26 November 2013

My mother's body was tiny, she was by now extremely thin, her skin so very pale, smooth and translucent. Her head was turned to the right at an odd angle, her eyes seemed to be staring into the distance and her chin had dropped, leaving her mouth open. Someone had tried to close it with a strip of muslin dressing but it must have slipped when they pushed her bed into the small storage room. Here, in this quiet stuffy windowless corner, without the feeding tube stuck in her throat, she looked strangely restful. Finally. 
But I was not there. My brother told me all this. Or maybe he did not, maybe he mentioned some of it and I have fabricated the rest over the years. He was trying to sound calm, his voice on the phone going on and on, about the dressing, the eyes, the cold room. About the one arm hanging off of the side of the bed, almost touching the rubber wheel. He apologised that he waited until sunrise before he called us, his sisters. He could not bear to stay in that room which in my imagination was crammed with the spare things of a hospital ward, stainless steel things stacked on a trolley, drip stands in the corner. He sat on a bench by the car park, smoking and waiting for the first light before he made the calls. But even that I don't know for certain. When I asked him, some weeks later, he could not remember.
I did not see any of this, her lopsided body, her limp hands, the room stuffed with clangy metal. The last time I saw my mother, maybe two weeks earlier, she was very agitated. At least that is how it seemed to me watching her shrunken body strapped onto the bed, with the humming noises from the monitors, the quiet hissing from the respirator. It had been months since my last visit, when my sister had picked me up at the train station and we had started to argue straight away. Not in so many words, of course. But in the best family tradition of snide remarks, little patronising gestures, tripping each other up. Look, I can hold her hand so gently, almost the loving daughter. But I brought a tape of what I guess is her favourite music. Wait, smell this gorgeous massage lotion I got her. And so on.
And again, that last time I wanted to be the one who really understood her, who could finally read the urgent messages that I thought I could fathom in her eyes, darting here and there, staring at the ceiling. But I could hardly speak, afraid to say the wrong thing. As always. So instead I sobbed. Knowing that in her good days, she would have been disgusted with me. When I did freak out, it was purely for my own benefit. 
I left the room, her bed, in tears, furious. By the time I had calmed down we were already on the  motorway. Four hours later I was home and she was once again out of my life.
Sometime last year when I realised that I had forgotten not only what year but also what day she had died I found out that it was actually the same date when I met R, twenty years earlier.  It never registered. But then I am not big on significant dates.
Right now, I don't seem to feel any of the old anger. We had abandoned each other long before. But I feel curious, when did it start, when did we stop being mother and daughter, when did the space between us become this dark and ugly distance.

24 November 2013

21 November 2013

Today is a beautiful day. Beautiful.
Not because of the weather, the grey fog that has now turned into rain and sleet.
Not because of the blue jays sitting in the trees, although they are very impressive.
And certainly not because a total of three immunologists discussed my symptoms resulting in two of them speaking to me over the phone. And definitely not because I am back on the cortisone mountain for a couple of days.
Today is absolutely beautiful because it's her birthday. My girl, this young woman, so alive, so at home in the world. Skype-laughing with us, the antipodean summer all around her. Always lucky, eating fresh strawberries on her birthday in November.

20 November 2013

Day seven of my latest adventure into the realms of ill health. The general theme here is boredom. And trying not to fabricate something grave and serious out of my quirky little mix of symptoms. Still, after much hesitation, I have booked a telephone meeting with the immunologist. But she is not calling back. Is this a sign? Let's get all worked up about it, shall we?
Hang on, this is only day seven, much too early.
I listen to my father's voice on the answerphone. One of his heroes, a sharp and much admired political commentator, actor and writer died last night. Of course, my father would not speak about this, death is never mentioned. Instead, he informs me of his various plans, a dinner with so-and-so and a concert tonight. I roughly calculate that this means he'll be driving for two hours home in the dark close to midnight. I check the forecast, yes, snow. He thinks he is invincible, in his big shiny car with all its multiple front and side impact airbags and whatnot steering. With his one blind eye, deaf ears and his walking sticks safely stored in the boot. Of course, no mobile phone. He thinks he has the lucky gene of longevity and endless health. The thing is, my brother tells me, that he'll probably take someone with him when he crashes. Could be a bus full of people.
I stop the answerphone but I don't delete the message. Not until I speak to him in person again. Just in case.

15 November 2013

This is what happens when you brag about cycling and fresh cold air, when you paint this picture of a healthy active woman. Which you are no longer and will never again be no matter what. 
It starts with a slow feeling of something crawling up your neck, something hissing in your left ear, you break out in very cold sweat, shivering, and then the earth moves under your feet, the room tosses about and around and the nausea begins. 
You breathe in and out, you try to concentrate and slowly start to count and before you know it, you are on the floor and you hear yourself cursing. And you really know how to curse.
Some time later, you are not quite sure how, but you are on your bed, holding your head in an akward position because for now all you want is that the room remains still for a while, you start to hear music. 

