Where I am now.

It’s been a fair while since I last wrote. This evening as I got ready for bed, the itch appeared and I realised that it was time to get my thoughts down. Update my (few) readers as to where I am on this, somewhat mental, journey I am on.

Tomorrow marks 9 months without a drink. The times I struggle is when I want to settle down and watch something in the evening. Especially after a shift at work. Or at the weekend, just to have something demarcate from the usual working weekday. I have set myself the challenge of not drinking until I have done a year. I shall explain my thought process..

I haven’t been to a meeting with the support group that I was part of for over a month. I have struggled for over 20 years to understand the ethos behind the workings of the program and as I am not able to talk in any detail because of it’s acclaimed anonymity, suffice to say there are a few, rather major principles that I can’t get past.

Whilst I was in the treatment centre, living and breathing recovery and the 12 step program – it felt like I was agreeing to things that I didn’t have the power to argue against. And this is exactly what is expected – admitting that you are powerless. Which is fairly easy when you have just devastated your life and loved ones by taking an overdose. I will never, ever forget the amazing support from the treatment centres I went to. It is through their care, understanding and expertise that I am able to sit here and type this, feeling more centred than I have ever done in my life. But.. and it’s probably a rather large ‘but’, the ever-gnawing feeling that I wouldn’t stay with the program became more and more acid-inducing and eventually I had to be honest that I couldn’t (and possibly more importantly, wouldn’t) pretend to myself or others any longer that I was willing to think/behave in a certain way that didn’t resonate with my views.

I have had nothing but love from peers and friends who are also in recovery, although I do wonder if there are wagers being put on how long it is before I am back knocking on the proverbial door, begging for mercy and help. Maybe, I will but for the time being I am sticking to what feels right for me.

I don’t believe that addiction/alcholism is a disease. The definition of disease does not fit as it does other diseases; cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons for example. Interestingly research has shown that alcoholism was named a disease by an American organisation, thereby helping the validation of insurance claims for treatment centres. Which, by the way, are an enormous money spinner in the USA. I would (and could) link the research to this post but if you just type in ‘is alcohol really a disease’ into Google, then you will get the same results as I did. If I still had access to my university research databases then I could probably come up with all sorts of data… but I don’t. And quite frankly, as I am trying to simply my life at the moment that is probably quite a good thing! Equally the figures for relapsers are high. Addiciton/alcoholism has a poor prognosis and that is even with treatment centres and the program.

My idea is that I will protect my mental health. If I am feeling centred and at peace, once Xmas comes, I will probably have a few glasses of wine. I also know that I hate hangovers and anxiety with a passion and if I drink too much then I will have both of those. And if I am honest, it is those two factors that keep me away from drinking. More than the horror stories; more than the looking back at past experiences where I have been an arse.

My life now revolves around the children, work and my mental health. I have so much more insight and knowledge now after months of therapy regarding the factors that have contributed to my (poor) coping mechanisms. My ‘addiction’ is craving love. Especially from those who are emotionally unavailable. Now I know that, I am concentrating solely on the most unavailable person I have tried to get that love from.

Me.

Leaky Vessel

Sitting in my room on my bed in between lunch and a workshop. Reflecting on a) how much I cry and b) how I might be able to pull a sudden sickie and be excused from another excruciating hour of ‘let’s pull the addicts apart and bare their souls until they howl for mercy’.

Yes I am feeling a little dramatic and if I were a cat (which alas I am not.. I have never seen an alcoholic cat before so can safely assume I wouldn’t need to be in a rehab if I were one..), I would be painstakingly licking my fur so that every strand of hair was laying in the correct direction and then would sprawl out and knead my claws into the soft blanket under which I am currently hiding. Right now, being a cat would be the ultimate solution for my weary brain that has had enough of the constant barrage of therapy.

The thing is that I am fully aware that out of this pain comes growth. It’s just it hurts so fucking much. I struggle to sleep when I go to bed and then can’t wake up in the morning. My first thoughts as I stir are muted and fuzzy but within seconds negativity bombards the mind, like shots being fired from a gun. The idea is that I pray first thing and meditate. Unfortunately the fatigue is crippling first thing and I struggle to get down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea let alone pray to my higher power. Ideally I would pray to my higher power whilst simultaneously receiving a cup of tea but I feel that asking for tea and serenity might be pushing it.

