A small corner has been turned. When I was young and foolish, I used to think that if I turned a corner, then the road ahead would be straight and clear, a lovely line to the horizon, without end. Sometimes, even now, I think that, in the magical part of my brain. In fact, I discover that really life is just one damn corner after another. You have to keep turning the idiot things, and the road is never, ever straight.
There are two kinds of people who really frighten me. They are: the very capable ones, and the very self-contained ones. I always think they are looking at me and judging. (In fact, that quizzical expression on their faces is probably because they are trying to remember whether they turned the oven off, but still. In my mind, they always know the oven is off.) Just lately, I have grown incompetent, and I try to cover the fact by talking too much. The capable and the self-contained would never fall into such a schoolgirl error. I always know when something is wrong when I get very bad at doing things. I break cups, burn the soup, can’t write a decent sentence for money nor love. I become incapable of fulfilling the smallest tasks; I cannot even take my library books back.
I am supposed to be writing a pitch for a new project, and a sample chapter, and I keep starting, realising what I have written is the biggest load of buggery bollocks ever invented, deleting everything, and beginning from scratch. I write pathetic emails to my agent promising tomorrow and tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes.
The reason I write so much about the horse is that in this season of uselessness, she is my one true thing. For some strange reason, I can do everything well with her. I think it is because she is such a quick study, and so she flatters me. Also, it has turned out that, despite her occasional duchessy moments, and her high breeding, she is in fact the softest thing in the world, and all she really needs is love. Even in the slough of incapacity, I can do love. I may not be able to tidy my office, but I can stand in a field with a sentient creature and bring her joy by scratching her ears. That is my twice daily fillip.
The corner was turned because I finally realised what all this is about. It is simple, but I am a little shy to admit it. (The stern critical voice in my head says: you really should be butcher than this.) It is that I am missing my dad.
I think I got grief all wrong. I think I thought that I could do it well, and that then it would be finite. I could mark the passing, plant the tree, honour the memories, and then, somehow, move along. It’s not like that at all. I start to think it does not end, and nor should it. You can’t just get on, through sheer act of will. Time does not stop the missing, it merely intersperses it with more normality. All the ordinary emotions come back; there are many days of usualness. But the heart carries a crack in it, because a person is not there.
I think I thought I could heal the crack, but that’s not it. I think, I think, that the secret is to accept the crack, and know that it does not mean the whole thing is broken. Leonard Cohen once sang: there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in. I have a strong sense that Jung once wrote something very similar, although I can’t remember exactly what it is.
There will be days of joy, and there will be days of missing. My fatal tendency is to try to paper over the cracks, and that is when I get useless and can’t do anything well, probably because all my mental energy is being channelled into a sort of blank denying.
Anyway, last night, I remembered my dad and missed him like hell, and today I got up and my shoulders were light for the first time in weeks. I even went to the library and took my books back. Both my favourite librarians were there (I love librarians almost as much as I love dry stone wallers) and we smiled and laughed and wished each other well. I came home and put some Handel on at full blast and faced my pitch with open eyes instead of cross dread.
As I finish this, I think: I’ve written this despatch before. But that is because learning to carry a loss is not a smooth, linear process for me. I am learning it in stops and starts; I shall, no doubt, bash into another corner before the summer is done. I want to learn to carry my father with me, and remember him well. I want to let the light in.
This is not Red’s beautiful face. This is the donkey face she makes when I have been scratching her neck for ten minutes. It is her I don’t care what the hell I look like, I am so blissed out face. Notice the lower lip:
This is her ready for prime time face:
And, talking of beautiful faces: