January 9, 2016

After

 

 

I can’t get my head around the widow thing. I’m what? Peter’s what? No, no, no, it’s a bad dream.  It’s a shit-sucking multi-tentacled toxic-spiked nightmare.  At heart level I know he’s gone gone gone gongegonegonegone gone:  it’s why I don’t seem to be inhabiting my body, I look at my hands on the keyboard or picking up the chopsticks to seize some broccoli* and think, what?  What are you? Whose are you?  I’m pelting down the pavement*** after the hellhounds and thinking, whose legs are these, that still work so well?  If Peter can’t hurtle any more, why was I left behind?

Intellectually I’m still arguing about the gone gone gone. My body knows.  I can hardly type because my fingers may still bend and strike but they’re crying too, and crying ruins your aim.  I’ve broken three dishes in about ten days—one of them a favourite, and it’s out of print, whatever you call it for china, and I can’t replace it.  I don’t break dishes.  That’s Peter’s job.

Every day I get out of bed and am surprised that I can. And then wonder why I’m bothering.  Well, I have to.  I have to let the hellmob out.†

The truth is that Peter hasn’t hurtled in years. He still used to come with us sometimes on the shorter afternoon hurtles when the hellhounds were young and frelling inexhaustible†† but his long long tramps over (muddy†††) Hampshire countryside had stopped by the time we moved into town.  Being walking distance of the shops, Peter said, was his idea of growing old gracefully.  And he did keep walking to the shops, even if he got a little slower, and a little slower, and eventually he was walking with a stick.  But he was still moving along. . . .

And then the first stroke, two years ago.

The last two years have been sodding bloody puking awful. Even though I can only afford to admit it now.  Now that it’s all over.‡  I don’t know how common this is, but I’ve always been someone who when things are bad, helplessly bad, and the only thing to do is endure, I shut down, and get on with it as best I can.  Admitting the unbearable is unbearable does not help.  So I don’t.  Didn’t.  I joined the Street Pastors and the Samaritans partly because God told me to‡‡ but partly because I could do fuck-all for Peter, and maybe I could have a dab at slapping a plaster on someone else’s mortal wounds.

And? I pretty well haven’t written a publishable word since Peter’s first stroke. It took a few months to catch up with me—that I essentially wasn’t coping—but the proof is pretty stark.  And I’d better start writing soon or retrain as a grocery store shelf re-stocker.

Life sucks and then you die. Or your beloved husband does, after being yanked around by fate and the devil for a couple of years.

I have various friends keeping a sharp eye on me. I rang frelling handbells this afternoon because doubly-frelling Niall is triply-frelling relentless.‡‡‡  Half a dozen of my St Margaret’s friends came to the memorial service and mobbed me after the talking part and before the champagne to discuss how and when I was going to start coming to church again, since I haven’t for . . . about four months.  Since the 7th of September.  I want to start coming, I said, but I can’t face all those people asking me how I am. We’ll come fetch you! they said, more or less in chorus.  And we won’t leave your side for a moment! So there was discussion of tactical defence manoeuvres . . . and one of them, whom we will call Rosamund§, is going to drive to New Arcadia and pick me up, and about four of the others are going to GUARD THE BACK ROW against our arrival.  I’m going to bring my knitting!§§  I may not do anything but crouch in the back, cry, and knit! I said.  That’s fine, they all chorused—including Buck, whose sermon I will be knitting through.

Whatever. Okay.  I guess.  Sigh.  And you all are probably going to tell me I still have to finish PEGASUS.

I’ve got permission to hang the other memorial pieces, by the way, which will follow in due course. And the six minute limit?  Thanks for all your protests on my behalf, but we were trying to cram a lot in in an hour.  It was actually a pretty spectacular show.  Peter would have loved it . . .

So, I’m crying again.

* * *

* Yes I am eating.^

^ And broccoli is my fifth food group, with black tea, champagne, chocolate and apples.

** It’s kind of funny that knitting is soothing when it seems to be being performed by someone else’s hands, but I’ll take what I can get in terms of soothingness.