Relationships throughout my life are fast becoming an obvious issue and I witness from my mind’s sidelines how I play out my role in relationships now. In fact I almost feel like I have just been thrown back to being a young child and I am having to relearn how to be a friend, a daughter, a sister as well as a mother. And god knows what hell being in a relationship now would manifest. Almost 6 weeks in and I have realised that not one of my past relationships have been healthy. Blood red ‘Codependence’ is stamped condemningly on each one, as I file them into the ‘LOVE – archived’ cabinet drawer.

With shocking clarity as I sat on a bus coming back from the Portobello market, I realised that each time I envisioned being with a partner, I was looking for someone who had the same values with a shared sense of humour, who liked the same things, adored animals, listened to the same music.. In fact, I was looking for me. I don’t actually need anyone else to fulfil me or make me whole.. I have already found that person. It is me. I have everything I need and now I just need to love her. The tears that threaten to drown me also come from the stark realisation that there is no person alive who can save the little girl who resides within, that critical time has passed. The loneliness and fear that stemmed from instances of neglect needed to be addressed between the ages of 0 – 16. They simply cannot be fixed now by anything external. That boat has most definitely sailed. Love, material objects, new hair styles or multiple piercings and tattoos.. it is time to accept that they are nice-to-haves. The only way that this vessel can be repaired is via a self-care manual that incorporates the instructions to fixing one’s container so that it is supportive, can bear rough seas and doesn’t leak. And to do this I assume I need to do a bit of work on self-love, self-care and self-esteem.

Through drawing and painting, meditating, writing and (my latest addiction) collecting house plants, I endeavour to create a safe space whilst I am here. My essential oil diffuser puffs out therapeutic steam whilst changing colour and the salt lamp exudes a warm glow. Fuck knows what the cluster of healing crystals are actually doing by my bedside but I do seem to think that shoving a different one down my bra each day may help with something. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Building Bridges

Last night I decided to do Lazy Studying which basically involves lying on one’s back reading relevant literature to one’s dissertation and then watching TED talks followed by YouTube videos on the topic of choice.

My dissertation, as mentioned previously, is on domestic abuse and its identification within A&E departments in the UK. The next video uploading last night was on narcissism and how to recognise it. Hmmm.. I thought, interesting…. (in light of my last – and final – dalliance with ‘romance’, outside of my marriage). As I watched and listened to further more accounts of narcissistic behaviour, which involves manipulating, controlling, demeaning, coercing etc.. I realised that this was something that I had encountered more times in relationships than I had realised.

First instance was as a 13/14 year old going out with an 18 year year old who stole motorbikes, did drugs, lived in the most horrendous squat-like residence (even though it was actually owned by his father) and loved to taunt me about his past girlfriends being far better in the sack than I. He also set his dad’s dog on me once. Admittedly it was only a Jack Russell but it had teeth and was aggressive. I sat cowering on top of a set of drawers crying, while he and our ‘friends’ fell about laughing. He also had an affair with my supposed mate from school and left love letters to and from her that I would find. He even got me to pick up a letter from the post office and then proceeded to read it out to me – from the ex apparently – although I now have my suspicions that in fact a lot of these instances were fantasy and game playing to undermine my already shattered sense of self. After six months I woke up to the fact that he was a dickhead and stopped seeing him. (Note: I was a wilful teenager and whilst my mother did attempt to stop me seeing him – it didn’t work). Then proceeded years of intermittent stalking, silent calls and even fairly recently, a friend request on FB.

The next narcissist gave me quite a strong hint on the first night we went out – he told me my hair smelt disgusting as we stood on the escalator on the tube. To be fair I hadn’t washed it that day but still. Rude. He would regularly get drunk and tell me that he didn’t need to meet or see my friends as he had enough and didn’t like mine anyway. He was 39 and I was 23.. there were regular put downs and the final straw came when he stayed at my flat while I was at work and inadvertently folded my two cats into the sofa bed. They lived, the relationship didn’t.

