Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Must You Go?

Never one for the grande passion, she preferred the emotional shallows.

Not for her the coup de foudre.
The ardent blaze.

Not for her the histrionics,
The torrid underbelly of yearning.

No hysteria.
Except for when her daughter died.

Whatever drives the tempest?
It was that.
That she lacked.

Her emotions were neat and small with carefully folded corners.
Bland. Cautious.
With caveats dangling from them.
Just in case.

She admired women with pixie cuts and flashing eyes.
Fearless with quick wits.
But she herself had long straight hair that hung, spinelessly.
Much like the head that it was attached to.

But she was fond.
There was something that she could do.
Be fond.

So fond that she ached.

"Must you go?" she asked.
"Must you?"

And all her mild love hung suspended in the air.
Pale milky globules. Useless.

"I enjoyed your company. Must you go?"

It was a rhetorical question.

The gate is strait and the way is narrow.
No matter where it leads.

It can only accommodate single file.


All fondly grasping hands must release here.


Not two. Not even one and a fraction.

Whatever fraction of a person Georgina may be.
Or perhaps she is one. A whole one. Unity. 

"Must you go?"

"Yes, I must."

Written, almost in direct opposition to, Antonia Fraser's book of the same name about her relationship with Harold Pinter. Their flames. My own ashes. A beginning and an ending.

I haven't read it. I just liked the title. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


I resigned from my job last week. The job that I have worked in for the past nine years. That I started when I left university. When I got engaged, when I got married, when I fell pregnant with the twins, when the twins were born, when the twins were alive, when Georgina died, when Jessica lived, when I fell pregnant with Reuben. The job with the toilets. I've always had my job. No matter what else. Like a strange numerical spine. Composed of crunching the life events of others into vertebrae.

And now it's gone. I have another. But I'm sad to leave.

Whilst doing a bit of a file tidy up, I found a picture, taken at work in 2007. That distant land. I've cropped it so I don't end up publishing photographs of my innocent colleagues on the internet.

But this photograph. Gave me pause.This photograph is of . . . . me? Me holding a helium balloon with confetti on my desk? Really? Strange. It was only taken five years ago.

I've been trying to write a summary of who am I now. A bit of variation on the 'right where I am' post. But it's hard to summarise the differences between the person in the photograph and the person I am now. So much has changed. It is a little like trying to disentangle what they call in my line of work 'inherent variation' - the level of 'statistical noise' within a system - and that which is 'unwarranted' - which indicates that something untoward is going on. Otherwise known as special cause variation. I try to imagine me aged five years onward, without Georgina dying. With no unwarranted variation, no special cause. Just older, a 32 year old me with no dead child, still no knowing what the acronym NICU stands for. And I have no idea what that person would be like.

I am different. I am older. I would have looked older if Georgina hadn't died. If, in some strange alternative world, I'd just had two normal, healthy pregnancies resulting in two children.

I am 32, not 27. I'm around 10lbs heavier. I have crows feet around my eyes and bags underneath them. Nobody is going to buy me a drink in a bar. Maybe through charity. I'm a mother of three, two daughters, one son. I am hunched from carrying a splintery, grey bundles of grievances around with me. I have a golden, spiky happiness that digs claws into my heart. I have a pain in one knee that wasn't there before. I don't know what I'm doing. 
At 27 I felt like a fool. 
At 32, I know I am a fool. 
From largely unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. And it's only taken me five year to make the progress.

I am bewildered. More bewildered now than I ever was five years ago. Looking back, looking forward. Even simply just looking around this present day. Dumb, staring, slack jawed bewilderment. My epitaph - 'Here lies Catherine W, she was bewildered.' Or possibly that should read, 'she was Bewildered.'

I look at this woman and I think, "who the hell are you?" Five year is a long time. I would quite like to go back and say, "Hey. You. Bubblehead. Look out." Or, "Winter is coming." Or simply, "duck."

As if ducking could have helped.

And I have a horrible feeling that 'Catherine W aged 38' will think the exact same thing about the me of today as I write this. So, for the record, from me at 38 to me at 32, "Hey. You. Bubblehead. Look out." Because I don't know what is coming yet. But it's in the post, something good, something bad, all wrapped up in mystery packaging and with no tracking number. And I will probably, inevitably, be underprepared.

At 27, I thought that the person I would become was a matter of my choosing. I think I fancied myself a  existentialist. Probably a fairly facile one as I'm certain my understanding is limited. At 32, I feel as though I am hardly a person at all. Just a rock, the left overs of environmental processes, wind and rain batter away at me and I'm just the scraps.

I think about Georgina all the time. I don't remember what I thought about before I thought about her. Sometimes I feel certain that my brain was full of philosophy and literature. At others, I feel certain that my brain was full of diet plans and mascara. It was probably somewhere in the middle. It was most likely a strange mishmash of both.

