Sunday, February 21, 2010

Happy Valooms Time

I used to hate Valentine's Day.  I used to dread it.  I remember eyeing women carrying excessive bouquets, or teddy bears, or both, going home on the London tube during my trying-to-be-an-actress-temping days, and hating the vulgarity of the celebration at the same time as wishing the vulgarities could be heaped upon me.  I remember walking up and down Camberwell Grove one particularly dark Valentine's Day night, the vast, leafless plane trees dripping rain, just to get out, because the street was better than being inside with the howling loneliness that assailed me.

I have never passed a comfortable Valentine's Day.  Never, that is, until now.  And this was surprising, given the unlikelihood of its being a cheery day, being so very near to the first anniversary of the Bim moving out.  And given that, in all the years I have known the Bim, this was the first year he did not send me a card.

But this was a mark of great progress!  A card would have been inappropriate.  A card was inappropriate on each of those Valentine Days he proclaimed his love for me and as it turned out was placing his real feelings elsewhere.  Nearer to some woman whose name began with 'S'.  (They all began with 'S', indeed two of them shared the same name.  I like this little, meaningless detail.  It amuses me, in a not very amusing kind of way).

Even last year, only eight days after the last woman whose name begins with 'S' handed me the letter outside my house which would change my life forever (God, I sound like the soap opera I felt myself to be in at the time), even then, the Bim gave me a card.  It was red and gold and not very nice (he never did get the kind of cards I liked) but it was written from the heart, full of contrition come too late.  I kept it.  It's in my wardrobe.  Not because I felt romantic about it but because it was the closest he came in those early days to an apology and that meant something to me.

So I wondered what would happen this year.  I was aware that something was going to happen, stage-managed by the Bim over several school nights in elaborate stage-whispers between himself and Anna-Mouse.  I feigned nonchalant unawareness as a present was smuggled from the Bim to her one evening, and  prayed that whatever it was would be given as if entirely from her.   When it turned out to be so I breathed a quiet sigh of relief, and I didn't even have to wait until Valentine's Day itself to find that out, because after a heroic effort to keep her mouth shut, Anna-Mouse begged me to let her show me the present stashed underneath her bed, at the same time as swearing the said showing to secrecy from Daddy. 

Therefore on the day itself I received for the second time a milk chocolate heart engraved with the words I love you Mummy xxxx and a wonderful, hand-made card (featured) wishing me a Happy Valooms Time.   And, as I say, nothing from the Bim.  Only I knew what self-control and not a little growing-up it took for him not to write me a card.  I knew that it meant he had come really quite a long way.  I knew that he understood that, however much he wanted to send me a card, no doubt repeating his sentiments of last year, it would pain me far more than please.

And this year's Valooms Time, this day of symbols, for me too marked a change.  It showed me to myself in a new light.  I examined my heart and found that it was not wanting.  Literally not wanting.  I am often sad at the turn life took this time last year, often so sad I have to weep, but I seem to be emerging intact.  I did not spend February 14th longing for a man to complete me, as I have longed so often in the past. 

If I am honest I know that too much of my heart is still bound up with my past promises to the Bim, and so I am waiting, simply waiting, for time and my own best thoughts to extricate those parts of myself from those potent vows.  Because we have the wondrous Anna-Mouse in our lives, I know that many of them will exist as a contract between myself and the Bim forever - but in a contract between loving parents, now, not lovers.

Someone said to me soon after the Bim went Isn't it exciting, you have yet to meet your life partner!  I was astonished: then, as now, I can't quite encompass that thought.  I thought the Bim was my life partner.  I thought that that was it.  As it turns out, he is my life-friend. 

Occasionally, when all is quiet, when midnight has passed and we have entered the twilight hours, I allow myself to try on the idea of a new partner for size.  Unsurprisingly, I find the idea doesn't fit, that I fidget at the seams and pull at the neck for breathing space, like a child.  I find, then, that I am content with waiting.  To grow into the idea, or by-pass it altogether, who knows. 

Do I feel lonely?  No.  Do I feel alone?  Yes.  Sometimes I feel very alone.  But they are not the same things.  And now that I understand that I am not ready to share myself with anyone again, possibly for a long time, I am beginning to like this waiting time.  It's a clear, honest, almost translucent thing, waiting to be wholly Liv again.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Wanted Alive

I think about her all the time, my dead friend.  She accompanies my days.  I've been lucky: I haven't had to lose many people to wherever it is they go; not close people, not old friends like Deb.  I'm told that it starts from around now.  Obviously, I suppose, as I tread lightly towards my half century, others will begin to disappear.  

But the line is very thin, isn't it, between the two places, between here and there?  I think so.  And all to be truly found out afterwards, after our passing.  'Passing' - what's that about?  What an odd phrase.  'Passed away'.  Away where? when Deb is sometimes so palpable I can see her, hear her crescendo laugh.    It is wonderful to me, and an affirmation of life,  that a person's impact crystallizes and strengthens in death.  No,  this may be personal to me - I fully acknowledge - but something has happened to me in losing my old friend.   Something powerful and good.

For starters, I have held the life she found so sharp-edged that she had to drink to numb its edges - I have observed myself holding that life to me like a child who has gone momentarily missing and then reappears alive and well, wondering what all the fuss was about.   I find I have so much yet to do, and Deb's dying has reminded me.  The irony that the difference between our attitudes has turned out to be so monochrome in contrast gives me a wry laugh now and again.  But thank God I actually want to be here, I have found myself muttering in a myriad of recent situations of varying difficulty, Thank God I want to be alive.  Deb's story is at its saddest in that image of the mental health team seeking permission to break down her door, enter with the police, and finding her there, after who knows how many days, alone. 

Wanting to be alive, versus not.  There's not much hope of improvement, is there, if this most basic premise can't be met.  It hurts my heart that Deb, of all of us the girl with perhaps the most energy in those early years, grew to want to die more than she wanted to live.  They didn't mince words, the last time she came out of hospital.  She knew that if she carried on drinking she would die.  She told me that the urbane consultant, the one who recognised how intelligent she was and told her things straight, had told her so.

So, there has been a change in me.  It is a positive happening; an opening; a relaxation; an acceptance of the highest order.  It is causing me to reassess and re-group, and I am not the only one:  the circle of friends so close in those crucial teenage years, to which Deb most centrally belonged, is back in touch again.  The air waves are humming with emails, texts, phone calls and new laughter.  It is as if we have sloughed off our previous, too-busy, too-preoccupied selves, paused to wonder at what we all lost in losing each other, and have each in our separate ways (and in some cases separate countries) emerged ready to meet each other again, on equal ground.  A dinner in Deb's honour is planned.  

Anna-mouse has just stirred: her usual, midnight rising to the surface. 

Muuummmy! she calls out impatiently.  What are you doing

I slip from where I type across the landing to her room.  She is already heavy with sleep again.

I'm writing, Anna-m,  I whisper as I tuck her in. 

Something else that happened when Deb died.