The third lovely fella is someone I have had to remain in contact with for a long time due to the child we produced together. But along the same lines as above.. I left him after a year and a half. There were many instances of control and manipulation but my main memories are of being told to dress and behave more like a lady and to straighten my hair so it didn’t have ‘fizz’ and that it was ok if he mistakenly stayed out (repeatedly) until 6am after going out for a pack of cigarettes 12 hours earlier..

gray bridge and trees
Photo by Martin Damboldt on Pexels.com

but if I planned a night away at a friends then I was deserting him.

The final guy I have spoken about previously.

Interestingly, I don’t generally believe that I am pushover. I am pretty feisty and independent and certainly with the last 3 men, they were presented with that version of me on the first meeting. So I wonder if the challenge of being able to reign those characteristics in, is what appeals? Equally do I need to admit responsibility in thinking that I can somehow change their personalities too? Each of them were troubled and had experienced difficult upbringings, so did I too think it was a challenge? Did I want to temper them down? Or instead is it some perverse longing to  feel secure and in the absence of a father, fathered? There are many theories out there I am sure but this reflective process has left me very much grateful that I can see my own manipulative traits and desire to control through my own perceived omnipotence.

Mr P and I are building bridges, hopefully out of slightly more sturdier materials. As a result of this painful intermission, we appear to be able to look at each other in a new light; with more acceptance, understanding and hopefully, tolerance.

 

Bird Bath

So by far the nicest thing that has happened to me today occurred an hour or so ago. I, (very excitedly) decided that I was going to, not only have a bath but I was going to have a bath bomb in it and some 0% pink fizz to drink (Friexenet 0.0% – really lovely), with M&Ms in the light of a candle and then… wait for it…. I watched Bird Box in the bath! 

Now for some, maybe this isn’t quite the rollercoaster ride you expect to either experience or hear from me… but if I am brutally honest.. it was so fucking nice that I can’t wait to do it again. In fact, if I wasn’t so bloody clean, I would go and do it again. I even used a Xmas gift of a body scrub from the EO. There was a bit of writhing in the water as I realised that it’s difficult to hide during scary bits when you are in the bath.. well at least not without deluging the whole sodding bathroom.. I forget that as a (slightly overweight) adult.. one quick move in the bath is like creating one’s own miniature fecking tsunami but aside from that.. not one M&M was dropped and the laptop didn’t explode from steam exposure.

I bounded out like an eager and overexcited puppy… declaring to the EO that I had such ‘ A LOVELY bath’ and then told her how many of her Xmas gifts I had used, so that she thought I was extra-amazing. She lounged on her bed, her phone practically stuck to her cheek in case it dared to leave her sight and I decided due to one’s amazingness that she ought to give me a back scratch so that she could earn having my presence in her room. Bramble (small witch kitten) lying on the wicker chair in the corner, opened an eye and looked at me with a really horrid expression. Like pure evil, she glared (with the one eye) as if to say ‘pathetic human, I don’t have to do any amateur dramatics to get massages and back scratches.. I simply exist’. I foresee another accidental kick off the bed tonight.

Other than that, today has been a good day. I paid an exorbitant amount to have the car cleaned badly, spent more than I would on alcohol on alcohol-free-pretend-alcohol so that I could pretend I was still drinking alcohol; did some boring HouseShit and caught up with one of my besties. I even printed ‘things’ for my leadership exam.. and put them in piles and then moved them about.. and did an impression of studying.

Who knows what excitement tomorrow could bring? (Well, I do actually, a 5 year old’s birthday party.. There is NO stopping me!)

 

Its been a funny old day. A lot of ruminating to be done, which to be honest is pretty difficult as you are running around on a poorly staffed ward full of patients that are anxious, in pain and some with a little bit of dementia thrown in. At one point we ran out of commodes and that is never likely to be a good situation to be in, surely?

