Island Blog – A Tundra Meet Without

Talking with an old friend today, I found my thinks coming into my mouth in words. It’s interesting how, when this happens, words can jumble like something as yet un-sorted through, like a crowd in disarray and in need of leadership and organisation, like kids in an unsupervised playground at break time. In both of these, the dominant factor is escape from a confined space. In the first, a big poly-bag, in the second the limitation of a desk, the well-breathed air of a morning’s lessons and the four walls that surround. It’s the same with the release of words after long hours of nobody to speak with beyond Myself (and she is always lurking) the dog, the geraniums and the disinterest of Radio 2.

My friend says something about her own loss and bereavement and there’s a tidal wave rising in my throat. I can feel it and I swallow down, mostly to no avail. I can blurt. The very best of us can blurt after all even as we may pretend we absolutely never do. It isn’t that I want to fix my friend, not at all. How can I ever know, no matter how much she tells me how life is for her, understand fully a sadness I cannot imagine? This applies to anyone I meet. We are all unique, in joys, in pain, in experience, in a zillion other ways. But the impulsive desire to connect on common ground is only human. If I care, I care, but my words need leadership. I am not a helmsman, nor helmswoman , nor helmsperson or whatever title is now socially acceptable. I am an excellent crew, Himself told me this oftentimes and he liked having an excellent crew for a wife. In fact, he liked it so much that I was never taught to helm at all. Funny, though, I do remember basking in the glory of being a First Mate as if the glass ceiling didn’t bother me one bit. I think differently now. I digress…….

I know I am more distant than my friend in terms of the death bit and by many months. I also know that I am planets away from her experience. But the grief we share, the common ground, is still tundra for us both and here we can meet. We fill in time, we tell each other. We do a little thing and then another little thing after the first little thing as we crawl our way through the days Without. And here we can help each other. We can laugh together about the extraordinary and astonishing things our friends say with good and loving intent. ‘Are you ‘there’ yet?’ ‘You should get out more, dress up, volunteer…’ All questions and suggestions are kindly meant, we who are crawling through the tundra, know this. But we can be lonely out there. We didn’t know we were going there at all but here we are, stumbling over the rocks of guilt and regret, passed the cacti of lost opportunities seen through the sharp looking eyes of hindsight. We trip over raised issues unresolved for ever. We shiver in the ice-winds of anger and burn in the sandstorms of confusion. We long for butterflies and an oasis of shade, the promise of an end to this timeless wandering only to find yet another mirage that shimmers and shivers into another day of the same.

And we laugh as we eat our lunch in the island sunshine. We sip our coffee and erupt into nonsense as our eyes connect and sparkle. We remind each other that, before this, we were girls, wild girls, brimming with hope and trust and now, now, in this swathe of tundra, we know we want to find that spirit once again. We take a wander around the island charity shop, laughing about what neither of us can wear again, but how we did once, oh we did once. And we part. I drive home left and she goes right. I know that both of us have been lifted this day. We found an oasis and it was no mirage. Although we both return to filling in the hours, we will remember each other and we will smile. We will both have learned a new something, a new way to look at an old thing and this, I believe is what life really offers each one of us. It is no easy ride for anyone. Not anyone, but the anyones who decide to be open, looking out, honest about how they feel and best of all, courageous enough to ask for help, well, they, we, have the best chance of moving onward. Not to forget, no. But, instead to learn to live on Without. There will always be a missing, no matter the relief initially felt (in my case) at the death. There will be months, years of just getting through each day, but one day, one day, waking up will feel good and the day ahead will be full of promise. I know it.

Island Blog – Woman, She Says

There is an old woman I know. She is not very old but she is definitely no longer new. She can feel it in her bones and her mind. Those arms that once could heft potato sacks from ground control to the bed of a lorry now find it quite enough to lift a few books onto a shelf. Her hair is silvering, with a stout refusal to do it uniformly. She hates that bit about ageing. Eyebrows salt one hair at a time, each salt hair stronger and with a complete disregard for the calm-down brush. She catches sight of them occasionally, when she has her specs on, and is horrified. Now she must, with specs remaining in place, locate said strong, disregardful hair, with slightly shaky fingers and her small tweezers. It really is not fair, she mutters, this unpleasant process. Recently she misfired and made a rather interesting gap in one brow. Huh! she says. See if I care, she says. I’ll call you a scar and own you. You won’t bring me down, she says, and once she removes her specs, the evidence has disappeared completely. A similar challenge arises at make up time. She is careful not to apply slap in the dark, or in half-light. The day must be well and truly risen before slap app. She remembers older women with orangutang faces, with MacDonald Red cheeks, lips loose with pink leak and alien eyes. She vows never to look like they did, just as they did.

She loves flowers and colour, frocks and boots. She buys too many of the latter. There are three pairs of glorious boots that stand in anticipatory waiting beside her back door, polished but never worn. She has had to expand her wardrobe pole oftentimes. She does this by wheeching some frocks, unworn for well over a year but retained, just in case someone threw a ball on the island or invited her out for a formal dinner. In her heart she knows this is never going to happen, but she bought them anyway for their gorgeous folds and perfect lines. The flowers she loves pepper the drystone walls and freckle her garden. She arranges them in vases around the house and breathes in their fresh sweet scent. She watches them close at night, open at first light, just as she does, following the rise and fall of the sun. She plays music all day long. She loves music. Sometimes she plays Vivaldi, sometimes Radio Two, sometimes her own playlist of beloved tunes and songs that yank her into rememberings, or strum her heart strings with their lyrics, their cadences, their rise, rise and fall into a pool of golden warmth that brings tears to her eyes for no reason at all.

She loves her dog and the way the windows keep out the rain. She loves her new bed and the electrically inspired mattress cover that warms her all the way up to number 6 and which turns off in an hour. She loves the way the curtains breathe like lungs on a windy night and the way the light turns moody when a grey day morphs into a greying night. She loves clouds and grandchildren, the way they laugh so easily and cry without embarrassment. She love spontaneity and change, boiled eggs and wildness. She loves nature, singing out just for the hell of it, walking in the fairy woods and talking to trees, stones, the men who delivered wood just as she ran out. She loves sea salt and balsamic rice cakes, tsaziki, Barcelona and Africa. She remembers holidays, moments, weddings, births and deaths. She remembers her life, a yawling wiggly line of a million wonders, of pain, of divine intervention when nothing human could offer help. She talks to God. She reckons he is there somewhere. In fact she knows he is, or she is, because too many things have happened to save her bacon. She loves art, from Michael Angelo to Banksy and even further back. She can easily listen to music from all genres, depending on ear tolerance.

She loves sewing things for others, repairing and patching. She loves moving things around so the room takes on a new song. She decorates things, any things. A tall standing lamp reminds her. Covered from toe to shade in patchwork material and dangling with pretty lights, baubles and beads, it shines its individuality to the world. Well, no, not the world, says the lamp. About 5 people pass this way on a regular basis. Steady on old woman with the ‘world’ delusion. Okay, she says, you are right. But I don’t do any of this for others to admire. I do this for me. The lamp is silent. She looks around the room at the family photos, canvases of captured moments. She is holding her first granddaughter in her arms at a wedding. Their smiles are rapt. She is sitting in a cafe in Spain and laughing. She is in Africa playing scrabble in a welcome shade whilst zebra, giraffe and warthog wander by the stoep in an evening cool. She is singing at a wedding, dancing at a birthday disco, eating sushi, playing with grandchildren.

All is well, she says. I am well, she says. I am who I made myself and my life is every colour on the wheel.

She says.