It is Christmas Eve, and I am in my kitchen. The kitchen that has failed to contain raucous parties, as they spill out onto the patio beyond. The kitchen with the solid pine table in the centre, 6 IKEA chairs with green and orange cushions surrounded it. Reminding me of my childhood kitchen table, the centre of family life.
My father sitting at the table. I don’t recall what we are discussing. One moment I am leaning against the counter, the next I crumple to the floor in agony, my legs collapsing underneath me. Failing to protect myself from this invisible blade that has stabbed me in the gut and wrenched me open.
I had wanted to be a mother since I was a child myself. I had jobs, not careers. My career was going to be my children. The months before I became pregnant, recurring dreams kept haunting me. So intense were these dreams, these messages that I had married the wrong person, that in the morning I would nervously open one eye a crack, cautiously checking that it was indeed my husband that was lying next to me in bed. Finally, there were no more excuses, no more reasons to delay. I became pregnant immediately. The dreams stopped.
I remember a time before I hated Christmas. Before I discovered that my mother had lied to me. The eldest of 3, when I guessed that Father Christmas wasn’t real, instead of inviting me into the secret, she fabricated more untruths. In making me believe again, she made me feel stupid in front of my friends, and the magic of Christmas was lost. This was to be my daughter’s second Christmas. One she might even remember. Her father persuaded me to have the tree up from the first of December, and I reluctantly agreed. As it turned out, this was to be a Christmas forever etched in our memories.
I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. Mum says I taught myself. She tells a story of how she took my books away to try and get me to do something else with my time and I began to read junk mail coming through the door, so my books were returned. Some of my fondest memories growing up were spent browsing books in the library. Choosing which ones to take home next. Would it be Howl’s Moving Castle? Dogsbody? Old friends that I had read before? Picking some of these books up I already knew how the story weaved and ended, and how it would make me feel inside. Or a new world? An unknown? Time for a fresh adventure? As I grew older my choice of reading material changed. I began to absorb the teen fiction, to try and make sense of my world. I soon moved on to the adult section of sci-fi and fantasy, but a novel filled with teenage angst and heartbreak stayed with me. A tale of someone who found love and friendship not in spite of, but because of the bad things that had happened to her. It triggered a future memory within me, a knowing that something bad was going to happen in my life that would transform me.
Did I manifest this? Or did the book guide me to what was coming? This knowing stayed with me and became a part of my existence. I became so used to seeing potential danger and hazards that I no longer questioned it. If I saw the bus I was travelling in tumbling down the mountainside, or the car I was driving hitting a wall. That was just my brain showing an alternate reality. “Thanks for showing me that, it’s ok, it didn’t happen, I’m still here on this road. Everything is alright.” And yet, I did not see this coming. I always expected it to be something that would happen to me directly. That I would be the one physically altered in some way. This seeing the worst, it stopped in its tracks after she left.
If you’re going to tell me something important, tell it to me three times. I can’t remember which of the myriad of books I read this in. Once to introduce the idea. Twice to say ‘I’m serious, what about you?’. And the third and final time to lay your cards on the table declaring ‘I really want this to happen. Are you in, or out?’.
The first time I was told about Molly’s death was a week beforehand. She had fallen asleep in the car and I transferred her to her pushchair, loudly clicking the black plastic buckles into place as I did so. I never strapped her in any more. Why did I do that? The friend I was meeting was childless and had chosen the meeting place; high uneven steps hewn from stone were the challenge to reach the entrance a metre or more off the floor. Bumping the pushchair up the steps I lost my balance and the buggy tipped. Seeing her body launch out of the chair and be held by the straps instead of landing on the floor below, my heart was in my mouth, as I tried to stay calm. This was why I had fastened those straps.
The second time I was told about her death was the weekend before. When she ran across the road, thinking she was playing a game. There were no cars. There could have been cars. I picked her up and stood her on the wall next to me, we were eye to eye. I told her off, explaining why, not knowing if she understood any of it. Did I hold her close afterwards? And tell her that I loved her, and just wanted her to be safe? I like to think that I did; I suspect I did not.
The third and final time came and went without me seeing it. Perhaps that was for the best; the postmortem later revealed there was nothing that could have been done, the damage was in the basic functions area of the brain. They probably wouldn’t even have spotted the bleed. And if they had, operating would have killed her. Our girl was a timebomb waiting to go off. Would it have changed things if I had been there? Could I have seen the danger, and stopped it? Or just delayed the inevitable? She went to sleep that night and never woke up.
And so here I am 3 days later, curled up in agony on the floor in my kitchen. My child gone. My identity stolen from me. What is the point in going on? I do not want to live any more, if living means having to feel this kind of hell. My despair is overwhelming, filling my heart with sorrow. I had found my darkest hour. Just as I was feeling like plans were beginning to form, a voice enters my head, pushing aside the wall of grief like Moses commanding the sea to part. ‘You do not want your mother to feel as terrible as you do right now’ it firmly says. This voice jolts me out of my grief and holds my attention. For the relationship I had with my mother at that time, and the way I was feeling at that moment, I couldn’t have cared less how my mother would have reacted to my decision to stop living. This voice, it sure as fuck has not come from me.
Later that day, I had a strong knowing come to me; It was Molly’s time. She had come to us for a reason, and she was not meant to have lived any longer than she did. I had finally been given my reason to dislike Christmas. This was the time that I had been warned about. Seeds were planted.
Scrolling forward eight months. I experienced a miscarriage a few weeks earlier, and had declared this was a sign. It was time for us to live more wildly. To discover who we were without feeling the societal pressure of who we ought to be. Find ourselves first, before having another child. Throwing myself into work at my beloved Bulverton marquee, the late night venue for the folk festival I had been attending since I was 14, I was sober and my friends were drunk and off to bed. An old friend scooped me and some other stragglers up and we headed back to the party tent. And so it was that I found myself drunk on whisky and reciting Alabama 3 lyrics as dawn was breaking. ‘Don’t you wish you didn’t function, don’t you wish you didn’t think. Beyond your next paycheck, beyond your next little drink. Well you do, so make up your mind to go on, coz when you woke up this morning, everything you had was gone’. I had transported myself back to that voice that came to me in my kitchen.
There is a reason you are still here. Find it.