Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Thank you / Long legged beasties

Just wanted to say thank you so much to Angie and to everyone participating in the Spoken Word Blog Round Up. I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed listening to every single post. I am so very grateful to Angie for having this brain wave, setting it up and being brave enough to post herself, and to everyone else who has contributed. My husband thinks I have gone completely mad as I don my ear phones and laugh, cry and utter little squeals of recognition at my computer screen. Alone. Yet very far from alone.

I know I found it quite scary to record myself speaking, it is strange how anxious you can feel sitting alone in your own bedroom talking to a totally non judgemental piece of electrical equipment. I wish I'd been brave enough to give it another go and at least tried to look more presentable or to speak more clearly but thank you so much for accepting my spoken word post, warts and all.


I've been thinking about Jess's post at Glow, turning it over in my mind. Ghouls and gruesomeness. How I sometimes feel that I am going out of my way to avoid them? That I am a liar. There are things that, even after all this time and all these words, I find difficult to give voice to.

In an act of divine retribution for my contribution to the realm of the spoken word I have, today, lost my voice. Sunday, when I decided to record my post, seems to have been a merciful respite between the appearance and lingering disappearance of a massive pimple right between my eyebrows and the reduction of my voice to a low croak. If I believed in favourable omens still . . . .

The sore throat, combined with the sudden cold and dark weather and the approach of Halloween, murmurs of the arrival of winter. Jessica exclaims at her own reflection in the window, "DARK! Look DARK!" I open the door to retrieve something from the car and hear soft, socked footfalls creeping up behind me. I rush her back in and cram her feet into bright, floral patterned wellington boots. They clash with conditions outside, incongruous against the damp, autumn mulch.

We are going hunting in the dark. We discuss what we might find. Or I say their names and she repeats them. 'Discussion' is over egging the pudding a wee bit. Hedgehogs perhaps? Bats? Owls? Foxes? But I know that all of my suggestions are a little over ambitious. More of an attempt at educating her with a brief 'Who's Who' of nocturnal animals than a list of what we might actually see here in suburban England.

I know where I am taking her. To the great evening snail crossing. She puts out her hand to hold one. "Eyesssss," she breathes out heavily as the delicate stems unfold and poke up at her accusingly.

We put the reproachful snail back down into the damp grass and tread carefully around his companions, all crossing in the same direction, on some mysterious snail business of their own no doubt.

We head into the large, unlit pavilion that stands outside the front of our house. It is dark in here. Very dark. There are no streetlights. Jessica's pale hair flashes past as she runs around the outside. "Look Mum-mee, woooooooo!" I laugh, a strange, rasping croak. An old crone's laugh. A witchy laugh. We run around, my little wailing ghost and I. It feels a mite creepy. But what am I to do? Is Jessica never allowed to pretend to be a ghost or a skeleton? I suspect she's doomed to a lifetime of spider, pumpkin and cat costumes given my reaction to even the mere sight of a skeleton costume in size 2-3. Thanks to my over-thinking and ability to find pathos and symbolism in every fricking thing. Sorry Jess. You aren't allowed to play at dead things. Though I know you will, most children do.

Her attempt at ghostliness. It's unsettling and oddly comforting both together. Perhaps we are being haunted. By an absence. Or I say we. I, really. Her haunting may be only just beginning. I hope not. My mum told her today that she loved her, that she loved Reuben, and Jessica piped up with "Georgie." Scared that this strange, elusive presence known as Baby Georgie might be missing out, might be left out. I was proud but sad. That she trusts me to the extent that she accepts the existence of this other baby, this sister baby, that she has never clapped eyes upon. Just part of a story that mummy tells her about tummies and plastic boxes and death that seems as unlikely as the other stories mummy tells about pigs and wolves and fairy princesses.

I wouldn't mind being haunted by a presence, by a connection. But not by this small void, the size of a three year old girl. This sort of haunting isn't fun or spine tingling. But yes, like something squirming in my heart.


