Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Saturday, 25 August 2012


Tomorrow, Jessica will be four.

She has been too excited to sleep and has popped in and out of bed several times in the past hour.
She asks for a toy from the shelf and I can't understand which one it is that she wants.
So I lift her up and she makes the selection herself.

A tiny blue hippo with a hospital ID band tied around its middle. The ID band reads that 'this belongs to Jessica Walsh' and I've never had the heart to snip it off.

That hippo hung in her incubator from two days old. When my husband went back to retrieve some things from our home. We had come with no spare clothes, no toothbrushes, no towels, no cameras, no phones. Nothing.

He brought back a hippo and an elephant, dangling toys from the bouncy chairs we had purchased the previous week as a celebration for an 'all clear' scan.

And when I looked at the tiny babies I had produced, with their mighty toys dangling down upon them. I felt despairing. And a fool. To have been so complacent.

But Georgina's blood pressure was stabilising and I felt a stab of hope. Idiot that I was. I am.

Jessica grasps the hippo and curls around it. And I can scarcely stop my jaw dropping with wonder. With amazement. It still feels like fingers poking in my heart, blocking up the arteries and veins, fiddling with the valves.

That the tiny baby with a head the size of a tennis ball. With limbs like sticks. Is now four.
I find myself clutching her solidity. Terrified that she will vanish into the ether, like her sister. Because when you are that tiny, it's terribly easy to disappear entirely. To ash. One trapped here, another gone.

'You're my friend,' she says.
'Thank you,' I say. 'I might not always be your friend. But I will always, always be your mummy.'

She seems content and turns over to go to sleep. Until five minutes have passed when she appears on the landing once again. Looking for birthday presents.


We moved to our current house slightly less than a year before the twins were born. Our previous house had a nice garden. I used to enjoy planting and watering and pruning. The slow, slow growth of roots travelling downward, shoots unfurling upwards.

Our current garden has not been so successful. It feels blighted. It's overlooked and shadowy. No plants. We have a lawn and a trellis with a clematis growing up it. Or at least, we did. After a couple of years of beautiful blooms and growth, I fear that our clematis may not flower again next year. Although it does have a bit of a habit of merely resembling dead. All form and no substance.

I had a pink miniature rose bush that somebody bought me for Georgina on Jessica's first birthday. But I didn't bring it in soon enough and it was killed by last winter's frost. I felt terrible. So neglectful and careless. But, by the time I had moved it in to the carport, it was too late and Georgina's rose was dead.

This week I bought a small rosemary plant. Because it seemed right. I decanted compost and fed and watered. I cared. For the first time in a while. I hope it grows. I feel as though I like this plant, its wiriness, its determination, its smell, its utility and its beauty.

Let's hope I remember to bring it in this winter eh?

So a small wiry plant. A thin white candle. That burns this evening. For you and for another. This eve of the 26th of August.

That's all my darling. My dear Georgina.
I'm sorry it's not more. But, in comparison to what I wanted to offer you, it could never be enough.

I miss you. I love you. I'm proud of you.

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray,
love, remember: and there is pansies, that's for thoughts.

There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue
for you; and here's some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o'Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you 
some violets, but they withered all when my father

Here your mother stands. 
With rosemary. 
Rue enough for two. 
No violets. 
Perhaps a daisy? For your sister?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


He said that his novel is a mutant, displaced autobiography.

And his words brought this place to mind. Although it would not bear even a passing comparison to his novel.

Because I'm here, displaced.
Mutated into somebody that I'm not supposed to be.
Transposed to somewhere I'm not supposed to be.
Reversed and mirrored.
Without her.

Surely I'm not supposed to be without her?

Supposed, supposed, supposed.
So often repeated that I see it for the nonsense that it is.

Except in my heart. Where it makes perfect sense.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


So . . . end of August. Here you are again. Pulling at the edges of my heart. With your talk of endings, summers and pregnancies, with your small gentle hands. Baby's hands. Not the kind with dimpled knuckles though.

Summer is fading. It's very close today. Humid and sticky.

We have had a typical end of summer weekend.

On Saturday we went to Frensham Ponds. A tiny inland sea, Frensham Great Pond. Packed with boats and screaming children. Surrounded by sand heated up to nearly unbearable temperatures. Everybody, ever, appears to be there. Balanced on towels spread out on the sand. Eating ice-cream.

Today, we went to a pick-your-own fruit farm and picked blackberries and blueberries. Too late for the more conventional strawberry and too early and too late, both at once, for raspberries.

I find the physical sensations associated with these trips overwhelming.

The hot sand, gritty on the soles of my feet.
The cool, cool water of the pond, dappled with sunlight.

I take Reuben to the pond. His soft, fat feet walking across the sand next to my adult bony ones. Which look like a horrible caricature contrasted against the perfection of his one year old version of the same.

