Nor do we have two heads or carry leprosy. We walk among you unnoticed until normal little everyday things force us to fall apart in public and reveal ourselves. This is my place to vent my frustrations, wallow when I need to and discover a new future because the unthinkable did happen and my husband died suddenly at 38 leaving me and our two little babies under the age of two behind.
Last weekend I stood looking out at a beautiful view from Culzean Castle being hugged. That hug turned into a marriage proposal. I never imagined I would be in that happy place. But oh my god it felt and feels rather wonderful. It’s funny how when you’re not looking for something or someone, life can throw something your way that’s wonderful. I’ve got used to spanners being thrown into my life not big fat positive love stories.
To recap. When Colin died I spent a year only alone. It wasn’t long enough. I met someone and I thought yippee I’ve solved that hole in our lives. I was wrong. I got it quite wrong but it was no one’s fault and actually it was all part of our journey, perhaps I needed it to see what I had been so wrong about to get to where we are. At the end, after lots of heartache, I felt quite happy that it was going to be just me and the girls. Just us. I actually felt triumphant. I was also very much not looking for someone. I was still sad that me and the girls were in the position we were in without Colin but the pain of his loss was no longer unbearable. A future of just me and them was very appealing after so much turmoil. My feminist side was jubilant. So when one of my best friends texted with a potential date almost eight months ago I was very much anti it. More than that actually. But she’s a persuasive woman. So I passed on my number and almost immediately in came this message that was funny, interesting and warranted an answer.
It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been a learning curve. We both have had dark times and we both have kids we are very mindful of who’ve been through an awful lot in their short lives. But it’s been one of the best times of my life and I’ve never seen my kids this happy. And I know it’s only the beginning. And… well that’s it. Our new chapter begins. Colin is still with us in our hearts. The girls are so in love with their daddy they don’t remember but they are also pleased to be part of one big crazy modern blended family that gets more crazy by the day right now. People may judge. People may not. I don’t actually worry. I can’t change how I’ve handled things up to now but going forward I think everyone that matters is pretty ecstatic that this whirlwind has occurred. Bring it on.
I loved the silliness of us. I loved the lovingness of us. I loved being in our team. I do not always love flying solo in parentdom. I wish our team had had longer to do all the things I now do alone but with two kids. From bike riding to sofa slobbing, from breakfast to bedtime, there always seems to be those nanoseconds within the daily rollercoaster ride of happiness highs and parenting lows where I just feel super alone and that Colin-shaped hole looms over us. It’s not even a ‘poor me’ moment or nostalgia for our time back, in our past, its just me acknowledging that deep nag that sits within me that grieves in glimpses, in tiny moments in time, for what he’s missing now and in the years to come as well as feeling sad for what the three of us have also lost in our present and future. In those tiny moments I wish there could be a glimpse in that Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter but I fear I would get lost in it. And it would only make me sad again and I don’t have time.
Five years. Half a decade. 1,828 days. 157,939,200 seconds. 2,632,320 minutes 43,872 hours. 261 weeks. Whatever unit of time I use it feels too bloody long since I distractedly said goodbye to my husband as he left the house in a flurry to go and play tennis. How can I have survived the half decade that I have since Colin’s heart stopped working at 3.01 on a south London road on Saturday 25th February 2012. When I saw that policeman’s uniform through the windows of my front door I didn’t think I could live a minute without him let alone five whole years. The 25th of February 2012 is the day that my whole life changed completely and forever and somehow this year feels worse than year one, two, three or four. The world has spun me so very far away from him now and the pain may has multiplied with every eon. And now sometimes he feels like a figment of my imagination.
In passing at the Zoo last week I told Evie that Daddy used to call her the Monkey Child. She has obviously stored this little nugget of information because she announced it as fact to myself and my dad yesterday. She has got such a good memory for detail especially when it comes to things I tell her about her daddy. Colin used to sing “She is the monkey child” at Evie to the tune of We Went To The Animal Fair. It started after we had seen a TV trailer for a Channel 5 documentary called My Monkey Baby. Poor Evie. She was born almost two weeks premature and was quite tiny and hirsute with it at birth. When all this hair stuck around for a few weeks we worried that she was not only looking like a monkey version of Colin but had also inherited his Wookiee-like carpet covering. We even had a discussion at about six weeks about what to do with her ear hair if she still had it at school age. I said that we’d make her paranoid if we made a fuss but Colin insisted that we would have to pluck it and to lessen her paranoia we would simply have to make it part of the bedtime routine. He said: “We could just do bath, book, ear pluck and bed.” I retorted: “But what about when she starts going to sleepovers? She’ll work it out or she’ll embarrass herself completely. We just can’t do that to her.” These conversations were obviously only half serious and all her unwelcome hair did fall out but her monkey name remained.
Colin had a name for everyone he was close to so it was inevitable that his child would have more than one. So Monkey Child was one of oh-so many for Evie. I called her Weevie and Weevil Bug and I think Col developed those to another level when he called her Dr Evil (pronounced EEEEEVAAL). I worried that this one would scar her more than any monkey child moniker but he loved it. Evie has spirit and while Col did have a few concerns that she was a very naughty little girl he was also secretly proud of the fact that she was no wallflower. I think that’s why he loved her as Dr Evil.
Then there was The Inspector. This tended to be used when she was waking through the night in the early days. She would kick off and he would sleepily turn to me and tell me that The Inspector calls. It was also used in reference to the fact that Evie ruled our roost. Will the inspector allow us this or that was the general theme to this nickname.
My personal favourite was when he called her Uncle Fester. This was simply because she looked like the balding simpleton in The Addams family according to her father. It helped that around that time Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out was getting loads of radio play. There is a line in that song that references Uncle Fester and everytime we heard it on in the car we would sing the lyric to each other and think we were hilarious. Oh dear.