It's strange. As I said in my spoken word post, it honestly never occurred to me that other people would feel awkward when I talked about Georgina. It took me about a year to tumble to the fact that even a cursory mention made some people feel very awkward indeed, not knowing where to put themselves or what to say next. But I was caught up in such a rush of love that I didn't see that. I honesty didn't. I thought everyone would let me carry on talking about her, forever.

Now I wonder if people find me creepy. Am I a thing that goes bump in the night? A three legged beastie? With the necklace with my dead daughter's name on it around my neck and her listing on my facebook profile page and my burning candles and my box of ashes. And this blog if they've found it. "Hai, enjoy the car wreck folks," if you have. Here I am in all my (possible) creepiness, step right up and come on down.

I try to imagine myself back into my pre August 2008 mind. But that door is firmly locked, no matter how hard I kick at it. I would like to be let back in, just for half an hour or so, to assess my own level of creepiness. Not those exhibited here but as seen through the eyes of my ex-school friends on the horribly compelling facebook, through the eyes of my old friends, through the eyes of my sister or my mother. Do they find it gruesome? This is a thought that has only recently started to trickle down the back of my neck, like ice water. Perhaps this is something like the awkwardness effect, one that, through my own lack of imagination or awareness, I am slow to see. I suppose I could ask but I don't really want to hear the answer. I hope, hope, hope that there is understanding, sympathy. I'd settle for indifference.

I suppose I don't much care if other people think I'm gruesome or creepy or strange. Do your worst acquaintances. If you think you can make a dent in me after late 2008 go ahead. But I don't want them thinking that Georgina is creepy. She wasn't creepy. What happened TO her was creepy and gruesome and painful. Some elements of it certainly were, there is no denying that. Not even for me who viewed them through a haze of love and shock.

But she wasn't creepy. She was a lovely little baby. At least that is how she looked to me. And I'm sorry that she died. I'm still really very sorry indeed. More than I can say.

As I watched Jessica poking in the puddles with sticks and talking to snails, I think how very acceptable my love for her is. I can post endless pictures on facebook and coo and tell stories and I am probably never going to get told to shut up or that I am sick or creepy. The harshest response I'm going to get will be 'breeder' from some quarters.

I don't know how people would react if I posted anything truly about Georgina. Not just a memorial. I mean really Georgina, a photograph of her or something about what happened to her. Medical details, her birthweight, even her blood group. My store of facts is small but true. Probably truer than my posting about my living children, whose mouths I am frequently to be caught stuffing words into. Assigning personalities and quirks and publishing them on the internet. Yay me!

Those who find my breeding tendencies laughable or who sit in silence. What do they think when I mention Georgina? I find I've started to fill in the silences with all sorts of poisonous words. And I don't like it.

Because it is just the same.
That is what I want to tell them.
The love is just the same.
Jessica, Georgina, Reuben.
The root is just the same.
The stem is just the same.

"From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, good Lord deliver us" 
Old Cornish (or possibly Scottish, the wisdom of the internetz is conflicted about this) prayer

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Spoken Word Blog Round Up

Joining with Angie at Still Life with Circles in the Spoken Word Blog Round Up

I tried to find a quiet time in which to record this but just to warn you that you can hear a child (Reuben to be precise) crying faintly in the background on the audio. I haven't abandoned him to his fate, his father is trying to rock him to sleep as it's getting late here and it's past his bed time. I'm afraid I'm simply not brave enough to try recording this again! Once made me nervous enough.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

New Skin for the Old

Out walking with my mother, Jessica and Reuben, we run across two ladies walking their dogs. These are two of my mother's 'ladies' from church, members of that stalwart group that actually does most of the good rather than just talking about it. They are pleased to see us and, although I have never met them before, greet me like a long lost friend.

They crane their necks forward to see Reuben sleeping in his buggy and wave at Jessica, head bobbing away into the middle distance of the field. She is more interested in mushrooms, stick men and making nests in the grass than she is in ladies. Although the dogs catch her eye and lure her back toward us.

