Island Blog – Dancer

This lovely day I am aswirl with thinks and memories and some very deep hurt. Bereavement, however much of a relief it might be, does not adhere to a timeline. Recently I have gone through the however many stages of grief backwards, flip side up, out of order or all before lunch. I make the mistake of berating myself for this chaos but only until I literally wash my hands of any control. This chaos is not birthed from me. This chaos just snuck in and is currently picking away at wounds and digging the black hole even deeper than seems possible. I had no idea there was so much space inside for black hole-ness, one I cannot navigate nor have a conversation with because any questions I send its way just echo back to my ears in triplicate minus an answer. All I can do it seems is to trudge through the hours of light and the longer hours of dark until this chaos gets tired of chaoting and moves on to bother someone else. If, I tell myself, this process actually looked like one I could understand, I might be then able to formulate an algorithm, one that would guide me step by step up and away from the turmoil. But I can grasp a hold of nothing. All is smoke, mist, cloud wisp and yet so heavy and solid around me. I cannot run from it, nor hide. I change my thoughts but my mind is colluding with the chaos so quickly does it shift back to the black. I get the Amy Winehouse song now because I feel it, just like she did. It takes huge and determined focus to remain in the positive when I am not having to pretend to the Out There, a role I can play with ease. A song, a phrase, a catch of light, a lift of birds, among my beloved trees, all can shunt me back to a memory that cuts like the sharpest of knives. I remember, I remember, I remember. I remember that song, that disco tune, Chain Reaction, the one you always played for me when the dance floor was empty and it was up to me to bring the kids off the walls. You grinned and watched me taking over the whole floor, spinning, moving, electric, fiery, wild. Many years ago, yes, but it comes back so clear, that smile from the stage and my smile back.

I suspect this dark time is a good thing and I don’t fight it. I sit with it, walk with it, let it flow through me, no fight, no fight. It is exhausting, upsetting, deeply painful and my mascara is invariably decorating my chin, but when I remember saying to my counsellor about 4 years ago whilst in the thick of caring for a man who still looked like my husband (sort of) but who was not that man, that all I wanted was to cry real tears, so taught and fraught and caught up was I in controlling my whole self, I realise I have achieved my goal. And there is a feral beauty in that for it has been a deep longing for many decades.

I smile as I realise how drawn I am these days to running water, a waterfall, a trickle, rain, a slow tidal dance as if my eyes are glued; it takes something loud to snatch my attention away. Walking this sunshine afternoon, I found my favourite tree. Looks about 100 foot tall, its topknot fingering the clouds, a softwood, strong and with the girth of half a country. I remember it holds water after rain until the water pools in a holdcup where two great limbs conjoin. Then, all of a sudden, the level raised to meniscus as it hits the air, it begins a spill and a walker by is soaked. I stood beneath the massive giant and looked up. Drops from way up there landed on my mouth, nose, eyes, head and shoulders. Ha!! I chuckled. You minx! I moved back a little only to be pelted once again from another branch. Game on! I said and for a few moments, a few playful moments, I and the giant made each other laugh out loud as he stood still and I danced, just me, alone on the floor moving to the song of the singer and the rhythm of the rain.

Island Blog – No Crime

I am working on myself. T’is no surprise, really, considering I am now popped out like a cork and into a lone life. Not lonely, well, sometimes, but not all times. Just lone. I like the word. It thinks me of a wolf or an explorer nobody believes in. It speaks of courage, determination, vulnerability and faith, regardless of any worldly snorts of derision, a great number of which come from all those voices inside my head, the ones who, for decades, kept me ‘safe’ and away from prying eyes and dream-promoters. I would be a dancer. Not safe, no future. I would be an actress. Ditto. I would sing in a band. Okay but not after 11 pm and I’ll collect you then as it will be dark and dark is laden with no-goods and false promises. I would wear these crazy boots, this hat, that flamboyant frock. On a Monday morning? And so on. Although those voices belong to bodies long gone, I can still work them like puppets on my hand. I can speak for them, and I do. Did.

