Island Blog – A Letter

Ten days since you died my husband. One week till your hillside funeral. All of your family think of you every minute, probably more often than even that. Memories come back, moments resurrect and stand tall, blocking our path. And yet we move on, doing normal things with an abnormal head on and a heart all flapdoodle but still beating. Mine feels like wings, as if there’s a bird trapped behind my ribcage unable to escape.

This morning I cleaned your room, now that all the hospital kit has gone. I took my palette knife and some white filler for all the many holes left in the walls, holes that remind me of hand rails and other attractive supports, no longer needed. Neither are the holes. There is a big enough one in me and in our little island home, even if I can move about more freely. The furniture is not pinned to the edges any more for easier wheelchair access. Actually, I did think you were a bit over the top in that particular demand. A wheelchair isn’t that wide, after all. Then I realised you had lost your innate spacial awareness and the evidence of that loss is scraped along doors and lintels and walls. You were pretty nippy in that chair, nonetheless, turning on a sixpence, making U turns and scoots forward when space allowed, and even lurching at great speed down the ghastly yellow ramp which is now looking for a new home.

The leaves are beginning to turn now. Conkers (we always looked for them didn’t we?) are landing on the track but I haven’t found a big one yet. You told me you always won conker battles and you also told me that you soaked them in vinegar overnight, making them like concrete. Scabious peppers the grassy banks finding the best sunshine spots. I saw 6 kittiwakes the other day, your favourite bird, flying seaward up the loch. I don’t think I have ever seen them here before. They came just for you.

The garden is looking a tad tatterlicious and the sweet peas gave up fighting the last big wind, but even broke-backed they bloom and their scent keeps wafting indoors, reminding me how much you loved them. I pick them for the house but soon they will be over for the year. Season rolls into season. You knew the sound of each one, its taste, its demands and its gifts. As one thing dies, another begins to live and that is how you saw life and death – the same circle, a never-ending story.

I am so happy that your dying was peaceful. No fight at all, no panic, no fear, just a soft leaving. And you wanted to go, you said so, to anybody who was listening. And so it is and was and ever will be when someone who cherished every second of a long adventurous life finds the living just too much. We didn’t want you to go but knew you did. We also knew that your living state was very compromised. But even at the last, your humour shone through those cloudy old eyes. Even knowing that the Great Beyond was calling you, hands held out in welcome, you whispered to me ‘ I don’t want to leave you.’

And then, you did.

Island Blog – Gone

When a someone very close is gone, all that is left is a big silence, as if the rooms stop breathing too. In this case, the ‘gone’ is a husband of 48 years, a father to five, a grandfather to 10, a brother to one and a friend to thousands. Nothing he ever did went unnoticed. His high profile life meant he touched on many others, affecting their decisions, choices and opinions. He had plenty of those and was certain he was right. Sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, his core beliefs were like solid boundary walls, impossible to scale. Nonetheless, he made us all think from the other side of what we might have believed to be fact.

I have a million memories. In equal amounts I have been furiously distant, happy to leave him inside his fortress and then right beside him, looking out across the wild expanse of life. I suspect this is marriage in all its honest and raw truth. Nothing worth its salt is consistently simple, not if it has mettle and fire in its belly and our life had plenty of both. When I think back to my rebellious youth I roll my eyes. I was heading off piste rather a lot. In fact, I am not sure I was ever on piste. Then I met him and he seemed able to play both like music, ready for nonsense and lunatic forays onto unexplored slopes and then sliding easily back onto the path well travelled. And, always, guiding me, holding my hand, yanking me back to safety, always my rock. Even when he could no longer do the things he used to be able to do, his very presence made me feel safe. I’ve no idea how I’ll brave the next bit of my life, but I do remember all he taught me and I will always be able to stop, breathe, remember and get the hell on with it.

Rest in peace, you old sea dog. I’m going to miss you for the longest time, even if I can, now, move the furniture around, go where I please, talk LOUDLY on the phone, guffaw at random, turn the tunes up at 7 am and eat celery sticks without having to go to another room for the crunching. The hole you left will probably get bigger. I have no idea who I am without you. It will be an interesting journey for sure and it begins now.

