One great ride, one sunny morning, one restorative breakfast, two acts of kindness, one thousand four hundred words of book, one near catastrophe.
Of course, it was not really a catastrophe. It just felt like a catastrophe.
One of the interesting things about grief is that at around the four month stage one can get a bit of a false dawn. I say one; I mean me. I remember this from my dad. First of all, people expect you to be all right by now. This is not because they are callous or unimaginative; it’s that they have their own lives to get on with. I try to live up to this expectation because I dread being a bore. Second of all, time is doing its work. There are spells of something almost like normality. I am no longer carrying around the huge bucket of sad water and slopping it about all over the place. The grief still comes from time to time and hurls me round the canvas like a crazy wrestler, but it is not wrangling with me all the time. I’m also in a stage where the sorrow comes out quick and naturally in bursts of tears and then I can move on from it. I think this is quite healthy and am secretly rather proud about it.
But this is where the danger comes. It’s easy to forget, at this stage, that something huge has happened. I’m so in love with stoicism and getting on that I tend to forget that I am still acutely vulnerable. I hate being vulnerable so I don’t like to think about it and am almost certainly in denial. I think I am back on some kind of even keel and then something so small that it can hardly be seen with the naked eye comes along and undoes me.
It was not a catastrophe. It was a flat tyre. For ten minutes, it felt like the end of everything.
It did not help that it was not a gentle, slow puncture, but one of those stupid operatic flats. One minute I was driving along, thinking of the twenty things I had to do today; the next, I was driving on the damn rim.
I heard the terrible noise, felt the wrench of the poor old car, managed to get it back to the drive, got out, saw the devastation, and shouted: ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fucking fuck.’ This slightly surprised two nice men who were planting a hedge next door.
I did not think: oh dear, a flat tyre, that is a bore, happens to everyone.
I thought: that’s it; I’m finished.
My inner drama queen, who had been at the crème de menthe (she has appalling taste in liquor), came out and did her cruellest, most lipsticky, told-you-so dance. ‘Can’t even keep your car running,’ she shouted. ‘Can’t go anywhere, never learnt to change a tyre, day ruined, work gone to hell, plans shot, organisational skills shown up for the shoddy pretence they are, no silver lining in sight. You are cooked, baby,’ she cried, doing a rather wonky arabesque.
‘If only,’ she added cruelly, ‘you had learned to be one of the Organised People.’
It took quite a lot of stern effort to pull myself back together. I called the dear Stepfather, who came and collected me for breakfast and let me vent my spleen. I called the garage and the AA. I went home and wrote a lot of words and then the enchanting AA man arrived and did his work in the flash of an eye and got me back on the road. I love the AA men. They are so nice and non-judgemental.
The sun came back out and gentled the bleak winter land. There was a silver lining, after all. I had to clear out the boot so the AA man could get to the spare tyre. My car boot is worse than my cupboard of doom. But I found several pleasing items that I thought I had lost: a pair of Converse sneakers, two thermoses, a rather muddy and dog-eared copy of Virginia Woolf’s The Crowded Dance of Modern Life.
It was not a catastrophe, after all.
Go slowly, I tell myself. If this were Edwardian England, you would not even be in lavender yet, but still in deepest black. It’s allowed to miss your mother and feel that crack in your heart and sometimes be overset by small things. You are not superhuman, but very, very human. This is what happens. Just keep looking for the light, I tell myself. Because there is light. There is always light.