I say ‘did, because I am learning to unprotect myself from these controllers. To be honest, I didn’t actually realise I could change them for ever simply by acknowledging their existence. I thought to turn them off, madly fumbling for the switch. I thought to turn my back, to ignore them, to yell at them to SHUT UP! It never worked and now with the help of a therapist I am discovering a new way, the way of gratitude and acknowledgment, of respect proffered to those who did protect me out of love back then when I could easily have thought to exercise my wings on a high clifftop just to know what it might be like to really fly. They, the old protectors I have conjoined into one voice. It makes sense to me as they all said the same thing, held me back in the same way, had me believing that being a woman meant fragility, foolishness and the inability to lead; a woman with too many feet off the ground; one that required renovation, a new construction according to the laws of man, mother, mother-in-law etc. You should wear a nice tweed skirt for this, not a lemon tutu, and sensible shoes, not those elvish boots, and gloves sans sequins, ditto hat, and those bare legs……no. Here are some 20 denier tights, nice caramel coloured ones, with a seam to keep you straight. Less eye make-up too so they don’t mistake you for a panda. Etc.

Obviously I laugh at this now for these are mere trivia in the work of controllers. The real harm that can be done by those who, lovingly, seek to dominate and guide, is much more subversive. It is a gradual denial of self that leads to inner doubt and ditherment. What do I feel? Oh, I don’t know. Could somebody tell me please? What do I think about this? Erm……….(look to husband), He will tell you what I think. So much easier as I have not a scooby anymore. But the other side of this protection is very welcome indeed. I did need looking after for sure. I was lost and young and clueless about the dastardly workings of a dangerous world, and I needed guidance. However, in buying in to this comfortable protection, I lost myself. Now, cork-popped into my new life, I am seeking her, that girl/woman who has lived long and prospered; whose God given gifts are manifold and whose heart is warm, loving and still beating away behind her scraggy chest.

And this is not just about me. I know thousands of women (and men) who will relate to my experience. I know how life works now. There is a time when a person will, perhaps unconsciously, gravitate towards another within whom she sees just what she needs to feel safe. There is no crime in that. We all do it. However, as the world moves around the sun, tilting more each day, we change as we grow. In that bubble of confidence that comes from feeling safe, we grow braver and that ‘brave’ builds self-confidence and assertiveness, something that makes life a bit bumpy for the protector. I get that. Unless that protector is able to change accordingly, there will be war because once a wimp finds courage he or she holds on to it with both hands. It felt heady, exciting and burgeoning with opportunities. I could do this! No, you can’t. I could speak out my opinion amongst a group of men. What???? You have to be joking. I could sing in a band past 11pm and walk home. Ridiculous! Get back to the dishes and the children, Woman, and maybe go see the doctor for a stronger dose of anti-depressant.

For years I have sat in blame and in shame. I don’t need either any more, but those protectors, whilst curtailing my various lunacies and sending me for more meds, still live on inside me. Ignoring them is futile. Blaming them even more so. They were more than good to me. Without them and their protection, I could well have flown off that cliff and what a waste that would have been. So, this new way, this way of grouping them together and giving them a name means I am acknowledging their work on my behalf. I can ask this multi-personed protector to protect me in a different way. Hey, Tinkerbell, I say (my favourite feisty fairy) I want to thank you for all the wonderful ways you kept me here, moderately sane and breathing; the way you saved me from myself and other animals; the way you kept me alight with flame and warmth; the way you guided me through hardships, children rearing and tough days. I honour you. However I am now asking for your loyal protection in a different way. I no longer need to numb nor to hide in the briar patch. Will you stand beside me with all your experiential wisdom and your exclusive knowledge of who I am and walk with me into the rest of my glorious life? She’s here. I can feel her, hear her. For the first time ever I can see the possibility of walking and waulking with this guide, this protector who never did really want to hold me back, who loved me, loves me, who just did what I asked her to do. And all I had to do was to acknowledge her as I had longed to be acknowledged, for who she is, for who I asked her to be way back when.

Although neither of us know where we are going, we are new friends in old bodies and that is enough for now. First off, there is a briar patch from which to extricate ourselves and beyond those sharp-toothed tangles I can see dappled light, new green shoots and over there, waving trees. When I twist my neck and look skyward I can see a new moon-bride, her accompaniment of stars, patterns of lace in a rising dawn. The glorious cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Island Blog – And So It Was

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.