‘Loving Ellie’ #18

Grief

Grief comes in the night with the most sinister of intentions
His arsenal does not include swords, guns, or artillery
He is equipped only with one item – a gigantic apple corer
He descends upon you suddenly
Expressionless. Vacant. Sadistic
With one unfeeling sweep he thrusts the corer through your centre
This is not a mortal wound. The human body can survive it. But it is never the same. Though the edges of the wound may heal over with time, the victim is forced to live with the remaining hole
It is a black void of loss that is eternal
Grief is a merciless soul catcher
He never goes away. He is always there
He may shift and transform himself. But he remains. He is a permanent fixture … a slick of oil on your shoe
Grief creeps into your being like grey tar, snuffing out any flicker of light
He is combative, yet he does not engage you directly after he has taken your core. He prefers to encourage the most primal, disgusting, and unwelcome parts of yourself to arise and consume you
His method is torture, though he does not inflict it directly
He forces you to do it to yourself … with regret, doubt, loss and vulnerability
Grief shows you everything you once had in a brilliant room of sparkles and magic
He shows you happy times
He shows you all this through a doorway
But when you try to go in you realise there is glass in the way – glass that you cannot penetrate
You are not allowed to enter
You forlornly go to walk away from that glimmer of your former life, but Grief will not allow this either
Instead he smashes your face against the glass and holds it there
He forces you to forever gaze upon what you can never have again
Last night I dreamt a cruel dream that I had it all. I had my beautiful August. I had my adoring Ross. We were all happy and healthy. I had this precious house – the monumental remains of my ancestors. And I had my mother. I had it all, and it was so perfect. I could taste the perfection of life. This is something that you do not want to wake up from. It is a sinister trick, born out of Grief’s sadistic need to keep himself amused.

I still have vicious nightmares, but they take a different form now. The other night I dreamt that mum and I were at the IGA in Padbury, doing our regular shop. I suddenly realised, with a sinking grotesque feeling, that I had left August at home by himself.
I grabbed mum’s arm and said, ‘Oh my god! I left August at home, quick we have to go now!’
Mum stared at me vacantly, and continued to peruse the shelves. I grabbed her arm more forcefully, and tried to turn her to face me. I repeated what I had said, trying to get her to understand the gravity of the situation. ‘We have to go now!’ I screeched, desperate to get home.
With an irritated nonchalance, she let me drag her away from the shelves, and we went to the cash register. I protested that there was no time to actually buy any stuff, but she wouldn’t listen. I stood at the end of the cash register, drumming my fingers as the annoyance and fear grew in me. Finally she gathered her bags and followed me out to the car. I kept turning around, telling her to hurry, but she was in no rush as she ambled to the car.
Then I was driving down a country road, in the middle of nowhere. I was becoming frantic as I drove faster. It was such a long way to get to my house, and mum was continuing to annoy me by being completely unperturbed. After a while, as I sped through the endless fields, she started to register that I was worried, and said, ‘I’m sure he’ll be fine darling’.
I ignored her and drove on, until we got to a giant rocky mountainous landscape. I knew we had to go on foot from here, as my house was right at the very top of the mountain. I slammed on the breaks and dove out of the car. I had already begun running up to the dirt track that led up the mountain, when I realised she wasn’t beside me. I turned and said, ‘Hurry up!’ She extracted herself from the car and started to jog after me.
I started to force my way up the track, pushing branches and brambles out of my way. I kept looking behind, and screeching at mum to hurry up. The terrain was steadily getting steeper and denser, and subsequently more difficult to negotiate. But I was absolutely desperate to get up to my son. I came to a sheer piece of cliff. It was only a small climb, so I wasn’t too worried. I looked back, as I put my foot on the cliff, and saw that mum had stopped dead. I took my foot off the rock and turned to face her. ‘What’s wrong? Come on, we have to hurry!’
She just looked at the cliff, and then into my eyes, and said, ‘I can’t go any further’.
I paused for a moment, panting, and considered arguing. It was a moment of indecision. I quickly realised that she was serious and I had to go on alone. Our eyes met, and we silently acknowledged that I must journey on alone. I didn’t want to leave her, but I had to get up to my son as soon as possible. Taking one last hesitant look at her, I turned and scampered up the cliff. I began to run, full pelt, until I suddenly realised that I didn’t have the keys. I skidded to a stop, then ran back to the edge of the cliff, ‘Mum, the keys!!!’ I screamed.
She got them out of her pocket, and threw them up to me. I caught them in my hand, turned and ran, as fast as humanely possible, up the rest of the arduous path. Finally my house came into focus – it wasn’t actually my real house, but it was my house in the dream. It was shrouded in dense forest, and glass doors wrapped all around the front. As I drew closer, I saw that August was playing happily with his toys on the floor. I breathed the deepest sigh of relief in my entire life, one that will never be matched …
Remarkable how vivid that dream is in my mind, even now. She threw me the keys that unlocked my future … she threw me up the keys … even though she knew she herself could not go on …

I have developed a deep sense of guilt. When I am happily decorating the house, there is always that nagging thought … that maybe I made all this happen. I have always had a deep connection to this house. It has always been the place I call home. It was a great dream of mine to own it one day, somewhere far down the track. I talked with mum about it several times. Both of us were particularly attached to the house. We thought that she and my Uncle John would buy out Uncle Chris, and that the two of them would build a duplex on it. But obviously that was not to be.
And now I am plagued by one particular conversation. When my gramps died, I remember lying in his bedroom, with my mum perched on the side of the bed. She had her hand on my leg, as she was accustomed to doing, and we were talking about what was going to happen to the house. I said how much I wanted the house – how I couldn’t bear for it to be bulldozed. I told her all the special things that I’d do to the place if we bought it. I even said, as I looked around the room, that I would leave one wall of wallpaper in the bedroom, and paint the other walls green. We were both so scared to lose the house, and I could see the worry on mum’s face. We just didn’t know what was going to happen with the house. Three weeks after that conversation she died.
And now, six months later, the house is mine. I have what I wished for. I have exactly what I voiced that night. But it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. This is not what I meant. Do you hear me mum? This is not what I meant! The question is so present – the one I can never ask her … did you die so that I could have the house? It is an unbearable thought. I hate it. It makes me feel insanely guilty. When it seizes me, I have to try to stop myself, and think that she would have wanted it this way. I am doing the best that I can with what I have left.
This guilt floods through my mind, but I never voice it. In fact, I find it quite impossible to speak to her at all. I have conversations with her in my head, but I never talk to her aloud. I can’t. It is too painful. And I am still so angry at her, so much so that I cannot bring myself to talk to her aloud. I refuse to talk to her spirit. It is not enough. So I remain silent, with these torturous thoughts drowning me.
It stays this way, until one day, when the question is at its most pressing, and the guilt is at its worse. I find myself standing in front of her ashes. I have put them on the mantle in the lounge. They have pride of place – she would have accepted nothing less of course. Most of the time when I’m in this room, I try not to look at them. But today is different. I deliberately go and stand before them, staring at them. Without really thinking, I say to her aloud, ‘I know I said I wanted the house, but this is not the way I meant for it to happen. I’m happy here, but make no mistake mum – I would personally bulldoze this house to the ground, if it meant I could have just one more minute with you, to say goodbye’.
I mean it, with everything I have in me – my god I mean it. She will never be able to reassure me that she has heard me, or that she understands that this is not what I intended. But I feel better that I have voiced it. She must know.
My favourite time in my day is when I’m lying in bed at night. I can hear the ocean in this place. I am in my sanctuary. Ross is snoring peacefully next to me – not too loudly. August is making his contented sleeping sounds. Julius, my cat, is tucked up in a ball at my feet, lying on Ellie’s green cardigan, purring serenely. This is a truly contented time.
Then I remember her, and the fact that she’s not coming back … Ellie – the selfish bitch. The loss of her rudely invades even the most blissful of moments.
I have organised for my cousin Trudy to come over from Byron Bay. After talking to her about it, I booked her a flight so she will be here for mum’s birthday, on the 20th of July. It will give me something to look forward to. I need something to anticipate. My birthday was bad enough. Well – I can’t really call it bad. My first birthday with my son was amazing, and I felt so blessed to be able to share it with him, and with Ross. But then I remembered all the little pressies mum would have gotten me, and how eagerly she would have beamed as she watched me open them all. She always spoilt me with lots of little things. And I did the same for her. It was our tradition. Now that tradition is gone. I will repeat it of course, with my own children. But I will miss it with my own mum, every single year.
I know her birthday will be much harder than mine was. I need someone else here on that day – someone who understands, and will grieve with me. I need my Trudy – my pseudo sister.
I’m so excited now that I have booked her flight. Trudy’s coming here, and she’s staying for four days. I’m driving to Perth in the middle of the night to get her. I can’t wait to see her, and for her to meet my son – her pseudo-nephew. It is a little ray of sunshine to wait for. She was so close to mum, and I know she has been grieving painfully too, just on the other side of the continent. We became kindred spirits when she came to live with us when I was a teenager. She had a huge van, and she used to take me to school and pick me up. She was a total hippy then. She taught me about chakras, and meditation, and got me in touch with my spirituality. We used to put glitter on our eyelids, and have screaming sessions in the car, and were even known to dance naked to tribal music on occasion. She was, and remains, completely mad – which is why we have always gotten along so well I suppose. I cannot wait to see her. I cannot wait to show her what I have done with the house that our grandparents loved for seventy years. I cannot wait to show her my child – that I have somehow managed to bring into this world despite the overwhelming pain of losing my mum. Trudy is coming soon, and my heart needs her presence so very badly.
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