I fear happiness above all else. I fear calm, not for calm itself but for the storm that will surely follow. I fear resting on lovely laurels and imagining that contentment is finally mine. I fear, you see, that there is such a thing as too happy, and thus the universe will have no choice but to inflict consequence…
Sometimes this kind of fear grabs me around the throat and sticks pins in my ears just before the sun rises. Poking me wide awake and forcing me endure a litany of dreadful possibilty, or worse delivering the kind of phone call I hope will never come.
On Monday I was standing in the supermarket weighing up the salt content of a packet of savoury seeds when my phone rang and I heard Richard sob that his lovely, brave Dad had had another stroke. I listened frozen in horror, then let Kath (gorgeous Kath) guide me through the supermarket hurriedly collecting drinks and phone credit and cash before she drove me to the hospital. And there he was, my big, tall man, sitting with his head in his hands in a relatives room waiting for the Doctor to come deliver his verdict on his Father and right then and there it struck me that perhaps I could not do it: perhaps I could not be the strength he clearly needed. Not without my Mum anyway.
But then there was a nurse leading us on the resuscitation unit, a nurse who said she knew me from the school playground, a nurse who knew my sons name and patted our hands and smiled reassurance as we reached Johns side and took in the bleeping machines and wavy electronic lines monitoring his every breath. And there he was, terrified eyes wide open and it was no longer a matter of strength but of instinct. Instinct that said that it was enough to be there. To be holding Johns and Richards hand. To be whispering softly to him exactly as I would my little boy when life seemed to cruel to endure. To sit back and let the professionals do what had to be done, to trust in them and hold in my own terror so neither of these lovely men would see it.
For it was terrifying. Though a scan revealed that what John had suffered was a seizure and not a stroke, and that there was no further damage to his brain beyond what last years dense stroke had left behind, standing at his side watching this darling sixty five year old mans hands flutter as he mumbled help me, over and over again, was perhaps the most frightening thing I have ever lived through. And he isn’t even mine. He isn’t my Daddy. There but for the grace of God perhaps, but John isn’t mine. He belongs to Richard, and all of a sudden at the grand old age of thirty nine I feel grown up.
Because my Mum or Dad couldn’t be sat at my side. Telling me it would be ok, so I could pass this message on to the man I am going to marry. they couldn’t be there. It was up to me. Just me, to assess what was happening and provide the kind of knowing reassurance I barely felt inside. For this is what it is about isn’t it? Love and life and life and love. This is what it is about: gathering strength when it is your turn to provide it.
And though I hardly understand how it is that I need to be forty before I reached this stage in my life, I know now that I am capable, that I can do whatever needs to be done, for loves sake. That the instinct to care is human. That the instinct to Mother, goes beyond that which we are obliged to provide to our children and becomes a part of every woman as she grows into herself, and faces all the god damn ugly, downright unfair and occasionally bloody horrible challenges life sees fit to chuck at her.
And so the day passed. John was dosed up to the eyeballs with morphine to let him sleep the kind of sleep that would finally dull the terrible pain he seemed to be in, and we left him drowsing on a ward full of tiny, little withered men, apparently able to come home once the tongue he bit through heals and he is drinking independantly again.
We went home. We bought fish and chips and ate them quietly sitting on the sofa, and it was only when I opened a letter of little consequence, a letter that seemed to shake the ground underneath me regardless that I finally came undone, and sobbed for all I was worth.
For it seems, my Darlings, there is only so much holding it in you can do.