I haven’t had all that much time to think about the fact that it is our 8 year wedding anniversary today and I appear to have lost my husband by the wayside. I didn’t expect to be a single mother again either but with the addition of two more children. Our LO was adamant he wasn’t staying with me last night. After two nights at his father’s he was determined to stay every night with him. But eat at mine. (Possibly not such a good idea, as his father is a trained chef and I clearly, am not). He clung on to his dad who tried and failed to extricate himself. The horror reflected in our eyes at the screams and tears. Eventually I managed to stop him from following out of the front door but instead he tried to launch himself out of the front room window. I held him as he pushed and pulled away from me. Eventually he flung his little tear stained arms around me and buried his head into my neck, sobbing. the MO went out into the garden unable to cope and the EO fled upstairs, enveloped in her own PMT misery and anger at life. Tears silently fell down my cheeks as I told the LO that I knew, I understood and I was sorry.

 

Being sober has been my main weapon – I feel like a somewhat fatter and less fit Xena – belly bulging under my breast plates – wielding a shield purposefully. Being sober has been a godsend. An unknown strength has manifested inside and whilst I wobble from time to time, as some of the reality ekes out like a poison, I seem to have focus. My heart aches and I feel winded – how can I be without my best friend; my soul mate? – yet I somehow put one foot in front of the other.. and keep walking.

The Inflatable Pool Toy

I’m feeling lacklustre. There are plenty of valid reasons why this might be but equally there are just as many that should be reminding me of how privileged I am..

However, I feel like an inflatable pool toy – one that is deflating slowly despite all the joy around it, splashing away.

think I know the cause of it.. if I picture it like a missile that has crashed into the pool toy.. but like a really tiny, tiny missile.. and then.. the shrapnel is the other causes?.. Right! Here I have it! So this is what happened……

There was once a shiny (bit drab), happy (reasonably cheerful at times) pool toy bobbing around amidst the screams and ‘yahoos’ of the pool people.. and quite often the toy would get submerged but would always eventually bob back up to the surface. Then one day a (tiny) missile struck and pierced the pool toy and very slowly it began to deflate.. the missile was caused Abstinence and could be a bugger. The Abstinence had hurt the pool toy and made resurfacing a little bit harder for it. The Abstinence was helped by pieces of shrapnel that were called AnotherHeavyPeriod, BulliedDaughter, TooMuchToDoGenerally, NursingDegree and MentalShit. So despite the current heatwave affecting the pool’s locality and the fact that really life in the pool was by many standards, pretty fecking awesome.. the inflatable pool toy started to sag and take on water. The End.

So basically the crux of all of this is that it is a wonderfully warm and sunny day and I would normally be doing everything that I am currently doing but would be doing it with a glass of beer/cider/G&T/fizz in my hand. This is unchartered territory, this not drinking in the sun malarkey.

For those that aren’t UK based, the Brits don’t see the sun very often. Not proper blue sky sun with heat. So what we like to do is use alcohol to celebrate it. In beer gardens, or with bbqs on the beach, or sitting in our gardens attempting to do stuff that slowly gets forgotten (the more we drink). It is unfortunately just part of our culture and like a fish trying to swim up stream, I am abstaining, albeit ungracefully.

By moderating alcohol, I haven’t yet got to the point of feeling completely 100% happy as a non-drinker. People who I have spoken to who are completely alcohol free say that eventually the restlessness lessens and the more comfortable you are with your sobriety, whatever the situation. I feel like I don’t know how to be if I spend time with drinking friends. I am frightened of losing my spark and being bored and boring if I go out with my husband. I feel like pressure is put on my relationships as I continue to look in at myself, like a kaleidoscope the image morphs again and again. The scariest part, not knowing where the journey is taking me and who will still be with me as I tentatively pick my way on stepping stones through the coursing stream.

The pieces of shrapnel have definitely taken their toll these last few days but I guess accepting things for what they are, taking some deep breaths and not giving in, will prepare me for (some sort of) success!

 

 

 

Where am I?

The tension mounts but the pressure drops and the sky darkens. Gusts blow post-winter debris along the ground and birds stop singing. I know that from somewhere deep within I am going to blow. Where’s my blue sky?? Where’s my fucking blue sky?! I am stuck in dark clouds, they are everywhere. Under my feet, above my head, they are suffocating. As the heart rate quickens, the tears prick the eyes and I feel caged within my own mind. I can’t penetrate the bubble that everyone else is in, the laughter so loud, so shrill. I can’t laugh. I don’t know how to laugh. What happened? How did this suddenly arise? At what point? Which comment? Which thought? And like a train bound to crash, I know I can’t get off. I grab at a passing reason. No, not that one.. that one doesn’t fit.. that’s not why.. what about that one? No, although it might be plausible than the other. Is it hormonal? Is it overwhelm? Am I tired? I feel anxiety and anger, I feel resentment, I feel fear..and at the same time I feel numb.