Island Blog – Fun

So, yesterday was all about love and cards and flowers and romantic dates. For some. Me……..? Well, I busied myself with the craft of housekeeping and caring right up to the evening, my favourite time of day (or is it night?) when the northern hemisphere teeters on the cusp of transition. It’s time for a shower, to put the tatties on to boil, to gee up the woodburner and to check the garage door is shut against Dennis. He could flip that old thing into matchsticks, taking out several solid things in passing, the way he is growling behind the sky.

On this cusp, after delivering a meal to himself as he sits encased in his pyjamas, his ears clamped shut inside the headphones, some TV series playing out on his screen, silent mouths moving in a dialogue to which I am not privy, I return to the kitchen, light myself a candle or two and pour a glass of wine. Happy Valentine’s I told myself and myself smiled. I love myself enough not to bother about such lovey dovey nonsense. I could clean the faces of the kitchen units; I could have another shower; I could sweep up the crumbs or I could go to the pub. Which is what I did. The kitchen unit cleaning thing almost got me. I had tunes playing and candles flickering shadows up the walls and it all looked rather pretty until I put on my specs and noticed that there was more to cleaning the units than I had thought heretofore. Some reddish blobs had the chutzpa to stick themselves right across one door and there was much dust along the horizontals. Blow that. This is not evening work. It was a quick shift into a jacket and boots and off I toddled, giving Growling Dennis a quick and filthy look en route.

It was fun. Fun is what I love best and the one thing that isn’t always available here unless I fun the flames of it all by myself. I’m pretty good at it, though I say so myself. By the time I left, I had hugged old mates, commiserated, reassured, discussed the excitement of historical geology and understood better the palaver involved in building a new house on an island already drunk on rain. Conversation and communication in a life that has lost so very much of both are as welcome as 12 red roses any day.

When I was a recalcitrant and bloody-minded teenager I sent myself valentine cards. It saved anyone else the bother, after all, and guaranteed that I wasn’t the sad girl without a boyfriend, horribly visible in the school playground, awash with shame and certain that she has terrible breath. Nowadays I believe boyfriends are highly overrated. It all starts out rosy but mostly that’s where it begins to stop. I heard of someone who was incandescent about not getting a card from her husband. I held in a smile because if that is how he feels about her then its better out in the open. Others keep the flame burning, I know that. I met a couple of them last night, still dancing and planning to dance right up to the end of love.

And I smiled at that too.

Island Blog – Into the Mirror

Last night I dreamed the strangest of dreams. Everything is acceptable, believable, in dreams. The craziest happenings are, well, just normal. I had driven miles to a place in the middle of nowhere, a place of one house at a time and hundreds of miles apart. In between, vast cornfields. Poppies and other wildflowers grew at the edge of one such field, although I never found the responding edge. Chances are it was a three day drive away, so huge was this crop of golden stems. Man food. I considered those who were here before, the wildflowers, the great trees, the wildlife, all working together in a synergy we have never successfully simulated.

I parked at the end of a track but could see the guest house nestled in a halo of man-planted, fast growing shrubbery and whiskery trees. I was extremely tired and considered, for a while, sleeping in my car. But the longing to lie down between crisp cotton sheets overtook such thought and propelled me towards the door and check-in.

My room had no walls. Not one. It seemed quite normal to me. Furniture, a desk, a cupboard with hangers, a chest of drawers and a chair created the illusion of a contained space. There was even a door in a frame, attached to nothing. I lay awake a while staring out at the cornfield, watching it vanish as the dark intensified. Then I slept and deeply.

I awoke to the sound of the door opening. A manservant (I knew him by his dress and his demeanour) came in with a silver coffee pot to fill my cup. I asked him the time and when he told me it was 9 am I was astonished. I never sleep beyond 6. I rose, dressed and headed out for a cornfield walk. A man walked by on stilts and I greeted him, watching him lope through the corn in long easy strides. Two children played with a stuffed giraffe. I heard their laughter before I saw them. This giraffe was a fully grown male, or had been, once and it was lying on its side. The children jumped over his neck, a skipping game of their own devise. The girl, breathless, sank down to wrap her arms around the long neck, her little fingers scratching over the glass eye. I watched them a while. All still perfectly normal.

