Today I am taking a little step forward.
My life before was an expansive place, full of space, journeys and possibilities. My work has taken me to different parts of the world and uncertainty has never been something that bothered me all that much. I loved the idea of the lives to be lived just out of sight, out of knowledge, over the horizon and round the bend in the road. I never worried too much about the final destination, happy to be moving. Basically believing things that the story will work its way toward a happy ending if you follow the path and grab each moment by the throat.
But as dad’s illness shrunk his life, mine too contracted. There is nothing quite like worry to tug the heart home, when what is best-loved is there.
At first life was elsewhere but I made more visits. Then I shifted to quick contracts, less trips away, short stints with long swathes of time sitting inert in between, so that I could sit beside him. Gradually life went into a permanent state of pause. I railed at it. Contemplated throwing fruit. Threw the odd internal tantrum. That was not what I wanted but, then again, none of it was what any of us wanted and I knew that the time with my dad meant more than my cv, or my salary or even my own growing sense of emptiness and frustration.
Many who have cared for someone will know that uncomfortable state of not liking your life but knowing that the only thing that can break the spell is the death of someone you love. There is a bitter irony in knowing life can only get better again once it has got much much worse.
For a while, back based in the small town I had kicked off my heels as a teen, I did find some times that could be somehow mine. I thought ‘adapt and overcome’. I rediscovered the simple joys of long days, rummaged through the library, got myself a little lost in the hills, took days and weekends away to see friends elsewhere, occasionally escaped the weight of all the heavy conversations on the table. In quiet times I cried like machine gun fire, without quite knowing what I was mourning.
In the last few months my world shrunk further to a room and a chair. There was constant itch in my mind, the niggling anxiety of being somewhere else when I needed to be there. The fear of having come back thousands of miles only to miss dad’s last moments because I was in the supermarket or had popped to the shops. My phone became the focus of all that angst – to lose it, or leave it, or even fail to check it every few minutes was quite unthinkable.
Now the crisis I was waiting for has passed…and I was there… and yet now I am still here, waiting. In the month since dad’s death, I have hardly left the little routines of our sleepy little town. I have not made a break for the airport. I have not even made a break for the bus.
This place has become my denial. Whilst I stay here dad is not dead. We may have kissed a corpse goodbye, had a funeral, got the dusty detritus of his body back in a little box but whilst I am here, waiting to see if he needs me, I think there is still some tiny chance that dad will come back.
I am irritated with my fug-headed, go-back-to-bed-till-it-seems-better self. I do not recognise this timid imposter who seems to have replaced the me I know.
Dad and I talked a lot in the last months about the importance of really living life and making the days count, so I know I cannot hide here forever. He would look at me with his old eyes and tell me my life is far too short for that. So today I got on a train, with no clear plan and just a vague idea of what I might do at the other end.
I am sitting watching greens streak past the windows, wondering where this journey will take me. Writing this has the tears flowing but I am glad to have reclaimed an inch or two of myself, and to have taken at least this little step.