14 November 2013

This is the future.

Not only is Amsterdam one of my favourite cities, I am also a cyclist - have been since my father put me, aged maybe not even 12 months, in the little seat behind the handlebars of his big black bicycle. I have cycled wherever I have lived so far and I plan to do this for a while longer. Daily, if possible, like right now once I post this. Today is cold, just above freezing, but the sky is clear and blue and I'll put on a double pair of thermal mittens. I don't cycle for fitness or as a recreational sport thing, I cycle to get from A to B and back again. Sometimes, this can take a couple of days or even weeks. And I don't wear a helmet. Don't ask, I would only get worked up about risk assessment and behavioural studies and I have the statistics right here somewhere.

13 November 2013

On a day such as this with its jumble of bad sad news and fog and the effects from maybe something I ate it makes sense to go to the vet. 
This vet specialises in pets, so no horse, cattle or wild bird in the waiting room. Instead, there is an elderly lady with perfect blue-rinse perm and the obligatory string of pearls and her two grey greyhound-like-poodles. She is doing something elaborate with flash cards and little treats. Corn, she says, moving the flashcard with a painting of corn in front of the dogs' milky eyes. Car, cat, sunflower, and so on. I try not to stare. The door opens and a large man starts bringing in seven (7!) transport boxes. He stacks them into a neat tower and eventually sits down wiping off the accumulated sweat from his face. Time for the annual shots, he informs all and sundry. Today the cats, tomorrow we bring the dogs. Nobody asks, how many dogs, but we all begin to speculate quietly. 
On my way out, clutching the box of flea drops, I almost crash into the toddler with her pet rat in a Barbie box.
Nothing unusual, I tell my little cat when I get back in, you know, just the odd nutters. She yawns and goes back to sleep.

10 November 2013

Days like this one are what gives November a bad name. Seriously. 
Phone calls, mails, the cranes heading south all day in their large v-shape formations, the news. 
That hollow feeling in my chest because I miss my child too much today. My grown-up woman child.
Sometimes I think I was a good mother. She tells me so, often. I know R has been a great father, I watched him, I learned from him. It was like playing house, we walked into this without a plan, no school of thought, no rules, our confidence so brash it echoed off the walls. 
Just show her the tools, teach her how to use them, love her, praise her, cherish her always, roll out the carpet of trust wherever she goes and let her go, watch her being authentic, always generous, curious, independent.
And now I find myself studying her face on skype, counting the freckles on her forehead, quite unable to comprehend. Where has the time gone.

07 November 2013

This is it what it will be like for the next four months, dark. Probably mostly wet, hopefully not too much ice and snow but things have been changing, winters have become unpredictable in this mild river valley.
I really want two handsome and strong torch bearers to run ahead of me when I cycle home after work through the dark forest. All afternoon I tell myself that I will take the road, never mind the detour, the tram lines, the traffic lights, the big black cars without indicators etc. but then I go out there into the dark bicycle lock-up and I feel like some sort of Arctic explorer and by the time reason hits me it's too late. I am in the dark tunnel with the dripping dark trees, the path covered in slippery leaves. And I tell myself that nobody in their right mind - and certainly no creep or criminal - would want to be here, getting wet waiting to attack a lone middle aged female cyclist. At times, I have to sing at the top of my voice just to make sure that all the ghosts and fairies get the message, too. Mostly, I just curse my stupid stubborn self.

04 November 2013

Another stormy day. I cycled for about two hours, leaning into the wind, pushing and forcing myself to be fit and healthy, my hands and face stinging with the cold air. Now of course I am exhausted, my arms and legs like lead.
When I met my immunologist last Friday she would not hear my polite pleas of lowering or maybe - please - try to go without one or even two of the cocktail ingredients. She explained it all very nicely but still. There are days when I really really want to be the fool who believes it's all in my head. After all that time, yes.
There is always the option risk to close in on myself, like a soft animal withdrawing into a small, dark tunnel. Nursing my fears, my losses, my ill health. Well, it's November, what do you expect. My sister has been going on about it for weeks, with every hour less of daylight she prepares herself for mental breakdown. But what if it doesn't happen this winter, I want to ask her. What if everything will be fine for a change? Maybe we are completely sane!
Someone mentioned last week, as a sort of by the way thing, that death is really easy, that he is not afraid of it at all because people all over the world manage it. Sick and healthy, stupid and clever, young and old, rich and poor, and so on. And for a split second I had this reassuring sensation that maybe even I will eventually achieve some form of calm and age appropriate insights. 
Whatever. But not yet.