And the inevitable occurs . . .
"Is that  . . . her?"
"We prayed for her you know. Everyday."
"That's the power of prayer."
"She looks normal doesn't she? She's quite big."
"And he . . . he was . . normal? That must have been a relief."
"Everything happens for a reason."

Over the course of a conversation lasting less than five minutes, they have managed to squeeze in nearly every comment about the situation that I find unbearable. Death by the stabs of a hundred needles again. Even after all this time, I'm not quite guarded thoroughly enough against these jabs. They're so kindly, goddamnit. Look at those leaning, beseeching necks, asking to be thanked for their prayers. How can I spit out that I don't think their prayers made a blind bit of difference? How can I snap at their simple pleasure in her normality, in his normality? That something went wrong but then it went right. Because they requested that it be so.

So I thank them. Meekly. She is normal. He is normal. Not dead. Yes, yes, it was a relief.

Who knows. Perhaps their prayers did save her. I've certainly been wrong before. It is more than probable that I could be wrong again. Perhaps there simply weren't enough prayers to save Georgina too. Perhaps she wasn't meant to be. Perhaps there is a reason. In the face of all that kindliness and good intent, it is hard to believe otherwise.

* * *

I take Reuben to a baby group once a week. This group is specifically for babies under the age of six months. It is an interesting experience for someone whom, in the world of word association games, the word 'baby' is swiftly followed by the word 'dead.' And I'm still freaked out by baby dolls, let alone the real deal. I do enjoy going to this group, I hope he does too. But I always feel a little out of kilter, at one cool remove from the rest of the pack.

I didn't do anything similar with Jessica at the same age. She was in hospital and then I was supposed to be keeping her at home, away from germs. My first attempt to socialise with other mothers and their babies was when Jessica was about nine months old and resulted in my lugging her, her oxygen tank and associated tubing into the toilet and sitting there sobbing. Then going home. I did return and gradually spent less and less time in tears in the ladies room but it was never easy. Now it is easier but no less . . . puzzling.

Sitting there, amongst all of these babies, my head spins with the question, why does it only work sometimes? Why not for Georgina? Why not for me? Why not (as you're reading here I guess that I can assume) for you? I look at the circle of women and see those solid heads, the gentle curves of the limbs and tummies, those bright eyes, the weight of the organs and limbs. I hear the murmur of mother speak, that total engagement to the exclusion of all else. That deep joy and contentment and connection. And I feel regret. Deep, deep regret and bewilderment. I wonder why I am here. Why is Reuben here and not Georgina?  I wonder why you are not here with your child. Surely an accumulation of this much luck should attract a lightning strike. But I'm the only one who looks at all uneasy.

Lately I don't feel so angry. Or anything much. Distanced, sad. Just sad. And I feel like a fool. A sad fool.

A staircase that I had happily assumed had ten steps, had only nine. And here, in the baby class, I have that horrible lurching feeling that you get when you put your foot out, in the expectation of another step and there is nothing there. My stupid, groping, expectant foot goes plunging down onto nothing, just an absence. Lots and lots of other people knew that there were only nine steps as they watched me plunge downwards. They knew that the tenth step doesn't exist, that it is just a fable. They probably tried to tell me but I elected to ignore them.

As though I were about to step into, what I believed, was a bath full of warm water. And it turned out to be a bath full of rubbing alcohol or nail varnish remover. Something thinner and colder. Something that whispers, "Stay awake." I walk around with goose flesh and my hair standing on end and I can't identify who else might be living here, in the cold world, with this new skin. Chances are that they are here, in this room, in this class of mothers and babies, but that we won't recognise one another. My memorial necklace dangles hopefully in anticipation, "are you like me?" It winks and blinks at each new acquaintance. Or its absence signals, like a false siren song, "I'm like you." No regret here. He's normal you know.