*** The wettest December on record is morphing seamlessly into the wettest January. I’ve got standing water in my little garden^, which is on the top of a hill and less than a spade-blade length down is full of builders’ rubble which ought to be good drainage, for pity’s sake, even it’s a little short on plant nutrients.  Hannah is coming over next week bringing, she told me, her hiking boots, and I’m wondering if I should tell her not to waste the space:  out in the countryside it’s scuba gear^^ or nothing.^^^  We can splash down assorted quaint medieval cobblestone streets in Mauncester.  Supposing the road between here and there doesn’t flood out.  I seem to have mislaid Wolfgang’s water wings.^^^^

^ This severely displeases the hellmob.

^^ No, a bathysphere. With a strong headlamp.

^^^ If I told her not to bring them the sun would instantly nova and turn us into a desert. I guess she’d better bring them.

^^^^ The hellterror may have eaten them.

† Into the paddling pool

†† Okay, so at least I haven’t been trying to quench two young inflammable hellhounds every day these last four months, and the hellterror, given about four foot in all seven directions^ can hucklebutt herself into a state of pleasant nap-taking collapse. Am I supposed to be GRATEFUL?

^ Up, down, back, forth, in, out and AAAAAUGH

††† All right it hasn’t always been muddy, the last not-quite-quarter-century^ but right at the moment it feels like it has.

^ Our anniversary was 3 January+ but we also celebrated 26 July, which was the beginning of that weekend in Maine

+ Tolkien’s birthday. Yes.  I’ve told that story somewhere on this blog.

‡ He wanted to go.  He absolutely, totally wanted to go.  But I wasn’t ready to let him go.  He won.

‡‡ I’m not going to argue about this. Anyone who doesn’t believe in God^ is going to have no clue why the unsainted hell your faith is a comfort to you in bad times, when God could flapdoodling well sort it, whatever it is, if he/she/it/they blinkety-blankety well wanted to.  I can only say that faith really is your bulwark and buttress and rock of ages and so on, and I’m not entirely sure I would still be getting out of bed in the morning if I didn’t have Jesus and his Mum^^ to scream at.

^ And I’m not going to argue about this either: as Alfrick says, we’re all going to have some surprises when we get to whatever heaven is, all of us, the Christians, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Shintos, the Buddhists, the shamans, the wiccans, the pagans, the everybody else, and the agnostics and the atheists.  Especially the atheists.

^^ That would be God, not Mary, although Mary is good too. Although I have my own ideas about what she thought she was getting into with Gabriel.  I mean, she was a teenager, right?  And Gabriel was cute.

‡‡‡ He’s also responsible for chivvying me into ringing a quarter peal in Peter’s memory a few days after Peter died and before the madness that is funeral and memorial service arrangements had closed me down completely. It’ll be good for you, Niall said.  It will not!  I said.  Jumping off a bridge would be good for me!  No, no, no, Niall said. Think of the hellmob.  For better or worse all my friends know to remind me of the furries at critical moments.

§ Who is another of Alfrick’s devoted admirers, by the way

§§ I took a certain amount of teasing for the fact that I had my knitting with me at the memorial service. I had bought my Good Black Leather Shoulderbag some years before there was any question of knitting needles, and they stick out the top. Yo, I said, if I go to pieces, I will want my knitting.

My Peter

This is what I said at the memorial service* today:

 

Peter’s first romantic fiancé’s gift to me was a pair of secateurs. This was about four hours after he’d said ‘just because you’re taking me on doesn’t mean you have to take gardening on.’  I was in England seeing what I was getting myself into.  Peter and I had had an unexpectedly life-altering weekend in Maine about a fortnight before;  we knew each other slightly through the book world, I’d visited him at home once when Mary Rose was still alive, he was merely returning the favour.  But a week after we parted, feeling dazed and saying to each other, ‘it would never work, we are separated by age, culture, background, about 3000 miles and a national boundary,’ my phone rang at 7 am and I knew who it was and what he was going to say:  ‘if we don’t give it a try we’ll regret it the rest of our lives.’  He had an idea that we could commute;  I wanted to settle down somewhere with him, and I was the Navy brat, used to moving on.  I emigrated.