At this point I would reach for a drink. Drink through it… ‘just keep drinking, just keep drinking’; not sure Dory would approve. The paranoia continues to mount like some determined mountaineer. ‘Take a break’, I whisper, ‘take a fucking break’.. ‘Oh no young Chloe, no breaks for me.. we’re on a roll!!.. We are going to reach the peak!’. I don’t have the energy for the peak. Not enough sustenance inside of me, I didn’t pack enough protein bars. I panic, I run home and I hide.

These moments punctuate my life in fits and starts. Hard for anyone to understand, including me. I know from past experience though that this is my ‘me’ talking. This is gut instinct yelling at me that something is wrong. That I am not listening. I think I know but I don’t want to hear it. It used to be come-downs from alcohol, or not getting enough sleep, or pride, or ego. So how do I know what it is this time? Which me do I trust?

The more I strip back, the more I face, the more raw and vulnerable I feel. The problem with not self medicating like I used to, is that now I have to face all the Chloe’s in one. And that is no mean feat. I want to line them all up and remove the ones I don’t like. Slowly, I hope to merge the others I do like into just one. Like bits of mismatched play doh… all the same substance but different colours… moulding them together. Making a version of me that I love and am happy with so that in time, others can be happy with me too.

Long, dull evenings..

I drank on Monday evening. I kid myself that I ‘like’ the taste of red wine. Yeah.. I do but as I drank it I realised that it is so obviously not just simply the taste. I like the taste of orange juice but I don’t drink glass after glass after glass. So, if it’s the zoning out I am after, those glorious evening hours of ‘fuck it’ land whilst I would watch tripe on tele and finally feel the muscles in my neck relax.. then I can honestly say, I am struggling to replicate that with anything else.

Up until about 3 or 4, I feel great… la de daa great… I’m killing this shit, great… then I start to panic ever so slightly.. ‘oooh noooooo.. I have hours before bedtime… what will I doooooo? How will I sustain this gleeful skipping? I have mundane crap to do.. and how will I turn off? How well I tune out?’.

A bath is great… for maximum half hour but then you have to exit said bath and find something else to do! Languishing in tepid water does get a little dull after the billionth night. So maybe reading a book? Yesssss.. but even that can get tiresome when it’s night after night. And sometimes I don’t want to be productive.  I just want to relax. I might not want to crochet, or draw, or plan, or sort.. I just want to switch off. I want my mind to get a bit fuzzy and to not care so much about everything. Meditating for hours may well achieve this but try doing that with kids coming downstairs every half hour complaining they are hungry.. it’s not possible.

So please, someone out there… have you got any magic solutions? Will this restlessness ever ease?

Clipped Wings

It’s just before 3am and LO has woken me up complaining he needs a cuddle from his dad. I pack him back off to bed unhappily (he has form) and then, wide awake now, I turn to check my phone. It’s in the boy’s room, by the MO’s bed. I had given it to him last night to listen to a mindfulness meditation in another attempt to try and calm his ever-increasingly bad behaviour down. As I look at the phone, I see an email from his teacher that arrived later in the night, after he had fallen asleep. We correspond regularly to try and keep on top of the issues that he has at school and at home. What I read, feels like the worst one yet; he spent another morning out of his yr 5 class and was with yr 3 instead. She is worried about how this is affecting him academically; I agree but equally I understand that this ‘low level’ behaviour has a ripple effect on other children’s learning and let’s face it, it’s downright wearing.

At home, we deal with the manipulation, the anger, the tantrums. Equally, there is humour, compassion and affection. I watch him flit from emotion to emotion like a butterfly, unable to land for long before being tempted elsewhere. Like a motor he is propelled by his thoughts and his ego, what can he do to impress next and if that fails, who can he mentally destroy? He somehow sets us all up, himself included; maybe a request to do something he knows he can’t do so that when he is declined, he over-reacts, a ready-made vent for his anger and emotions to pour out of; unrepressed steam from an engine. It’s like having a car that constantly overheats, you live in fear of being stuck in traffic on a hot day; eyes straining to see if there are tiny tell-tale wisps of steam creeping up from the radiator over the bonnet. A bottle of water lying in the passenger footwell, just waiting to refill the arid void but knowing that it’s always a bit too late. Everything is a bit too late.