Some weeks, I try and nod and chat and smile. Enthusiastically coo-ing and complimenting.
Other weeks, I'm just too tired.

"You'll always be a stranger in a strange, strange land."

And apologies that my musical influences seem to have stalled c. 2007. 

Friday, 7 October 2011


Meanderings around a comment on the previous post left by Cathy and a far superior piece of writing than that which is to follow from the wickedly good TracyOC.

I feel that this post probably deserves a word of warning. I have tended to avoid mention of religion here, mainly because when I attempt to even think about faith, God, sin, morality, mortality and so, I can feel my tiny wee brain sputtering, straining and generally reaching a state very close to kaput. But here goes, the wheels are about to come off people. Consider yourself warned that this post doesn't make a great deal of sense.

One thing that has become glaringly obvious since August 2008 is that I have the ability to believe two contradictory things at once, equally fervently. Whether this ability was latent and activated by the events of August 2008, pushing me out into a world where I had to consider possibilities that, up until that point, I had preferred to ignore, or whether that ability was conferred upon me by Georgina's death, is a moot point. I can hardly remember what I thought, or how my brain worked, or even who I was, prior to then.

Between the 26th and 29th of August, I was convinced that Georgina would live, saved by medical technology and the cleverness of mankind, saved by nebulous forces of Good. Because she had survived thus far, because she was named after my grandmother, because God loved me and would answer my prayers (although how I squared this with the fact that many, many other cries that rose up over those three days would go unanswered I have yet to figure out), because the doctors were too clever and the machines too efficient to let the outcome be otherwise.

Between the 26th and 29th of August, I was convinced that Georgina would die, because that knowledge was born deep in my bones just as surely as she was born from me, because mankind simply isn't that damn clever, because machines malfunction and break, because she would be condemned by nebulous forces of Bad. Because I was a rotten, broken person, because God hated me and either scoffed at my prayers or sternly waved his finger at me.

And I am certain that, if I were to root around in the distant past of this blog, I would find two contradictory descriptions of that time. The happiest time of my life, the saddest time of my life. But neither of them are lies. My certainty that she would live, my certainty that she would die, are both equally true. My surprise when she did. My sense of something inevitable occurring when she did. Not irreconcilable to my new and twisty brain. Both descriptions are a reflection of the truth, in my Schrodinger's cat like mind where both things happened, happen and continue to happen. And I'm not opening the box to find out the true state of affairs thank you very much. I'll keep the top of my skull right where it is.

In the Venn diagram of my superstitious and rather limited world view, two circles can overlap and, eventually, engulf one another, a multiplicity of statements and intentions happily co-existing whereas previously I had felt that one had to be pushed out in order for the other to remain believable. I used to think that I couldn't have both. But now there is no room for mutual exclusivity in my world, the conditions in my brain fall into perfect intersection every time. In the world of probabilities, things that looked like P(A and B)= 0, blur and rearrange into a world where there are no disjoints. I can have it all. Even if I don't particularly want any of it.

My brain has become an odd, bifurcating place. Sometimes I look in the mirror and feel vaguely surprised that I do not have a tree growing out of the side of my head. Or at least something slightly more branchy and leafy than the apparently smooth expanse of skull, skin and hair that is reflected back at me.

I suppose that what I am groping towards is that since Georgina died I have both perfect faith and no faith at all. So it provides both every single consolation and none whatsoever depending on the light and the prevailing wind conditions. And I'm fairly sure that maintaining faith in the presence of no faith precludes that faith being perfect? Hedging your bets, I hear you cry. Yes, 'tis convenient I will admit but there you have it.

I always found a strange beauty in the idea of the leap of faith, the virtue of the absurd, of finding certainty where, by rights and rational argument, there should be no such thing. Something that makes so little sense that, in a circular fashion, it could possibly make all the sense in the world.