His cautious first dip in the water. Gently easing one toe into the shallow channel. Then, with a crow of delight, we plunge in and he is pulling me by the hand. Babbling excitedly in that language that is not yet language but does not preclude understanding. Fun, fun, curiosity, joining-in-with, come, come, come and see.

I look at Jessica's mouth, smudged with blackberries. "Look mummy, SO juicy," she gloats. I offer to carry her hoard of blackberries and she eyes me suspiciously. "NO, I will carry them," she says, brooking no arguments and clutching them close to her chest.

And I feel these things, the sand, the water, the blackberries in my mouth. And I seem to feel them more than once. More than I did before the twins were born. Before August 2008.

Because, although I cannot know what my children feel, what my children think, what my children know, I can imagine. I am lost in the imagining of it. Sometimes they seem to be conspiring with me, as they look me right in the eye and beam. Look at this, look at me, look at me. The cries oft repeated by young children. Witness me, imagine me. I'm here, I'm here and I'm being. Look, look.

When the hot grains of sand burn my feet, I feel them over again. Enlarged, hotter. Against a smoother foot, without callosities.

The water seems cooler, thinner. As Reuben smiles up into my face, the sensation undergoes a peculiar doubling. The joy, another joy.

The tart blackberry in my mouth, turned up by Jessica's purple stained smile. Amplified.

To very nearly unbearable.

To such a pitch of joy and such an awful sorrow.

I am so very grateful that they know what these things feel like, that they have experienced, as far as I can know, something similar to things that I myself have experienced. That we share these things, that smile, the looking into one another's eyes as we do something particularly fun.

But one of my children will only know a hospital and pain and a desperate kind of trying. A protracted death. Which I could only observe. No sand, no pond, no blackberries. And I'm so very grieved by that and I can make no sense of it.

I know this. I've known it for a long, long time.

And I've wondered, over the years, whether she is lucky. Luckier than all of us. In a place where sand and water and blackberries might not even exist. Or they might. How would I know after all.

So far removed from all of this, these bags of meat and chemicals and bone, that flicker and experience and collapse.

But today, I'm just so sad. That I can't really share any experiences with Georgina. Apart from holding her in my arms as she died. And sometimes I wonder if I were merely an annoyance to her. With my anxious hovering and protestations of love.

And I wish I could gift her with something. With hot sand against her feet or cool water on her skin or a blackberry pressed against her lips. Anything. Anything from the world that I know. To bind us together.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Fluorescent Adolescent

August appears to have me in a strangle hold. It's not fun being flat on your back, on the mat, when you've been standing up for a while. When you thought that you just might be winning.

The sky is grey and I stomp up and down the stairs to my new desk on the fourth floor of the building. Mornings. Lunch break. Afternoon. Going home. Stomp, stomp, stompity, stomp.
Or, in my Rumpelstiltskin-like incarnation, stamp, stamp, stampity, stamp.
Let me stamp right through the stair case, through the floor and deep into the earth.
Bye bye. Bye work colleagues. Bye computer. Bye shops and sandwiches and cans of Diet Coke.
Be seeing ya.
I'm off on a journey to the centre of the earth. Accompanied only by anger.

Mad as a cut snake. Mad as a jar full of wasps.

I take my iPod out and jam my earbuds into my ears. Old music.

I stare out of the window. I scowl at the screen.

Why don't they see me?
Nobody understands me. Sob. Glare.
I don't know what I'm doing here.
Why am I still living in this stupid town being boring, boring boring?
Why am I so FAT all of a sudden?
Why is my HAIR so lame?
Why do I have a massive SPOT developing right in the middle of my eyebrow?

And I thought I'd stopped caring about all that junk.

WHY is she DEAD? WHY did she have to die?
Because I still can't figure it out.

Although I have long ago accepted that there is no reason and, therefore, nothing for me to figure out.

Picture Window plays and I start to cry.
I was crying over the Olympics Closing Ceremony.
Tears are just lurking around. Ready to stream down in teenage self pity.

My friends have started to announce third pregnancies.
And I am senselessly jealous and stupidly cross.
That it won't be me soon. Or ever.
We can't afford it. Our house isn't big enough.
Surprise twins was the only way we were ever going to have three children.

Oh? Oh right? That already happened didn't it?

And they seem so placid and certain and sure. These expectants of a few months hence.
Whereas I am still, at thirty-three, all at sea.
Living out a strange protracted second adolescence.

With thanks to Jill A. from Glow for pointing this out because I had wondered what that flicker of recognition was as I jammed the ear buds into my ears this morning. Hey adolescence. Long time no see. How you doing old chum? Though I was done with you but . . . apparently . . . not. 

Wondering who I am.
Wondering who the hell they are? My peers. These people who are me in another universe, where she doesn't die. They seem so knowledgeable and settled.