Isla Baby was only in Colin’s life for nine weeks so unfortunately her role call of names is a lot shorter. In fact I feel quite terrible that I can only ever really remember him calling her the Chicken. I even had to ask a friend about the other name we developed for her. I think we called her The Difficult Child because she was the complete opposite. Half the time we barely noticed poor Isla Baby because toddlers are scene stealers in family life. Little monkeys.
As I journeyed in my taxi to my sister’s 40th birthday in Edinburgh on Saturday night I felt utterly alone and lonely. I have noticed this before. After years of going to events as a couple and returning home as a two, well, it just feels odd. I knew I had to shake myself out of my maudlin mood so I did what I have from day one. Since Colin died one of my coping mechanisms to keep me sane is to conjure up images of him in my mind’s eye whenever I need to feel him near. Perhaps this little trick in itself is a sign of the madness brought on by my grief at this loss and I am therefore far from sane. On the day he died I saw him lying reading in our bath in Huntspill Street while I took the longest, hottest shower to wash away the hideousness of the day. Just as I could see the empty bath before me I could also fill it with him with the many images I had of him lying in it reading (it was one of his favourite luxuries to lie until prune-like in our bath reading his many books).
In the days after his death I had to rely on family to put our babies to bed but when I finally did it for myself again, a few evenings after he had gone, I sat on the chair in Evie’s room reading her her bedtime story while pretending I could see his beady eye looking at me through the crack in the door. He used to do this if he got home from work early enough. He liked to survey the domestic scene of me snuggling our bathed little girl and talking her through the pictorial feast of her favourite book Each Peach Pear Plum while she interjected with her observations, ‘dummy, bunny, tootootoot trumpet’ without interrupting us. He would then break in at the last moment to delighted screams of ‘Daddy, Daddy’ and he would grab an enthusiastic cuddle for himself and get the final glory of putting her in the cot.
On the day of his funeral we had to follow his coffin in that awful hearse and I thought I cannot even bear to look ahead of me and imagine him in that wooden box. He is not there. I had been to see his body at the funeral home and I needed to not think of what I had seen that afternoon because that corpse was not the terribly alive man I knew and loved. Instead I looked out of the window as we looped a ridiculous journey to Putney Crematorium and I let my head conjure up Colin as I remembered him. I saw him throwing Evie over his shoulder as we passed one Common or another. He was wearing his black wool jacket that I loved him in (I’ve kept it) and he was laughing, open-mouthed with joy at his little girl. In another instant I saw him in his stupid, ill-fitting beige puffy jacket that I hated because he wore it so badly. It was hanging off his shoulders because it was only ever done up halfway and he was tugging at his hair, trying to bouff it up and create his infamous moussed style on a day that he’d not used a skoosh of his Shockwaves (he is the only person post-Eighties that still bought the stuff I am convinced). In another moment he was in his shorts and green T-shirt dragging his flip-flopped feet while talking on his mobile. I saw him pushing Isla’s buggy making faces for her and I saw him walking comedy quickly with a tennis racket while smoking a cigarette because he would have been running late for whoever he was meeting. I just went through a Roladex of moments in my head that would stop me even thinking about that coffin in front of us.
Nearly eight months on and I still do this on a daily basis. I imagine him in our new house trying to lie out in the new bath while complaining it is too small. I can see him in the garden with the girls. I can see him walking into the kitchen in his grey coat and pinstriped suit after a day at work standing at the fridge and grazing on celery and raw carrots even though dinner is on its way. It’s weird but it helps me feel less alone in this big old house with two little people.
After that cab journey to the bar on Saturday evening I made myself imagine him walking in front of me down Edinburgh’s cobbled streets. He was wearing a black shirt, jeans and his toddler-style lace-up shoes. I know so many people reading this will be able to see him wearing this, his familiar night out attire too. Anyway, every so often throughout Jo’s birthday do I let myself envisage him standing at the bar insisting on buying a large round of hideous shots to get the drunken drunker and instead of feeling maudlin I felt quite happy and normal and surrounded by lots of family and friends. My first normal, large social gathering all done and ticked off.
Colin was not a keeper of things. The one thing he held onto from his childhood was this worn old panda with a scarf around his neck that his Granny had made for it. One of the saddest tales Col ever told me that just made me want to cuddle him was the story of his first weeks at Oakham boarding school where he had come to from Kenya at the age of eleven at his own request. He did his big puppy dog eyes when he related how some of the big boys had stolen Panda and dangled his beloved bear out of the dorm window by his lovingly handcrafted scarf. Poor Panda and poor Col. He used to say this moment had scarred him for life in his overly dramatic way.
In the early days after Col died I gave Evie his Panda and she kept standing on tippytoes with him held as high as she could reach. When I asked her what she was doing she told me she was sending Panda hugs to Daddy. Now Evie has sort of re-adopted Panda in these last few weeks. She doesn’t sleep with him or anything, Big Bunny still holds that special place, but Panda is fished out if Isla is crying as Evie believes he will heal all ills. If I weep I am asked: “Do you need a Panda cuddle?”. Last week Panda had to be taken to nursery along with a photo of Col so that Evie could share with her new friends her daddy’s favourite toy. I was told a few of the staff shed a few tears that day.
Today, Isla Baby, Evie and I all went to Edinburgh Zoo with some friends of mine and we went with our pre-booked slot to see the Zoo’s elusive panda visitors. . The world and his dog may be booking in to see these rare bears but while peering through the glass at the real thing all Evie could talk about was Daddy’s Panda. And rightly so. What’s an endangered species compared to something tangible that she can hold onto as a two-year-old and beyond that belonged to her dead Daddy and that he loved so much he still got misty eyed at 38 when he spoke of it?