It is hard to make that leap, to choose to believe in anything benevolent, or kind, or beautiful, when life has grabbed you by the head and smooshed your face up against the plastic wall of an incubator and forced you to watch your baby die by degrees. So that there can be no doubt that this particular individual, this part of the wonder of creation, who to you is all the world and your heart and your dear, dear love, is going to stop before she even really got started. And it is, in all probability, going to hurt her. It's certainly going to hurt you and anyone who has even a passing care for you.

But when I looked at my daughters, close up, how I could fail to believe in kindness, in beauty, in benevolence? Because the living yearn for life and those two tiny babies reached out towards it. Even watching those stretching arms made my heart curl around itself.

When you are in that impossible place, what else can you do, where else can you go? In order to carry on breathing in and out until your turn comes around. You have to believe. You have to disbelieve. All at once.

And because this sort of post would not be complete without some sort of Biblical quotation, here is a bit of Exodus 33.

And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.
 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.
 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.
 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:
 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

I've always liked these verses, particularly in the King James version. Everything sounds better in the King James.
When it comes to faith, I think that is where I am.
Wedged in the clift of the rock, facing the wrong way and covered up by a hand whose existence I am uncertain of.
Part of me reads these verses thinking, "Hmmmm, magical face that nobody can see without expiring? Back parts you say? Well well well, how very convenient for You." 
Immediately followed by cowering and fear of smiting. And you will note that I have capitalised the Y so I must believe that Someone is watching.

Part of me reads this thinking, why did you not show mercy to me? Why did you not show mercy to her? Or shew mercy even. And my question is answered, left hanging in the air and rendered entirely irrelevant all at once. Mercy, no mercy or a world where it is just a question of chances and biology and mercy never enters the equation. Or only the mercy wielded by mere humans. 

A God whose actions were kindly but un-interpretable, a God whose actions were a punishment, a God who is looking away, distracted by bigger mysteries than mine, no God at all, a roaring void, a calm absence, a place where the absence of God would be a blessed relief. All of these things happily line up next to one another. And I can choose which one I will or believe in all of them at once. 

Part of me is convinced that a great deal of nothing will pass behind me whilst I am wedged in that rock, not looking. 
Part of me is convinced that all the glory in the world rushes past my unsuspecting back.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Unforeseen conversation

"Open it," she demands. Her eyes are narrowed, jaw jutting determinedly. She swings the fabric bag taken from the NICU by its ribbon handle, up and over, up and over. It smacks down on the mattress repeatedly, its jaunty pattern of blue bears on a yellow background flashing through the sunlight coming through the curtains.

Even looking at that print once again, those repetitive bears, makes my eyes sting.

The imperious demand, "OPEN it mum-me."

"Jessica," I say. "Jessica my girl, my love. Inside that bag is Baby Georgie's little blanket that my Ouma knitted. And also inside that bag are Baby Georgie's ashes. We are NOT going to open it today. It is a special bag. "

She bounces around the bed, bag swinging.

"Bounce, bounce. Jess-ca bounce, bounce."

"Jessica, watch where you are going. Jessica . . . Jessica. . . we do NOT hit Baby Reuben with Baby Georgie's ashes. Even by accident. Give them back to mummy. Now."

I feel unseemly laughter bubbling up my throat. I could never have foreseen that I was going to have to reprimand one of my children for hitting another with the burnt remains of a third. It seems too ridiculous, it seems too awful. Halfway between a giggle and a scream I sit down heavily on the bed.

"Mum-mee not happy? Bay-bee Oo-ben, Bay-bee Gorg-gie. Bounce, bounce."

I kiss her head. Her solid little skull with its small, crinkled brain fizzing about underneath.
So very far away from ash.

But closer than I would like to think.

It's all closer than I would like to think.

I disentangle the handles from her fingers. I wrap the ribbons back around the bag and plump it up again, as though that would help matters. A small comfort to my child of dust.

I return the bag to its place in a box at the back of the wardrobe wishing I believed in prayers and offerings, feeling as though I should burn something or slit the throat of a small animal. To fend off misfortune.

If only that were possible.