This morning woke me at 4am. Actually, it wasn’t the morning that woke me. It was the Poppy dog. As she has been alternately well and not well over the last few weeks, I am super alert to her every move, even in the thick dark of the night. I turn over, snuggle down, hope she will settle. But she does not. She patters across the boards like a mini tap dancer with too many legs, jumps onto the chair, then to the bed, then onto me, all wagging tail and snuffles. We get up, she full of beans and quite impervious to the thick dark. I pull on an old fisherman’s jumper and go downstairs to let her out. I make coffee, light the fire, flick on the twinkly winky lights and pretend I don’t mind that it is a good four hours till I can see anything at all through my windows. Mine now. Not ours anymore, not that I ever said ‘Our Windows’ seeing as I was the only one who cleaned them. For that reason, they were always really mine, but I do remember how antsy himself would get on hearing the word ‘mine’ when he felt he shared whatever came after; windows, home, driveway, dogs, children. If I ever said ‘my son’ or ‘my daughter’ he would correct me and in a cold clear voice. I found that infuriating but with hindsight I wonder why it bothered me so very much. Perhaps I felt that so little inside our shared life was ever really mine and thus I would hold on to any opportunity for a verbal claim to some degree of ownership.
I decide to find his most recent iPad. He kept buying replacements for no particular reason, the same no particular reason that saw him buying new mobile phones, of which there are now six sitting in the darkness with Henry the Lonely Hoover. Nobody knew why he did this, but I do. Dementia creates her own world and he was a resident in that world. Reasoning from this world meant little to him, was brushed away, as I was. It must have felt, for him, like conversing with an alien. This man who was never easy talking about his inner doubts and fears, who demanded ownership of pretty much everything, was never going to realise that to keep me out and outer still would just feed the Lonely in us both. Although he did soften towards the end, the stage was already set and the playwright refused to change the script, so we mumbled on like draught horses, plodding and submissive. I couldn’t change what was happening to him and nor could I change what was happening to me even if I did make daily decisions to be cheerful and capable.
I read from his short-dash sentences, as he tried to write down his life, that I turned cold once the diagnosis came in. I knew that it was true but it saddens me greatly now, to read it because he never spoke of it at the time, beyond a push-away comment. And that was at the heart of the Lonely. I am open and a talker. He hid from anything that lay below the surface. They say that opposites attract and that was certainly true at first. But as life trots on, people change, need new and different things, things that need discussing, understanding and appreciating or there is just Lonely. However, resourceful as we humans are, we learned how to live well enough as long as we stayed on the surface. And we did, for decades. But my need for stimulating conversation burned through me and I would find it with other people and he knew that, wrote that, hated that.
However, a long shared life is not to be remembered for the loneliness, because this would not show the whole truth of things. From the outside we appeared strong together, and we were. We laughed at the same things, talked of nature and wildlife and children and home life. We were careful around each other, in the main, for nobody wants war, if you can call sustained silence ‘war’. Nobody ever won these wars. Somebody always proffered the hand of peace and took it all away in a nanosecond. We were very good at that, even if I did long for a conversation about why and how it came to be in the first place. We lived together for ages, and well, and always confused about each other. Perhaps this is marriage.
As dementia crept on like a silent cancer, he became softer, as did I. When the bare bones of it showed so clearly, there was only kindness left. To hope for conversation was the hope of a fool and I am no fool. To wish things had been different, another choice for a fool; to long for resolution, explanation, the chance to understand how a man can live a whole long life without ever seeing beyond himself, another fool’s errand. So we didn’t bother, I didn’t bother. And the last few months were so much easier, even if the old scream did sometime rise in me. I had a task and it was a big one, but I also gifted myself a purpose, to make the end game as pretty as I possibly could. I always said I am no carer and then Life laughed, God laughed. I told himself that if he ever got sick I was off. He said he knew that. I told him he was a menace when well, so heaven knows what he would be like sick. Then he told me that he would care for me whether I was sick or well and he would have, for he was rock solid, unbending, immovable when it came to looking after me. He just didn’t see the need to ask me how I wanted to be cared for, that’s all.
And so it was.