I suddenly realise that I have, slowly, stealthily, created a great fantasy around my father’s death. It is that it was magnificent. Not only that, but I was magnificent. It was a marvellous sort of grief, and I did it well.
Oh, the dancing delusion elves, what they have been up to in the night. I had no idea of the work they did, until now.
Of course I was not bloody magnificent. And the sorrow was not marvellous and shining, as I have come to think of it, filled with lovely authenticity; it was lumpy and raw and messy and it hurt all over. I was not some great avatar of love and loss. I was stumping about like an old lady, with squinty eyes, red from crying. The mental pain went physically into my back, which hurt as if I had been kicked all over by a furious Shetland pony. I remember lying on the grass in the spring sunshine, groaning, whilst the Older Niece, who learnt massage in Thailand and has certificates on her wall, tried to get the knots out. At night, I used to go into the bathroom (I have always traditionally done my gut weeping in the bathroom; no one knows why) and shout, out loud: I want my father back.
Not very magnificent at all.
It’s funny that I remember it as a good thing. It’s funny the tricks the mind plays. I suppose it is rather nice that I do. There were some goodnesses in it. I do remember, right at the beginning, there was an energy in it; I remember feeling very alive. There was a lot of love. The old friends really were magnificent, and rallied like a crack regiment of the human heart. The brothers and sister were staunch and stalwart, and put their shoulders into the grief, so we could all carry it together. We used to work like a tag team. One of us would be having the angry day, whilst another would be having a wise day. (It was mostly The Sister who had the wise days; she has, in her fifties, gathered up the wisdom of the ages and put it all in her pocket.)
But, in the end, mostly, it just really hurt.
That is what loss does; it hurts. It’s like going round after round with a prizefighter who will not lie down on the canvas. I feel like Mohammed Ali, on the ropes in the Rumble in the Jungle, his great body sagging in defeat as George Foreman landed punch after punch. Even as I write that, the optimistic part of my brain, whose voice is very faint at the moment, says: But Ali won that fight. He won. He suddenly picked himself up, life flooded back into his bruised body, and he let fly a volley of astonishing blows, so powerful and perfect that poor old George did not know what hit him.
They made a great film of that fight. I had no interest in boxing, but I was a bit of a film buff at that time, and I remember going to see it at the Fulham ABC with my very old friend D. It turned out it wasn’t really about fighting at all; it was about the human spirit. It was one of the most mesmerising things I ever saw.
That same friend called, on Saturday night. We read history together at university; we go back all the way. The bonds of fondness that tie us are ineffable, and die hard. I’ve been thinking a lot about the dog love, and how pure and unconditional it is. I think it lives so vividly in the heart because it is so simple and true, unlike human love, which has undercurrents and subtexts and moments of blank misunderstanding. But I’m not sure this is quite right. That man, whom I first knew as a boy, has given me unconditional love since I was eighteen years old. He does not care if I am joyful or doleful, grumpy or delighted, in the dizzy grip of success or on the bleak plains of failure; I am his friend, and that’s that.
I’m not really sure what I am trying to write, today. I feel compelled to send in reports from the front line, and I’m lost in the fog of war. The writer brain is shouting: there must be a theme, there must be a point.
What is my theme? A phrase comes into my head. It is: scrabbling around for consolations. I think that is what happens now. Everything hurts and that pain must be felt, there is no avoiding it. I cannot run from it or swerve around it or outwit it. (It really pisses me off that I cannot do any of these things.) All I can do is scrabble about in the earth, for the small staunches that will hold my heart together. The old friendships are one of those.
The mare too is a great consoler. I spent an hour and a half with her this morning, in the light, chill Scottish air. I gave her a good groom and fed her some lovely fresh hay and stroked and gentled her. She still has the sweetness dial set to eleven. She can have moods, like all sentient creatures; she can be grumpy and distant and impatient. But since Friday she has been still and sweet and affectionate. It’s probably coincidence; the weather has been fine, and she likes that. Whatever it is, it is one of the consolations. She is doing her own little unconditional dance, and it gladdens my heart. I’m not really up to humans at the moment, so the simplicity of the animals is the ideal balm.
‘It’s just you and me, kid,’ I say to Red the Mare. She nods her head and blinks. A snuffling muzzle pushes itself into my side. It is the furry little pony. She is really searching for treats, but it feels like she is saying: Hey, me too.
‘You too,’ I say.
Pigeon, from the 2011 archive:
The hill, completely out of focus today, but still lovely, for all that: