Sunday, November 09, 2014

Where is she now?

This morning on my way home from dropping my daughter off at her work, I travelled back through local streets.  In front of a block of housing commission flats at the end of Munroe Street I saw a temporary sign pitched on the nature strip like a billboard, ‘Humanist Society of Victoria’, with its bold blue logo. 

It gave me a jolt.  Such an unlikely place for such a sign. 

Somewhere inside one of the flats I imagined a small group of mostly older people sitting around with cups of tea or coffee in a cluttered lounge room discussing all matters humanist. 

And this, against the backdrop of a radio program to which I listened in the car, where a woman described her husband’s struggle with lung cancer.  This woman coped by sending out weekly emails to friends and family to keep them in the loop in all things ‘Russell’. 

The emails helped Russell’s wife to sort through her own thinking. 

I arrived home before the program ended and so I’m left with snatches of thought.  The woman’s emails, the few I heard were lyrical and well written.  She put in details that many other emails might lack. 

She described the hospital smells and the way her husband grunted at her when she reminded him to take his salt/sugar preparation in order to keep his electrolytes in balance between chemo episodes. 

After he had snapped at her one time to many, she asked, ‘Do you talk to the nurses this way?’
And he said, ‘No. I don’t love the nurses.’

 A poignant reminder of how the people we love can at times treat us like shit because they love us and know we love them in return. 

In one of her other emails, Russell’s wife tells the story of an elderly homeless woman who sits on street corners with a fluffy white dog in a trolley and asks for money.  If you tell this woman you have no money to give she rails against you, as if you are selfish and rotten. 

One day the woman of the white fluffy dog set upon the woman of the emails with such a tirade that the woman of the emails said to her,
‘My husband has cancer.’
And the woman of the fluffy dog responded,
‘I don’t even have a husband, you bitch.’

It puts me in mind of another story I’ve been following on Jennifer Wilson’s blog where she writes about a love affair gone wrong. 

I had noticed that Jennifer had posted less of late.  Her ex-husband had died and I figured maybe she was finding the grief too much.  But it turns out there was more to Jennifer’s absence, including the beginning of an affair that had sent her spiralling. 

It ended badly - as affairs so often do - when the wife of the man with whom Jennifer was having the affair, found out. 

The secret was no more and the man elected to drop Jennifer for his wife.

A common enough story.

Stories, stories everywhere and my head reels. 

I changed the screen image on my computer last night and for a minute considered putting up a picture of my mother some months before she died. 

There on my computer screen I saw my mother’s eyes and they glared at me.  It felt like a reprimand. 

How dare you, she seemed to say, how dare you go on living while I am no more? 

How dare you still have blood flowing through your veins, a heart beat that keeps the blood pumping and breath in you lungs, while I am dead?

I wanted to apologise to her for this, and for the way I might use my fantasy of my mother in my writing. 

While she was alive, I did not feel that my mother was a mother I could rail against, a mother I could treat badly, which is not to say there weren’t times when I did treat her badly.

My mother of the fragile and low disposition that required she believe in goodness in everyone and shunned all that she considered wrong.

I wish now my mother had approached her life with a greater awareness of its complexity, that we could have talked about all things humanist, like the people at the end of Monroe Street, rather than avoid conflict and discussion.  

My mother instead fell back on her religion and her belief in God and the wall came up and she shut me out, and shut out her doubts. 

And where is she now?
Looking down on me from heaven, and saying I told you so?  I’m up here with him and having a ball. 

Or is she no more in all but her spirit and my memory of her, this woman who feared to go into the unknown and into doubt.


PhilipH said...

Another superb post.

The quotes from the emails were so sharp and real, and thought provoking.

I think that including all our 'senses' in a story, email or other piece of writing enhances it.

Taste and smell especially. Our memory of days gone by where we caught the uplifting scent of grass, newly mown, as we walked with a loved one on a summer's day. Or the taste of a normally bland dish when we were ravenously hungry became 'cordon bleu' as we ate it.

Jim Murdoch said...

My daughter had a Humanist wedding. On 11.11.11. I bet a lot of people got married then. The marriage lasted until July-ish 2014. When she e-mailed me to say she was going through some stuff and needed space my first thought was that he’d left her. Although logic allowed for the possibility that she might’ve left him I was still a little surprised when she told me that she’d met someone else and not only a someone else but a married someone else who’d abandoned his wife and son to be with her. It had, she told me, only meant to be a fling, a bit of fun that developed a life of its own and didn’t want to die.

My daughter’s husband was in the throes of exams so it was agreed with her and her new beau that they’d both wait until his exams were over before dropping the bombshell only that’s not how it happened. In this day and age—can you imagine!—someone saw fit to send an anonymous e-mail to her husband and so all hell broke loose about a week before she’d planned to break things to him in her own way, as gently as one can break anything. That was sad and he failed his exams but who’s to say he wouldn’t’ve failed anyway? So she moved in with her sister for a few weeks and now she’s living with her new bloke in Cumbernauld of all places. Unlimited Magazine handed Cumbernauld town centre the 2001 “Plook on the Plinth” award, for the “most dismal place in Scotland”, the judges describing the building as “a rabbit warren on stilts”. (A plook is a pimple by the way.) It won again in 2005 and was nominated again this year.

I have to say I don’t really understand an affair as a bit of fun. I’ve always treated them with the utmost seriousness. That said I’ve only had two and you can hardly count the first as she was separated from her husband. But technically Carrie and I did have an affair albeit one conducted thousands of miles apart. I’ve never been able to think of sex as fun. I mean, yes, sex can be fun when you do it right and funny when you do it wrong but I’ve always been a relationship kind of person. I’ve always got more pleasure out of that than sex. The idea of chasing another woman simply to have sex with her doesn’t make any sense to me. The sex is a bonus. The relationship is the thing. And so in that respect I suppose it’s fair to say I’ve had several affairs in my life, emotional affairs. And I suppose it would’ve been nice if a sexual component had developed but probably best that never happened.

Your mother reminds me a bit of Angela Pleasance, Donald Pleasance’s daughter. At least that photo does. You’ve posted others but this is the first where I’ve made that connection. My mother was a simple person too. She wasn’t clever academically—she used to say her sister was the dux (I see Australia uses that expression too) whereas she was the dunce—but she wasn’t stupid. She simply chose not to overcomplicate things. She saw things for what they were. And mostly they disappointed her. I disappointed her. She never stopped loving me but I let her down. When Carrie moved in with me my mum refused to meet her. Once we were married she acquiesced because she was also a practical woman.

Like your mum she’s dead now. She, however, had no fear of the unknown. She had no doubts. She believed what she believed. Without making too much of it when she died a smile appeared to pass over her face. I’ve always taken it to be a smile. It was probably just her face relaxing but I never felt bad for her when she died. If what she believed was true then she will’ve woken up in a much kinder, better and simpler world. And she’ll be happy there. I don’t have that to look forward to. Which is fine. I’m fine with it.

Anthony Duce said...

Wonderful post.. Wonderful writing. It does seem so much easier just to believe and let other’s rules be the guide, but what a boring approach. Partying with the Humanist Society on such issues would be so much more fun..

Kirk said...

Count me with the humanists.

Rob-bear said...

Interesting collection of well-connected thoughts.

Your mom is . . . well, . . . wherever.

Blessings and Bear hugs on a cold day in Canada.