And I think about all different Georginas. As though she has been put through a fractional distillation column. My many Georginas, my many babies, my many first borns. Ghost upon ghost. Heated up and evaporated. Rising up to meet me.

I think about the little baby that she was, the blue eyes that she had, the hand that squeezed my finger, the body that I held. The body that was burnt to the ashes that I had keep in my wardrobe.

I think about the daughter that she could have been, the toddler, the teenager, the young woman. Sometimes indistinct, wishful thinking, wistful thinking. Sometimes I think I see something sharp. Viewed through a very small lens. Like a pin hole, refracting back very bright sunlight. The person that the first fraction would have become, the fraction I grasped briefly, had that initial distillation not been set aside.

And Georgina, the mystery. The mystery. Of why? Why?
Why was her life so short?
Why her?
Why me?
Who was she?
Who was that?

And these lines come to me.

and he walked straight in. It was where he had come from
and something told him the way to behave
He raised his hand and blessed his home
and the truisms flew and perched on his shoulders
And a tall tree sprouted from his father's grave.*

Because I do return to where I have come from. From ignorance to ignorance.  My own closed eye pressed up against my own closed eye in a mirror. It's a recurring image in my thoughts. Ignorance meeting ignorance. Or perhaps my eyes are screwed up against the world I now no longer want to see?

Because what I thought as a child . . well, I still think now. How do they stand up, all those grown ups? How can they carry all those bags and heavy coats? How do they stand up with all those grievances on their backs, digging splinters into their backs, knowing that death is coming? Why do they not all run mad?

But I didn't see the golden spiky creatures, clawing at around about heart level.
And I didn't realise that those trite phrases, the truisms that once so annoyed me, that seemed to duck the issues. They are all that is propping us up. Some of us, tall as trees to my child eyes, are held up by the explanations my parents once extended to me.

It is what it is. Life isn't fair. Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.

Circularity. The tree sprouts.

And sometimes that is a comfort. And sometimes it is bitter. That this is . . . all there is?

It is what it is.

* These words are taken from The Truisms by Louise MacNeice. I promise I do read other poets. Very occasionally.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


Dear facebook,

Why have you suddenly taken it upon yourself to mark my daughter, Georgina, as [pending]?
Pending what precisely?
The day of resurrection?

Love Catherine W

I nearly typed this into my facebook profile status and then remembered that if I were to do so, people I work with can see it, mums whose children go the same playgroup as Jessica can see it, my extended family can see it. So I didn't type it.

I didn't think they would find it funny.

Her information has been listed on my profile quite happily for over two years as, Georgina 26/08/08-29/08/08. Just to avoid any future acquaintances innocently querying why they never seem to see my third child.

I wanted to list her but I also wanted to make it obvious that she had died.
But now she is stuck in limbo, pending.

So what do I do now?

It seems to be my refusal to add her date of birth that is causing facebook to doubt whether she has ever existed at all. Or if I am still, perhaps, pregnant with her. Pending seems more suggestive of the latter.
I didn't want to add her date of birth because that would give her a listed age appearing under her name.
So I could leave her on my profile with her age creeping steadily upwards?
Which, obviously, in real life it will never do because she doesn't age. Being dead and all.

Leave her on my profile with a [pending] status underneath her name?
Because that really messes with my mind a little. Pending.
Strange how my heart still gives a small thump of hope.
Because facebook seems to think she might be coming back? Really? That can inspire hope?
I really am desperate aren't I?
What has happened to me. Sigh. Exasperated sigh.

Or I've got the option to 'remove her from my family?'
Now there's a jolly option. Bet everyone has had some fun times pressing that one.
And I just can't quite manage to click that button.
Because she has already been removed from my family and one of the few tenuous threads still connecting us is on  . . . facebook? Sigh. Exasperated sigh. Again.

How did it ever come to this? That her being listed on my facebook profile is so important to me. I just don't know. Perhaps my brain is a little bit broken.

Anyway, mr. facebook, my dear old bean,

I do appreciate that you probably aren't dealing with people wanting to list dead children every day of the week. But, during my hunt for a way to get rid of the pending text underneath my own dead child I discover that you do acknowledge that you are dealing with dead people, apparently you 'memorialise' their profiles. And that, frankly, is making me rather nervous. What will you do to mine if I get run over by a bus tomorrow? I have a strange vision of you adding an electronic halo to my profile picture? Or horns and flickering flames perhaps? When you will you finally delete it? Will you eventually have a massive facebook mausoleum of dead profiles? The electronic equivalents of those black and white family photographs that end up at car boot sales.

Anyway, Georgina is still my child and I want to have on the list next to her brother and her sister. So I suppose she'll just be 'pending' until you change the system or until you memorialise my profile.

Thanks for messing with my mind just a little bit this morning.