On my return, I found a woman entirely dressed in pink in a warm motherly sort of way, sitting at a trestle table upon which sat pots and bowls of red jelly and a round mirror on a stand. She tipped jelly from one container to another, studied her work and noted her findings down in a little book. I stopped to greet her, thinking she was my hostess but she assured me she was not. I lingered awhile watching her work. She was lost in it until she suddenly came back to me and smiled, turning the mirror around until I saw me looking back.

It thinks me; not what it all meant because dream divination is not my skill, nor my interest, but more, why the mirror? I know that at the end of every road is a mirror. I read it once, heard it said often. The mirror shows me, me. It also shows what is behind me, the places I have been, my part in a created past, my past, my creation. How I felt, how I feel when catching sight of my reflected self is always a surprise. I look like that? Seriously? From behind these eyes of mine I see ahead. I see you but I don’t see me and when I do, it takes me a few seconds to acknowledge my own face. It brings me back to me and a lot of questions. Am I happy with myself, proud of my achievements? Am I kind and compassionate, strong and vulnerable, humble and yet ready to fight for my beliefs, for others, for justice? Only when I have made answer, settled my initial fright, can I turn back to looking out.

I remember one counsellor (been to hundreds) suggesting mirror work. Back then I could barely look myself in the eye, turning hurriedly from a snap reflection in a shop window. Now I get it. The mirror is vital as a reminder that life is not someone else’s problem, but my own. The walking out, of Me, matters. Not just to others but much more so to myself. All the great and good know this, taught it and still do. All religions hold loving self as a basic truth, a first step, the very heartbeat of life. Until we can look long and steady into that mirror, sorting out all those failings that make us turn away, we will live only half a life. We will snap back into our shame and blame as great pretenders. We will arrive at the final day and wonder what happened.

I want to meet that last mirror with a long hard look, no secrets, no shame. I want to see the miles and miles of my past just as it was and know I did more than okay. And then, to move on.

Island Blog 93 – Tapselteerie Dreams

Tapselteerie

 

 

 

 

Last night was an awfully big adventure.  Sometimes nights are like that. Short on sleep and long on dreams; dreams that skitter away in the process of waking, so quick as to leave me with the odd snapshot, and a depth of emotion I can’t necessarily fix into a shape.

Whenever I dream there are a couple of venues that consistently provide the backdrop for the drama.  One, oddly, is a little corner flat in Glasgow, where I only lived for a short while after Tapselteerie and before moving back to the island.  Those dreams are often good ones and I walk through the park or sip coffee in a busy café and there are no obvious lurkings of menace in any shadows.

The other and main venue is Tapselteerie, I know it is, although the stones and layout of it are often wildly wrong.  For example, we had a roof over our heads there and walls and floors, the usual household structure, but in dreams, they are often shaky if not completely absent.  When I am inside one of these dreams I am always looking for my children, which, for those of you who have read Island Wife, will not be a surprise at all.  The stones are grey and cold, the plaster walls missing, and there is often sky overhead instead of a white ceiling.

In these dreams I always have to fly to save them, my children.  I always know that I can fly, but each time I must find the courage to do it again.  I have sat myself down to think deeper on that search for courage, once the morning comes and strong black coffee brings me in to land.  Is it courage to take on the ‘saving’, I ask myself, or is the courage to fly again?  And, if I know, as I do, that I can fly, why would I need courage?  After all, I don’t need to think twice about walking, running, skipping, now do I?

And I find no answer to that.

One dream took me into the empty ruins of the place, cold it was and abandoned, the grey stone bared, the layout changed beyond my recognition, and yet I knew where I was.  I was alone.  The crunch of fallen debris under my bare feet echoed around me and I could feel my heart beating fast, hear my quick breathing.  Looking up, I could see my children way up high, higher than Tapselteerie high, flattened against the walls, no ground for their feet.  Each one was hooked to the wall by their clothing, and they just hung there, making no sound.  Much younger and smaller than they are now, they looked like friends of the Artful Dodger, all raggedy and torn and grubby.  There were no stairs, no structure, however skeletal, there to allow me to climb.  There was only one way up.

I had to fly.