I've been here before.
So long ago that I was listening to a Walkman.
Aeons ago. Lifetimes ago. Especially if you measure in the lifespan of my eldest child.

See, second adolesence. That is my only excuse for that last line. Melodrama and angst.

Thanks a bunch life. Way to set a girl back. There I was, strolling along, being 29 and pretty much comfortable in my own skin. Then BLAM! Hey you get to be 12 again! Ummm . . . yay! Except you get to be 12 years old whilst housed in the body of a thirty something. Ummm . . .less yay?!

You're thinking you've got it all figured out. You've got it made.

And then you are cut adrift. Pushed away from your thirties and back to being fourteen.

Because I really wanted to revisit that particular coastline (insert snark) Except the cool kids are probably calling snark something else by now.

See I even like this song again. My dear Billy. Sing it for me. As I mash the buttons for the escape route.

August. Leave me alone. I'm too old and I'm too tired to be a teenager again.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A small, bitter and wrinkled heart


Why I go there? I just don't know.
Probably because I am certifiable.

My uncle is collecting a list of the dates of birth of the youngest generation for his family tree project. The generation that includes Jessica, Georgina and Reuben.

I add my three.

And I am going to add three because Georgina isn't just going to disappear from our family tree. I had a bit of a struggle getting her on there in the first instance and I'm not letting her wander off at this stage in the game. You can erase her when I'm no longer around to care about it. Or when I leave facebook. You may be off the hook sooner than you think at this rate. Then you can lop her off like a dead branch if you so choose. Except you wouldn't even do that. You'd take that tiny twig and stuff it right back into the trunk, as though it had never even been there. 

Jessica born on the 26.08.2008
Georgina born on the 26.08.2008, died 29.08.2008
Reuben born on the 04.05.2011 (Star Wars Day!)

because let's not leave this post on a bum note eh? Let wrap the dead baby up with a exclamation point! Because I can't help myself! M'kay! No blow in life that an exclamation point can't soften!

Death! Cancer! Divorce! Suddenly you're looking all perky my friends!

And so everyone else adds their children and their dates of birth.
Including one who is, as yet, unborn. 
With a tilde preface, presumably to signify some degree of uncertainty.

Give or take a couple of days, quips somebody.

Or a couple of weeks, add another.

And it takes all the power left in my small, bitter and wrinkled heart not to add a poisonous comment of my own.

Or a couple of months eh? Or better still, try four fricking months. How'd you like them apples? Eh? EH?

And you've added this on a post where not only was one baby born extremely prematurely but another actually died as a result of prematurity? Nice. Real nice. Thanks for that, I love that reminder that babies don't always show up on time but, just maybe, up to a couple of weeks before or after their due dates. Due dates? Ha! Who needs those? Thanks a bunch.

Because it won't happen to you. Not you. Only to me, bitter, wrinkled-up, poisonous, old me. Who was too cautious to make any reference to due dates or babies, particularly on facebook. You're too healthy and too nice and too good. Well how absolutely delightful for you. Shame it sucks for me eh?

And I sigh. At myself. What has happened to me?

You go to bed one night in August 2008 imagining that you are Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty, or The Fairy Godmother, or at the very least, one of the mouse footmen. A pumpkin coach even? Something either nice or, at least, something innocuous. A very minor bit player.

And you wake up and you find that, hey, you aren't one of the good guys. You're Rumpelstiltskin. All twisted, and mean, and threatening to steal away people's first borns. Because however inconsiderate a comment like that is, my own reaction is worse.

Really? Really Catherine? After all this time? You STILL have that reaction. It isn't as pronounced as it used to be. Those italics fly through my brain and out of my ear extremely rapidly these days.

I stamp my foot and utter my curse.
Then I take it back and put my slippers on. Good bye stamping toes.
I don't truly want to curse anybody. Of course not.

It makes me feel so horrible, like something stunted or something poisoned, something crippled.
That I can't be truly happy for others anymore.

Because I am still so bitterly jealous. With my wonky womb and my tiny, frail children.

Why couldn't it have been Georgina? 
Who was born just like everyone expected her to be. 
Who is alive now, just as everyone expected her to be. 
But she's dead. 
And her mother's turned into Rumpelstiltskin. 
Poor little girl. 
I'm so sorry love. 
I'm working on it. 
Trying not to be a spitting, stamp-y, angry thing.

I know I'm over reacting and that it's stupid. I wish I could just smile and mark the due date on my calendar. Planning which little gift to buy.

But instead, it hurts. Like an old bruise, pressed. Not quite faded. Not yet. And, heaven knows, it's been a while.

Probably it's just because Jessica is starting school next month when I'd tried my best to avoid that.
And I'm not ready to let her go.