I worry about his future. I worry about our future. How is he going to get through the teenage years? Will he get his school qualifications if he can’t even sit still during a class or is constantly moving to a different one? Will he get expelled? Will he make college? Will he hurt someone? Will he go to jail? What, to some, may seem extreme fears, for a mother who has watched, like a car crash, their child struggle with regulating their behaviour since they were two and a half, these fears seem real. He slips through the system like a piece of mercury. He hasn’t hurt himself or anyone else so CAMHS won’t touch him and he doesn’t ‘qualify’ for NHS help because he isn’t severe enough. Even friends and other parents of his school friends don’t completely understand what it is like to live with him because he is so highly functioning; so utterly charming and clever. Only those closest to us can see the cracks that show when he is denied. When his speech gets so bad that his voice becomes shrill as he forces his words to get out. I feel like inside this locked cocoon is this child desperate to break free of his shackles but unable to find the key. His wings are clipped.

We have strategies (which fail) and we have plans (which we hope won’t fail). I hope to get him on an intensive stammer course in London this Summer and I am waiting for another CAMHS referral to be refused but will push on regardless and we have other appointments in the pipeline, some NHS, some private.

In the meantime we shall continue to tell him we love him and we shall continue to ground him when he is mean. And until he can break out of his cocoon, I’ll continue trying to make his butterfly house the best it can be so that when he is ready, it is has all the nourishment he needs.

Shoes and Nail Varnish

I miss my grandmother. Things so small can suddenly remind me of her. Elderly female patients with their painted fingernails or the way they bend and reach their fingers down to remove their shoe for an examination.

She was a force to be reckoned with on the outside, soft and insecure on the inside. Crabby sometimes, like the Cancerian she was. And vain. Oh so very vain. She needed prettiness in her life to brighten the dark evenings that being alone brought her. She once said to me when I complained about a boyfriend, ‘surely it is better to at least have a man in your life, rather than have nobody?’. She craved attention and whilst loved by many, in those last 20 years, it wasn’t the kind she sought.

Brought up with austere Victorian parents who apparently didn’t have much by way of loving parenting skills and by her own limited accounts, were shy of affection or warmth. Her own house apparently should have been a bungalow except her husband refused to sleep on the ground floor and so an upstairs was built – which was a shame – he ran off with another woman not long after.

My memories of the house are that it was cold and often felt ominous. Difficult to put a finger on why but it was the sort of place where you had to sing very loudly whenever you felt scared. Just in case. I couldn’t manage to enter or exit anywhere that was dark without loud singing, it was a Ghost Shield. Central heating didn’t exist in Woodpeckers and often it felt like there was literally no heating at all except for when you were practically sat on top of a two bar electric fire or sat directly in front of the open fire, competing for space with her oversized cats. And of course then you had the choice of having one side of your body absolutely freezing and the other burning to a cinder.. so you’d quickly turn round and repeat the process on the other side. I remember in the mornings before school, watching my breath above the counterpane.. knowing that I had to somehow race across the room, plug in the electric fire and then race back, grabbing my uniform on the way and hurtling under the covers again. I would dress inside the bed, getting tangled up in my knickers and tights. Only then could I brave the ‘outside’. The bathroom and toilet were the worst. You had to brace yourself before you sat on the toilet seat… the water from the bathroom basin burning your hands and face, it was so cold. The millions of spiders in the corners that kept watch, looking on, their eight knees a-knocking.

The kitchen, was a different story. I loved the kitchen. A coal boiler in the corner, the Heat Mecca; I would worship it first thing in the morning and straight after school. There was a wicker basket beside it, just big enough for a cat much wider to try and wedge it’s gargantuan body into. The walls were yellow and white painted French windows overlooked  the wild front garden, with a string of monkey nuts hung from one tree to another. The nuts were for the birds but the squirrels would often get there first; cue Phyllis racing outside shouting at them to go away. I would sit in the kitchen at the small dining table doing my homework after school, listening to her teaching the piano to another child. She painstakingly attempted patience but both I and the pupil could hear the rising irritation as she would try not to bark “back straight, shoulders back!”.

