A funny thing happened to me recently on my way into the kitchen. When I say funny I mean that in the sense of its strangeness, not its humour.
It was early one evening, I’d had a shower popped on a t-shirt and some sweat pants and came downstairs. Sometime previously I had left a knife on the kitchen table.
It was a prep’ knife, very sharp and pointy.
I don’t know why it was on the table and not the little worktop but it was, and it was lying kind of the wrong way around, so that when I walked from the hallway into the kitchen and casually picked it up in my right hand I lifted it up and close to me; in doing this the blade was level with and a few inches from my chest.
Please understand that I was, as far as I remember, not at that moment in a morbid frame of mind (nor was I half pissed)! I don’t really know what I was thinking and though Elaine is constantly on my mind I was fairly cheerful and generally okay.
But as I lifted the knife and its blade came up, the thought burst into my head with absolute crystal clarity “Why don’t you just push it through your heart?”
I stopped and stood contemplating what was happening.
The point was now just a couple of inches from my heart, which strangely I could see faintly beating through my shirt, as if to leave no doubt as to the availability of the target. I stood still.
I’d not had any real serious self-destructive thoughts since that bloody awful ‘Black Night’ I spoke of in the blog-One Good Day.
That night’s threat was so very real and solid that I have believed since it occurred that I would recognise it if it came again, but this situation pounced out of the blue just as that one had.
Nevertheless what shocked me the most was that in the few moments after this idea struck me I realised I was actually contemplating it; somehow it was presenting itself as a reasonable solution worthy of consideration at the very least, or a good plan as it were, that would be best acted upon now.
I didn’t drop the knife like it was the treacherous Asp but walked forward and placed it in the sink, then I leaned back against the Rayburn thinking on what had just happened. The Judas here wasn’t the knife itself it was the impulse from within me, exactly as it was before, but why had it occurred?
I can fully understand the night of the 30th of January, it was still the month of her death and not long after her funeral but we’re ten months on from that, how much longer will I have to be wary of this sudden impulse jumping out on me? I thought I was doing quite well but I admit to being shocked and a bit fearful at the clarity of it. What if it caught me really off guard, a bit drunk or melancholy and depressed?
Luckily for me (I guess) I’m not prone to be an impulsive person, I’m more of an over-thinker if anything, and the wave of this latest impulse broke against a wall that’s been quietly building up around the harbour of my reason for some time now; but if that wave were taller or me lower?
I glanced again at the knife in the sink and the words of so many months ago came back to me, “It would be so easy”.
How many people I thought, had been seduced by this phrase; whose minds or reason were just then out of balance enough and had acted on the same sudden impulse that I had encountered.
How many have sought to dissolve away their fears and grief by acting on it only perhaps to feel or recognise their mistake a moment after it’s too late.
Some years ago Elaine and I had discussed the possibility of my suicide (there I’ve managed to say it) in the event of her death. Though we talked fairly often about her possible demise we only ever had the one conversation concerning my following her should she go first, as was we knew, most likely.
I’ve always really been of the opinion that it is not right to destroy your own life, except possibly in the most dire or extreme of circumstances or possibly to save another, but she and I were so close that neither of us ever wanted to be apart from the other for too long.
The ongoing cancer had forged us closer together, but I’m damn sure it never intended to, and the idea of my living without Elaine held little appeal for me, and though I know Elaine did not fear death I believe she did, for many years, fear us being parted.
We talked openly, as we nearly always did, and we both found a certain appeal in the thought of us going together, but I know that she wasn’t keen on being the cause of my own self-destruction or my losing out on life or happiness that may be due to me.
We decided against.
One reason being if there is some controlling force in another dimension or life, then it may not allow us any togetherness if I were to murder myself to jump the queue, so to speak.
Also we came to the conclusion that life is so short and precious that handing back the gift after so many years is akin to eating half the choc’s in a given box then returning the others to the giver saying you don’t want the rest thank you.
It would be a slap in the face when many try so hard to stay alive, and so many others try so hard to help them.
I poured myself a beer and walking through to the lounge sat down by the wood-burner where two cats were doing a good job of absorbing most of the heat. Watching their carefree slumbers I acknowledged my gratitude for their presence and this started me thinking about the living rather than the dead.
For such a long time I have been thinking that I must carry on living for the sake of the dead, particularly my wife sister and late best friend. It’s been the thing to say that I am going to carry-on for their sakes, but what about those still alive whose support over this last year has been invaluable to me? And what about me myself?
A small but tight-knit group has been mainly responsible for my getting this far since Elaine died in January.
When she went every day was much the same- bloody awful! There wasn’t much difference between one day and the next; I had entered a limbo land that shared little with the life that I knew. I was numb, but not comfortably so, I guess it’s a form of shock and I went through the motions of living because I had to.
Then, after the funeral reality reared its ugly face and I fell off a cliff and into a darkness that up until then I never knew existed. Everything was cold dark and miserable. A half-light dominated most days and the night seemed to rush in pushing out late afternoon far too quickly in its haste to assert its seasonal authority over the light.
