Sunday, 1 February 2015

A certain house

'It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time.'
- W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz


Over six years later, I went back to the hospital where Georgina lived - if she ever really did - and died. I always meant to go back. I've frequently gone to meetings for work in a building just around the corner. The drive down toward the hospital always tempts me. In case she might still be there. Just checking, I would tell myself.

But I never could quite bring myself to do it until last week.

I walked down past the butchers where I used to go in and buy a pork pie for my dad. The butcher was cheery and always asked how much my baby weighed now. My dad and I would sit in his parked car, looking out at the dismal sea and eat our lunch whilst the NICU was closed for ward rounds. Not really knowing what to say to one another but unable to stomach any more of the hospital canteen after the first six weeks.

Past the petrol station where my husband and I went to a buy a newspaper the morning after she died. I remember feeling as though the ground were unstable, my hands shaky, freezing cold in the late summer weather.

Last week I went in and bought a phone charger, joked with the chap behind the counter, smiled at the workman coming in and attempting to hold the door open for me. I insisted that he come inside first, it was freezing out there. The last time I was here, I thought I might never be able to speak to strangers again. That I would open my mouth and all that would ever emerge would be some half strangled screech of woe. Yet here I am, smiling and bantering with brushed hair, make up and some attempt at workwear. I don't know whether I feel disheartened or pleased about that really.

I walked on clutching my plastic bag of phone charger and sandwich. Past the cemetery that I thought was a bad omen, looming ominously next to the hospital. I turned the familiar corner and was met by utter confusion. Half the site was in the process of being demolished. Other buildings, those of the more photogenic historical sort, being repurposed into flats.

I walked towards what I felt should be the front door of the hospital but it is no longer the front door. Deliveries only. I whirled about confused. I finally found the current entrance and reception. On the opposite side of the building.

The NICU is long gone, that was relocated very shortly after Jessica was discharged. I had hoped to find the chapel - with its cold echo and stained glass. But even that was gone, replaced by a multi faith room with cosy carpet. Which is good progress my liberal, inclusive brain believes. But my heart wanted that old uncompromising chapel with its prayer book. I wanted to see if my writing was still there, from 2008. I would have liked to have seen what I had asked for, all those years ago.

I wandered out again. Trying to locate anywhere that might be anything to do with her and her sister and that time of my life. I tried to think where I had wept, talked with my husband about what to do, screamed scaring some passing child. For a moment I considered running onto the building site and trying to snatch up a brick before the builders told me to piss off. Because maybe it might have been a brick that had something to do with Georgina.

But, in truth, I could no longer identify where any of those places were. I remember, shortly after she had died, looking at the hospital from the pavement and thinking that, maybe, I knew which windows they were, the windows to the rooms in which she lived and died. All these years later I turned and turned but finally had to admit to myself that I had no idea at all.

So I walked back to my car and I drove off.


'Everyone has their own shit,' she sighs.
'Yes, yes I know,' I reply.

It's just that sometimes all I can see is everyone else's shit.
Well - that's not strictly true.
It's more like everyone else's imaginary shit.
I end up paralysed with it. All those people, who pass so close to me physically and I have no idea what is really going on. Realistically, I couldn't bear it even if I could know. Even my guesses leave me feeling frantic and gulping for air.

And calling all that stuff your 'shit' is really such an awful misnomer.
All that death, illness, problems. Anything slightly less than shiny and we label it 'shit' and stick it away. Something to be embarrassed about.

Mine is still my compulsive need to make light of pregnancy, childbirth and twins. Thus the reason that I am even having this awkward 'shit' conversation in the first place. Because I am aware that my attempts at joking my way through something incredibly painful to me is ending up by trampling all over somebody's else's 'shit.'

Oh hell, what hope is there for any of us realistically? I cringe at everyone I hurt before and I cringe at everyone I hurt since. Once I should have known better.

But what troubles me the most is the part of me I like the best. Isn't that sometimes the way? You don't really get down to the nitty gritty until you are clearing up the shit? And, speaking as someone who, for the first time, is down to one child in nappies - I know that of which I speak. Maybe all my walking on egg shells, trying not to upset anyone, is where I am going wrong?


Sometimes nothing good or wise emerges. I look back at my writing and so much of it seems . . hysterical. But I am rather envious of the person that could feel so much and try to write it down. Rather than the plodding person I am now, of incremental tryings and reachings.
Sighing and giving it all up for lost.
I feel as though I have been relegated back to my proper size now. No more messing in the big leagues of death and life. Now it all hangs on whether we get to school on time, whether anyone will ever deign to eat a vegetable, whether anyone will ever stop screaming for a whole consecutive hour.
So often I feel defeated. Ill at ease.

But you can't be defeated. With three small children. One small child. No children at all.
Your little reachings and ploddings are necessary to them. To you. To everyone that knows you and cares about you. You might wish to be more enthusiastic and fun. You might wish to have a coherent thought. You might wish for a whole bunch of things.
But you cannot just sit and wail.
You cannot just sit and wish.
That is their job. The children's job. Be they here or not.
Your job is to get up and plod.

Perhaps this is the job of all adults and I was just somewhat late to the party.

You had your day in the sun, your day of wailing and wishing.
My mother tells me the story of her sketch book, ground to a halt in 1979. The year I was born. Her final effort a victim to my baby-ish scribbles.


We moved away.
From the house where I expected her.
From where I rubbed my belly, full of two babies at once.
From the house where I cramped and cried the night before her and her sister were born.
From the house where I cramped and cried when her little sister was born.
Delivered into my own hands.
A circle completed.
As far as it could be.


I miss her.

My old house felt haunted. Full of visions of two daughters, twins, two curly haired heads bent together in conspiracy. So brief. But very persistent.

My new house feels a little haunted too. Her absence has shaped everything that follows. Her brother? Certainly her little sister. She probably would not exist had her eldest sister not died. I might have dreamt of four children but even three is not totally economically sustainable.

Yet this is the house I was due to arrive at, at this given time.

A house without her.
The house that once contained her, gone. Filled by another family now.
The hospital, changed.

All too late.

It's been too late for a long time.