She had shoulder length brown hair that she would curl and pin every night. She practised her floor exercises every morning and I remember being tiny, laying beside her, desperately trying to do bicycles in the air. Her nails had to be painted, usually a coral sort of colour and she wouldn’t be seen without her lipstick. If you rang the doorbell before she was dressed she would shout ‘bugger, bugger, bugger!’, with each step as she came to the front door. Seething with anger that she had been interrupted. And sometimes if you rang her on the phone you could almost hear her angrily muttering “I can’t STAND IT” as she answered. She would tell you she had no time at all to talk to you but you couldn’t get a word in edgeways until she had finished regaling her current news.  Then in a fit of fresh annoyance she would protest that you had now made her late for something and  hang up. Left open-mouthed still trying to say hello, slowly you’d replace the handset.

She loved nature. Her garden was her world. She had somehow managed to create a fantasy world for me as a child. The French windows and doors opening up onto a patio that flowed onto a rockery – full of pink flowers and jumping spiders – which led to a a lawn split into two by a flowerbed. Then there was the woodland part, to the left a black metal swing with an uncomfortable rotting, wooden seat and upon which I spent many a day swinging on.. until I felt sick. To the right there was a little copse with painted white metal furniture and between two staunch trees, lay a hammock. She would lie in it whenever she felt she had time but most often I remember her retiring there in late summer evenings. Her safe place. Past the copse the path took you to the rose garden, the apple trees and the vegetable garden. Long, hot Summer days I spent there ‘helping’ her garden. As I grew up, the more I resisted, preferring to spend time with other teenage friends, getting wasted and preying on fresh blood who simply saw me as the London bike. She gardened up until 3 weeks before she died. Balancing awkwardly on a kitchen chair, bending down to slowly pick the weeds, she refused to be beaten. I remember climbing the apple tree with my (imaginary) friends, I would dress up and pretend to have adventures; she even had a rope ladder made for me. In this same tree, my mother once sat there in her early teenage years, angrily refusing to go back into the house after having locked Phyllis and her musician friends in the front room. She caused quite a stir.

We camped when I was young. She would put the tent up in the garden and I remember lying there, the sky still light. There were long walks with picnics. So many, many picnics. No season would, or could stop the picnics. Birthday ones were a favourite. The older she got the more scant they became. For her 80th I threw her a summer party at her house and I am glad I did, as she died less than two years later. She used to have one most summers; a midsummer party based on a theme.. She would always get cross with the guests not going into the right place at the right time. “But it’s warm and light outside, why aren’t they in the garden? They should be in the garden!”. She was a social butterfly but like a moth to a flame, she would return to the house, banging against its loneliness.

When the three of us were together, my Mum would inexplicably become naughty. She couldn’t help herself. Phyllis would start a conversation, Mum would snigger and make a joke and before we knew it, the three of us would be snorting, then howling with laughter. I miss that. I miss that so much.

The house was sold and within a few years it had been sold again and knocked down by developers. I have seen the new house, mostly in dreams. And I still see Woodpeckers. I am never afraid now and I know Phyllis is dead but she comes back to life in her bed upstairs and the doctors are baffled. And then I nurse her while she dies again. I put this down to guilt or grief, as the day I decided not to stay with her in hospital, happened to be the day she died.

Finally, my favourite memory is on Christmas Day and us squishing in her queen size bed, Mum at the end.. all of our legs managing to find space. And on the bed too, was a baby rabbit I had received just before Xmas, Cecily Parsley (later named Cecil.. for obvious reasons). S/he bounded about the bed, skipping and causing us to squeal with joy. Droppings pinging everywhere but we didn’t care. He slept in a box next to the cats, by the boiler until he was old enough to move into a hutch.

Whether our paths will ever cross again, who knows.. But each time I see a rose, or smell lavender, or I hear the word ‘Bugger!’ – I’ll always have her close to me.

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