The Poet

The first time I fell in love, it was in the library. I was in Year 7 and he was in Year 12 (oh the scandal!) so hanging out around everyone else always drew unwanted attention. None of the narks and gossips went to the library at lunch time, so that is where we could meet without scrutiny. I liked to think that the librarian understood our impossible situation and had a soft spot for young love. It seemed all very Romeo and Juliet to me, star crossed lovers, forbidden by family to be together.  His skin was golden brown and his eyes flecked with gray and gold. But it wasn’t his skin or his eyes that made me fall so hard. It was the poetry. That day, he asked me to hold out my hand and close my eyes. He placed two things in my palm. A folded piece of paper, and a tiny heart carved from chalk with the point of a compass. The heart, he told me, had taken all of a double maths period. The poem he’d written last night, lying in bed, thinking of me.

I was moved.  My heart was his. He wrote poetry for me!

 

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A few years later, when time and circumstance had brought that ill-fated tryst to a close, I heard that poem on the radio. It was song lyrics, from a song written long before I ever met him. His declaration of love was a pilfered fake. That moment of perfect romance; plastered on the walls of my gallery of treasured memories, frayed and curled on the edges before dropping to the floor.  A new fissure cracked across the surface of my idealistic heart. It would underscore my opinion of men, along with all the other little and big betrayals. All the while, the books I had read, the movies I had watched, built my romantic hopes until there was no man that could reach them. And eventually, there I was at 23, divorced and bitter. My young husband had gotten our friend pregnant, he had left to live with her and raise their family.  It took a few years, but finally, I saw a counsellor.

“Why do you punish every man you meet for the behaviour of another person?” she asked.  It gave me pause. I realised that I couldn’t go on like that. Dropping all my disappointments at the feet of any man, as if he were solely responsible for the failings of all men.  My man-hating ways had to find some balance. I had to look at people as people, not with the prejudice I had toward their gender. Or be forever alone. At that time, being alone seemed like a fate worse than death.

I spent years looking for a person to spend my life with. Years for learning a great deal about the nature of men and of myself. About how being a ‘victim’ of relationship breakdown is a choice. Bitterness is counterproductive. When things go wrong, we are always equally responsible for how it will play out, no matter how preposterous that might seem. And that I am the only person who can be accountable for my own happiness. I grew up. Poetry isn’t always literary genius, sometimes, poetry is a two word text in the middle of the day: ‘Love you’.

Romance takes many forms, if you care to notice it. A cup of tea when you’re not expecting it. A shared glance about something over the heads of the kids. Or something like this…

 

'Enjoy the day my honey. Love you!'
‘Enjoy the day my honey. Love you!’

Today I have wrestled from our schedule a little bit of ‘me’ time. Time to write, to drink coffee and muse. It’s been a busy school holidays and the kids are off doing fun activities, both on the same day in a little bit of heavenly orchestration. I have loads of jobs to do, but I don’t mind a whit… because I can do them uninterrupted and listening to my own music! I can dance like a ninny around the house and tap out my words into the ether. The hubster knew how much I was looking forward to my day of solitude; he gets it. So when I got back to my quiet kitchen from dropping off the kids, I found his words scrawled across the splash back in the kitchen. They are not borrowed words, they are straight from the heart words, genuine words. Words to make my heart warm.

I am the luckiest of girls to have a guy like that in my life. He is a whiteboard-marker-wielding poet, even if I didn’t know it. 😉

Finding Family

That particular time, I was admitted to hospital through the emergency room. I’d been battling a pseudo-obstruction, which is when my digestive system behaves like there is blockage, but there is none. Basically all the nerve messages that are supposed to make me poo, stop working. And the result is a painfully distended belly; a cocktail of treatments and medications. I have to go into hospital if the distention lasts more than four days. It’s all part of Dysautonomia, the diagnosis that seems to define so much of my life.

Apart from being painful and distressing, a pseudo-obstruction is mildly embarrassing. Firstly because I’m in for poo related reasons, so there’s a lot of discussion about bowels with the nurses and doctors, all within earshot of my ward-mates. Secondly, because I look like I missed my due date for delivering a hefty baby.  My belly gets so huge. So if I walk, I waddle. I rub that tummy a lot, because it is sore. And of course, people passing think it is cute to see a waddling pregnant lady pacing the hospital corridors.  I get lots of comments like ‘Not long now, love!’ and ‘hang in there!’.  If only they knew that the delivery I was so desperate for was poop baby!  I’m sure they wouldn’t find it so cute then.  Perhaps they’d run for cover!

This particular admission, the hospital was really short on beds. So because of a new policy, made in some administrator’s office, somewhere far from the ward, I was put in a room with three male patients. At first, I was too distressed to really notice.  I waddled my way off my bed as soon as possible and began to pace.  Locomotion is supposed to help, so I was getting mobile. Every time I passed by my neighbour’s bed, the old guy would make a low whistle, and wink.  I observed that he did this when any female was in the near vicinity, but somehow, that whistle just for me, made me feel the opposite of my big bellied waddle. I felt like someone could see the girl behind my diagnosis, the real me. It made me feel special.

That first night, lying in beds a few metres apart, a curtain between, we both tossed and turned.  I could tell he was in pain too, but I didn’t know why.  Then, around 4am, he whispered
“-are you awake?”
“Yes” I whispered back, “can I get you some help?”
“No,” he murmured “I just can’t sleep.  Want to talk?”.
So Tony and I talked until the nurses came to do change-over.  He had just had a tumour removed from his groin. He was worried. He was 68, his family were a long way away in Italy, and he was afraid of the future. I was half his age, supported by a loving family and dealing with a neurological condition that affected my autonomic nervous system.  He told me I was lucky. Lying there in pain as my abdomen continued to distend, I found it hard to agree.  But I said I did. It’s all relative, right?
I knew I was pleased that I didn’t have his problems to deal with. He sounded so sad and alone.

