffering through the three, four, five hours as though it was some sort of ordeal to be endured, like dental surgery, and the false jollity of everyone else trying to make up for his unease.
On Christmas day we watched an old DVD of my parents Golden Wedding Anniversary, shot when my now thirty year old daughter was six, and her brothers four and two respectively.  And everytime the cine camera caught him, he was sitting in the same place, either by himself or with the children, talking to nobody.
How could I have been married to him for all those years and not notice he didn't interact?
Anyway, presumably he's off sitting in someone else's house not talking this holiday season, though the baby as the specialist subject du jour, at least provides a focal point - like a fire in a cold room.  She is adorable, and her every movement is commented on like a sign from an oracle.
We were probably like that too with our first little baby.  It seems odd that those days are long behind me now and he's reliving them all again with someone else at the ripe old ago of 65.  God.  Life is funny and full of unimaginable surprises.  What's scary is at my age, some of those unimaginable surprises are likely to be of the ominous variety!
So, we broke with tradition.  Halleluyah.  What a blessed, blessed relief.  Never, ever again will we spend Christmas together and it's okay.  It's fine.  It's better than fine.
Soon the kids will have families of their own and drift away - already one son has a quasi-wife and hasn't been home for two years, or incidentally sent a card or a present in that time either.  Next year the 'kids' as they still insist on behaving, may be scattered across the world.  Last year my other son was in Brazil.  My eldest daughter will run like the wind, the first time she finds a crack in the door to escape from.  It surely can't be long when it's me and the cats, the BBC, and I don't bother putting up the tree any more because there's no point, and I start volunteering for Crisis at Christmas to give myself something to do.
Doesn't sound that bad.
Glad it's over.
Bah Humbug.
But I'll still treasure the memories, and fold them all away in tissue paper and cotton wool with the tree decorations and store them carefully.
And throw out all the silly annoyances with the uneaten food in the tupperware at the back of the fridge.