Probably it's just because it's August and it's an unexpected birthday and then the anniversary of my daughter's death.

And, if only they had been born a couple of weeks before their due date, it is likely that none of the above would be troubling me.

Monday, 6 August 2012

You Will Always Be The Same

I spent the morning drinking coffee with old friends.

Women I've known ever since I can remember. I have photographs of us in short dresses in sand pits, clutching plastic spades in fat, toddler hands. Dressed up as fairy princesses with skinny knees. We were going to be in Starlight Express and sing and dance about on roller skates. We were going to save the whales, save the world - we organised a bake sale in my front garden and raised a total of seven pounds. Our contribution to the cause.

Three, thirteen, twenty three, thirty three.

And Starbucks fades out around us. I don't notice any of the other people. Just these two. Little girls and teenagers and young women. I remember their school bags and their childhood bedrooms. The way they looked at play school and at college and ten years ago. We talk about all sorts of things. And I'm laughing so hard I'm crying. Then I am, actually, crying. But I don't think that either of them notice.

Things change. They have changed. Relationships, jobs, houses. Stories.

But not me. The only major change in my life over the past three years has been Reuben's birth. And I became a mother of the rather confused number of children that so many of us have. Two? Three?

Since Georgina died, I seem to have become very indecisive. Often I will delegate the decision making process to Jessica, when it is something suitable for a three year old. Shall we stay here at the trampolines? Shall we go to the shops today? Shall we buy doughnuts or pancakes?

I seem to stay stuck, frozen.

Perhaps I'm frightened to leave 2008? And I'm still here, four years on, watching the Olympics again. A good night for the British track and field team.

Same house, same car, ever-so slightly different job. Actually, I do seem to have an entirely different husband, although he is the exact same person according to his paperwork. But that's another story altogether.

So many things change around me that are beyond my control. I am buying school uniforms for Jessica and my heart snaps at the small grey skirt in a size three and I feel that this entire world has simply run mad. Why am I doing this? Sending my children off to be looked after by other people to pay for a house that I'm not even that keen on. But the options seem to shut themselves down one by one. Until I'm left here. Not one to run off and join the circus.

I keep thinking that I should try to change  . . . something?

Because it's nice to have a plan. It's good to look forward. I always seemed to be scheming away at something when I was younger.

And because that I feel that I should have changed. That my first daughter should have left a mark on me. I don't have a tattoo or a scar. Nothing at all. Not even a stretch mark (bizarrely I only have stretch marks on my knees? perhaps I just have very fat knees?)

That I should be a hermit, or a drunk. A saint or a terrible sinner. I should still be wearing black. That I should be kind. Softly spoken. Or hard and fierce, itching for a fight. Because of her.

But, because of me, I'm exactly the same.
I match her, in her static-ness.

Older. Flabbier. Tired and looking for a way out. Reluctant to change anything. Scared to let go of anything. House, car, job, the way I do my hair, the same clothes purchased in a larger size now. Writing and re-writing the same old lines. That I miss her. That I love her. Still here, lurking about on the internet, muttering to myself.

I look at all the time that might be in front of me and sometimes I feel tired and frightened. That I don't have the energy to keep fighting to hold on to what I have, let alone try and make much needed improvements.

I desperately want another baby. I've never had to face Georgina's death without another baby. Sometimes with a desperately ill baby, sometimes with a baby that was just a hope. But always with a baby, or close to a baby. To hide behind, to fend off the memories of her death with, to hold close to me. Those babies, all three of them, that have so consumed me that I'm not entirely certain if there will be anyone left behind them. Just a pale ghost, a ghost of a mother. The mother who writes here. A mother who will never be, Georgina's mother.

And I think . . .

I should, I should . . . .

work harder,
try my hand at something else,
take a class,
make a friend,
go to bed earlier,
stop poot-ling around on the internet when I should be asleep,
stop using words like poot-ling and flim flam and toodle pip  - which century do I live in precisely?
drink less,
eat less,
exercise more,
read more books,
read fewer blogs,
talk to my husband more often,
talk to my friends more often,
talk to my family more often,
be kinder,
keep the house cleaner,
stay on top of the laundry,
wash my car,
weed the garden

And the list looks the same as it did before Georgina died (with the exception of internet and blogging related entries) and I find that I just don't have the heart for it. I don't have the heart for reinvention. I think that I will remain the person that I was when Georgina died, to some extent. The years pile up and it seems to be costing me all my effort just to stay still. I don't even seem to have the heart to cut my hair.

Maybe next month?

Oh Georgina. My poor little half-dead baby.
I keep meaning to look at your photographs but I'm frightened of them now.
To see your eyes looking at me, your dear blue eyes.
Your little legs.
I'm sorry that it went so wrong. That you will always be the same. Never change. And, as a result, I think part of me stays the same too. In sympathy with you perhaps?