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In total, I spent a week in that room of men. There was snoring, wind passing, belching and cheerful enquiries as to whether my bowels had moved every time I returned from the bathroom. It had its ups and it’s downs, sharing a room with all those guys. And every night around 4am; chats with my friend Tony.  We talked about life.  We talked about being sick.  We talked about the things we loved and the lives we’d left outside the hospital, histories, regrets, the highlight reel. We became friends.

The next time he was in hospital was a few months later. He called me and asked me if I could come visit him there. He sounded fragile. I made my way up to the neurology ward. I arrived and within minutes his neurosurgeon walked into the room. He wanted to talk to Tony.
“Oh, good,” the surgeon said to me, “we’ve been waiting for you to get here”, I raised my eyebrows to Tony, ‘what for?’ I asked him with my eyes.
“Ah… you’re my support person” he said, looking down at his hands. I was shocked. I’d only met him in hospital recently… did he really not have anyone else in his life who knew him better than me?  Who cared for him more than I did? For the next ten minutes I held Tony’s hand and listened with horror as his neurosurgeon spelt out the awful truth.  They had not managed to remove the additional tumour they’d found in his head.  He had weeks, not months.  It was unlikely he’d manage an overseas trip to see his distant relatives. He should get his affairs in order.  The young neurosurgeon looked at me.  Nodded.  Held my gaze for a little longer than was comfortable, and asked Tony if he had any questions. When Tony had asked all he needed to, the surgeon turned toward me, saying to Tony, “…and your daughter?”.  I was floored. “I’m not-“ I began to say, but then I just shook my head.  “No questions”.

In the weeks that followed, Tony and I stayed in close contact. I visited him in the hospice as his time drew closer. It became clear to me that he truly had no real friends. He cried a lot. Cried that he wouldn’t be able to see his elderly mother one more time. Cried that his wealthy brother was too busy to fly over and see him. Cried with regrets for all the things in his life that hadn’t worked out. He asked me to write his life story, and so I did, sentence by painful sentence, as he rasped or slurred his words. The tumour was beginning to take his ease of speech; his fragmented final memories were pieced together by this random girl he’d met in the hospital.  I emailed it all to his brother, but got no reply.

The last time I saw him, I kissed him on the forehead as I said goodbye.
“Sleep well” I said.
“…wish you really had been my daughter”  he murmured back. I think I saw his good eye wink. I’m sure I heard a low whistle follow me out the door.  I smiled then.  And that night, he passed away.

I am lucky. He was right. Lucky our illnesses brought us together in the strangest of ways.  Lucky I had the chance to meet someone who made me feel like a girl who still had something to give, not just a sick person.  And lucky that I got to spend time with another human being through the darkest most dignified days of his waning life. I will never forget the things I learned from Tony.

Life is short. Luck is relative. And family can be found in the strangest of places.

Black and White

If only a certain book and movie hadn’t ruined the expression ‘shades of grey’… that might have been my title. But ‘Black and White’ is just as useful. It’s top of my mind because it was a photo prompt for today. I took this picture of the hands of John and Mary.

#photoaday #fatmumslimphotoaday …these two have been married for 61 years 🙂

A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on

I know people who are very black and white. They think in polarities, have pretty fixed views and don’t mind sharing them. I’m more of a shades of grey girl. I see things in their complexity. I feel differently about them the more I think about them. My opinion is often strong, but it changes the more I know about something. I don’t mind admitting to being wrong (eventually!) which somewhat diminishes the victory for the hubster when we fight and I concede! Of course, it’s VERY rare (!) but you know, it happens.

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Most of the time I think in shades of grey. But I felt very black and white about a few things in 2015. I held them tightly, more tightly than most things because they offended my sense of justice greatly. I kept them in my fists until the pressure turned them into dark stones, those offences I felt. I don’t always deal well with conflict, especially when I am conflicting with men I find arrogant. My usually broad mind strobes itself into sharp contrasts. Painful flashes of black and white. But time is useful to the wounded sensibility. Time brings perspective and a different way of looking at things. Time ameliorates the damage until the harsh difference between black and white softens into grey. Another way of seeing things. A whiter shade of pale.

And there I am at last, in the rain and wind. Fighting the elements on the edge of Mercury Bay. Shouting into the gale because it whips my words away and I can let the last vestiges of anger out. Let it out in the freedom of knowing that the expression of it is all I really need. All I ever needed. The tide is pulling the beach from under my feet, dragging the last year under. And I am ready to see it go. I let the hot stones of anger tumble out of my fists and away with the tide. I fill my lungs with cold, salty air. Spinning round and round in the blustery chaos, arms wide. Hands open to the air.

Then, the wind quiets enough so I can hear my own voice again. My feet slap out a regular rhythm on the hard sand. Lace scallops of foam edge the tide’s retreat. I notice that I am humming. The remnants of a Christmas carol, a song for Mary… breath of heaven… hold me together… light up my darkness… it has a pretty melody. I hum the words I don’t know. I think about the rhythm of the waves being the breath of life itself. Inhaling, exhaling. I think about the water, crashing onto the shore, or falling in raindrops from the clouds, rendering the sand into a carpet. I notice that the lace edge of sea is beaded with shells and seaweed. It is beautiful.

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I turn away from the breaking surf, away from the grievances. I turn my face upward to the rain, to the skies clouded with grey.

Catharsis.

Calm.

Hello 2016. I think I like you already.