The resistance to just taking off, knowing I could, surprises me every time.  It seems, in my remembering, to take a lot of wasted time, dithering about in the ruins of a broken house, when I could be up there gathering children off hooks.  But I always do it.

Then, suddenly, I take a deep breath and lift and the feeling it wonderful, the process effortless.

Once, I met Shrattle (Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake), or his lookalike half way up, but he was balanced on a spindly ledge and quite without wings, so no threat to any of us.  I lifted each child, light as a feather, off their pegs and into the sky, waking with that glorious light-hearted feeling that always follows flight.

Last night is already leaving me, the memories of the dream, but I do remember one thing.  This time it was in colour.  Never before has Tapselteerie shown herself in colour, and yet she had bucket loads of it.  She gave me walls and ceilings and laughter and spiders and bats in the cellar.  If I came down all those stairs, during a sleepless night to make tea, I had to remember to make light, because in the dark I would have ploughed into the huge migration of slugs from somewhere (I never knew where) to the wine cellar.  Sometimes a dozen deep and many feet long, the army flowed in silence to wherever they were going.  It was a marvel to behold and much less of one to land in the middle of it in bare feet.  People said salt will kill them.  We said, why would we kill them?  We lived with a good number of wild creatures and managed to do so, in the main, without disasters, although the floor in the back hall always needed a wash of a morning.

Dreams I know have symbolism.  Mine are often a chorus of many influences.  My past, my fears, the book I’m reading, the present circumstances, the last thing I watched on television. Add to that something on my mind, a new truth learned and understood, a forthcoming event and so on.  But whatever the graphics, however bizarre and unbelievable the storyline, the emotions of it linger longest, so, to a small degree I can understand what my imagination played out for me and why.

Tapselteerie looked just fine in colour.  It may be 20 plus years since I moved inside her walls, heard her song and moved to her rhythm, but she is alive and well and with her own place in my heart.

Island Blog 64 – Square Rainbows

Island Blog 64

This morning I set off along the single track road from my little stone built home in warm sunshine.  My task today is to help paint the school shed in a small (but vital) island primary school.  The head teacher had already talked with me about what she would like the shed to look like, using as decoration, all the beach litter the children had collected since last summer.  Each time there is a high tide or a high wind, the beaches are covered with flotsam and jetsam, some of it intriguing, some disgusting.  Obviously the disgusting bits are appropriately disposed of, but the colourful bits of plastic and rope and twine, shells and bones,  and all those things careless folk toss overboard, all are gathered, cleaned and stored for the Grand Shed Occasion.

Which is now.  Well, the beginning of it is now.  It may take some time to assemble, not least because little children have attention spans extremely short but sweet and by the way, not one of them can stand still without fidgeting.

We walked them around the brown slatted shed, and asked them how they would like to see the end result.  We fed them the odd line as they began heading off into Disneyworld, just to reel them in a bit, but not too much.  We explained the deck chair stripe idea and the starburst of plastic milk bottle tops on one side; the butterflies and daisies on one end, to compliment the big tubs of wild flowers already established to encourage butterflies.  We said that once the stripes were finished, they could play with spatter paint, flicking brush loads (well, not LOADS) against the wall.  The boys arms were already flexing and they did have to question whether we really meant it.  Their mouths formed a WOW.

Throwing paint at the wall…..like THIS????

Can I use a gun?  asked one boy.

Er……I think brushes this time, we told him and there was a chorused ‘Awwwww’ with that sweep up at the tail of it, as if we just might say…….Ok then, why not?

We plan a sort of mural on the side nearest the road, to impress the tourists.  Deck chairs, they thought.  We could stick one on the wall!  chirruped one girl.

Not with PVA, I said, sorry, but you can paint one on.  I could hear my voice go all dinky winky but she was no fool, and lost interest immediately.  She decided, instead, to paint a square rainbow.

Excellent.

A pair of swallows chattered at me as I worked.  Birds on the wire with plans for nest building arrested.  Sorry I said, but I’ll be gone soon and there’s plenty of daylight left.  A pair of lapwings serenaded me from the seaward field,  and sparrows dived in and out from the eaves;  everyone so very busy.

It’s good to be busy, among little fidgets, in the sunshine with a salt wind blowing my heart around.

Oh, and a square rainbow about to appear.