I got out of the house whenever I could but with the lockdown in force and crap weather there were not many places to go anyway and once out I feared returning and being alone at home yet again.
All round it was a no-win situation and when I think back now it still fills me with a hopeless dread. I fear it’s all going to sneak back up and cast total despair over me like the net of a Retiarius and drag me back down.
But official stuff still had to be gotten through and my first key players now came into their own. Julie, Mike and Bob rallied round and their support was invaluable. Being the time of the second lockdown Mike soon became nigh-on my sole visitor and when he wasn’t here he phoned, wary of how I was or what I was (or was not) doing, or might do.
Others played their parts to:-
Cake and beer left in the woodbin by Judy, followed by a text to tell me where to look.
Our special friend Paula who called round despite the lockdown (we kept a distance) and then gave me a beautiful wirework Lark that she made in memory of Elaine, and which has pride of place hanging in the front porch.
Sara, whose early visits and constant texts reminded me so much of a world of love outside of my grim reality.
Penny, who is the very embodiment of the loving mindfulness she teaches.
Anna, in the States, whose help, encouragement, friendship and love has been beyond price.
Kathy, whose counselling and friendship is a gift from the Gods.
Each day was a challenge to get through. Waking without Elaine was the start of the real nightmare (should that be daymare?) and so many times I wanted to say “Fuck it all” and give up but Elaine would not allow that; so people would make contact one way or another and somehow I’d drag my sorry ass through the next 24 hours.
Of all the days and nights the worst bastard was Saturday night.
Elaine and I had given-up doing Sunday lunch years ago. We did go to my Mum’s for a while and I will never forget the time we were about to sit down when the phone rang. Without a thought Mum, well into her 70’s, said “Oh who the fuck’s that now”. Elaine’s face was just perfect as I tried not to laugh; she said afterwards that she had never heard anyone’s mum say that word before. They always got on well together and even better after that.
But we began to get very busy on Sundays and Elaine liked to try and ride her horse then too, so Saturday night’s meal became a sort of special one for us; and after her death I tried to keep this tradition alive. But I wasn’t too successful.
It seemed so futile sat there without her; it just served to amplify the emptiness. Sat there alone I knew I was unlikely to see anybody till at least Monday at the earliest. Sunday might bring some phone calls as Mike or Julie would often ring then; also my friend Graham, now living in Spain, would regularly call as did Elaine’s Cousin Jeff and wife Mary from the USA.
All these people and others were there for me but those Saturday evenings dragged like a long walk to the gallows.
The ‘Black Night’ referred to earlier was a Saturday night and the fear of its recurrence was ever present for a while and though Mike and Julie and a couple of others had said to just call if you feel the need to, I foolishly could not bring myself to admit defeat at the hands of solitude and loneliness, but I could feel it wearing me down.
I began dreading the weekends and Saturday night in particular.
One Saturday evening, I was sitting feigning interest in the TV when the phone rang.
The words of Mum came back to me “Oh who the fucks that” but I answered and heard a long familiar and never forgotten voice say “Mark? Hi it’s me, Marilyn.”
Marilyn and I have known one another and been friends for some forty years.
Though we rarely saw each other in recent times, unless by chance encounter, the friendship remained alive despite the passing of the years. She had learned from a mutual friend what had happened to Elaine and having got my number from said friend had been deliberating over whether to phone me or not until her son said “Oh for goodness sake just call him” so she did and was I ever bloody grateful to hear her voice that Saturday night.
Elaine and Marilyn had met on a number of occasions but did not know each other too well, so it was nice to talk about my wife with someone who had no pre-conceived ideas about her. It was also nice to learn about Marilyn’s friends most of whom were then unknown to me.
The point I’m trying to put across, is that talking with someone I knew but had not been around for so long acted like a real tonic to me; the passage of time lent a new element to our conversation and the minutes sped by.
I’ve never asked Marilyn why she chose to call on a Saturday night. Though she would normally be working until late evening this was during lockdown so she could have called at any time, I’m just so glad she chose as she did. Now we talk and meet regularly.
So many synchronicity moments like this have occurred. So many things and people falling into place at just the right time that I am left more than thinking, is there is some form of deliberate intervention going on here?
I spoke of things falling in the right order immediately after Elaine died, and the same is happening now, she would fully understand the danger in the loneliness and the silence and seek somehow to re-dress it.
Elaine always set great store by her friends and liked to maintain contacts; I tend to be a more solitary person and can easily let contacts lapse. I realise now this is not a good thing to do given my present situation.
I remain deeply indebted to all those who have not forgotten me. Whether it has been a text, email, phone call or visit, once or a dozen times, thank you all.
You’ve helped me to keep going, push back against the dark and the fear and allowed me to find the last thing left in the box-hope!
Elaine would love you all all the more for it, as do I.
But then I know you are all being gently manoeuvred by my wife she never could resist interfering- sorry, being pro-active, thank God.