Writing was the thing for both of us of course. He was an early riser and he’d be at his desk staring intensely at the page curling out of his typewriter or, eventually, the screen of his computer, by the time I staggered past him clutching a cup of strong tea, to go to my desk.  In good weather both breakfast and lunch were in the garden, 7:30 and 12:30 sharp—one of his nicknames was Time Lord—tea followed at precisely 4:30 and supper at 7:30.  He did most of the cooking;  my right to make our bread half the time was hard-won.  Over breakfast he did the GUARDIAN cryptic crossword and lunch and dinner were followed by one of his complex versions of patience;  if he started getting some pattern out too often he changed the rules.  Mornings were at his desk;  after lunch was in the garden—if it was raining he would declare ‘it’s not wet rain’ and go out anyway.

That garden. It was a little over two acres and an insane amount of it was labour-intensive flowerbeds.  Visiting friends and family were shamelessly put to work.  There was some wild, for nettles and butterflies, some lawn, for grandchildren to play on (although heaven help any grandchild whose ball landed in a flowerbed), and a vegetable garden beyond the old stables.  A lot of it was flowerbeds, especially the walled kitchen garden:  people walking into it for the first time in high summer went ‘oooooh.’  The Warm Upford village fete was held there for years;  Peter started opening on the National Garden Scheme with Mary Rose and carried on into my era.  He was in his element on open days, holding forth about gardening, Latin nomenclature and plants, especially clematis, although he had many favourites, especially the weird and wonderful.  I usually hid in the shrubbery with a bucket and trowel, although Peter extracted me occasionally to talk to someone about roses.  He’d been slightly querulous when my rose mania burst out of the beds he’d assigned to it but since it made me a willing victim, I mean partner, in the whole gardening epic he adapted.  He took wholeheartedly to having several whippets underfoot (who were rigorously trained to stay out of flowerbeds).

We lived in the old family house thirteen years after I married him. Peter started feeling his age in his 70s, and the DIY necessary to keep up a nine-bedroom-plus-outbuildings country house, even a ramshackle one, began to escape him.  We moved into New Arcadia almost twelve years ago, where Peter redesigned and replanted two more gardens, even if they were small town gardens, including digging a pond for water lilies, newts and a fountain after he turned 80.  Living in New Arcadia also meant he was walking distance of one of his bridge clubs;  we were out two, three, four evenings a week, I bell-ringing and he playing bridge.  There were still good times, but he’d stopped writing;  ‘the well is dry’, he said.

How do I tell you about twenty-three years with Peter in six minutes?   He was scarily intelligent and terrifyingly erudite;  he knew a profligate profusion of poetry off by heart, and once when I was driving back to Blue Hill from Bangor, Maine after a late night flight from England in the winter, a treacherous trip that took over an hour, he kept me awake reciting poetry nonstop and without hesitation or repeat.  He began with ‘Let me not to a marriage of true minds admit impediment’.  He loved my books maybe even as much as I loved his, and believed in me and my writing without any edge or restraint;  he never made me feel in any way less than him, despite being twenty-five years younger, and indeed after several years in his company I found I remembered the 1940’s well.  (I was born in 1952.)   But he was also not so much stubborn as monolithic:  his way was the only way about many, many things and if you disagreed you were merely bowled over.  He had kept four children quiet in the back seat of the car by telling stories;  he now told stories to me and the whippets as we tramped across the glorious, if frequently muddy, Hampshire countryside.  I called him the plot factory, and several of my stories spring from Peter’s ideas.  I have a few in my notebooks that I’m still hoping to write, if I can stop crying long enough.

He was adorable and maddening in about equal proportions. I assume I’ll get used to his absence;  most people do eventually adjust to loss and grief.  But I’ll remember him every day for the rest of my life, even if I knock Methuselah out of the top spot.

* * *

* We did him proud, if I do say so myself.  I’m going to see if I can persuade any of the others to let me post what they said too.  And yes, six minutes.  I ran about six minutes and ten seconds.  Bad me.  But not very bad.  I’m the widow.^  I have privileges.

^ Widowhood sucks.  Avoid.  Make a note.

 

 

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