Wednesday, 30 July 2008

A Friend Writes...

"Last night, my father was moved to a neurosurgical unit in a far away hospital. ‘Far away’. Makes it sound like some fairy tale. And yesterday began with such hope. Even thoughts of happy endings.

We’d rang the ward to be told that my father had enjoyed a comfortable night. My mother and my sister went to visit him yesterday afternoon, to take him his medication, his slippers, his newspaper. The nurse told them that he was fine but ‘we haven’t been able to wake him.’ Doctors spoke of a severe infection. So my mother and sister sat with him for an hour, talking to him as my father squeezed their hands though he seemed to be in the deepest sleep. Like a fairy tale too, I suppose. Last night they were called back to the hospital. When my mother rang to tell me that my Dad had suffered serious bleeding to the brain, I broke down in my girlfriend’s arms. I’ve never known such pain.

My sister, who has found such strength, such calm, said to me last night or early this morning, ‘let your writing get you through this.’ I didn’t know then as I don’t know now. It felt like something I would never do: have an overly sentimental reaction to an event of such profound emotional significance. Yet I woke up this morning at dawn crying again. Writing this is the only way I can make it stop for however short a time.

Waking up, there was no sudden moment of recollection. I had feared that I would emerge from sleep having forgotten the last 48 hours. I didn’t want to be subjected to the renewed sense of desolation. Instead there was just the profoundest sadness and this voice; this voice that so often writes inside my head and makes me happy by phrasing phrases, parsing sentences, writing jokes, constructing stories. It’s like another version of me but more self-assured, in control of his emotions. I wanted him to step in and help me for a time. I wanted him to help me overcome the pain I’m suffering this morning. I haven’t stopped crying for 24 hours. I don’t know what’s becoming of me.

My father is the kindest man I’ve ever known. The gentlest too. The perfect neighbour, he’s the man that everybody would turn to for help. And he would gladly give it. He had a tool for every job; his shed a shrine to the post-War make-do mentality with pieces of bent metal to get through every blocked drain or wall cavity imaginable. He has tools with handles he’s fashioned out of other tools, cable he has hoarded for the next electrical emergency. He’s the man who, at the height of summer, would spend hours in the front garden and talk to anybody who walked past. He loves to talk. He loves people. He believes that people are good and that the world is good. Yet for the last fifteen years he’s been in such pain that it changed his character. It made it so much harder that we are too much alike.

My mother says that’s why we’d so often clash. Our relationship is complex. I share his love of laughter, his interest in books and science, his fascination with how things work. I hope I also share his decency. Yet I only ever wanted to make him proud. He was probably the only man who willingly chose to read my Ph.D. thesis, though I think most of it was lost to him as it was probably lost on me. He loved poetry but not, I suppose, reading about poetry. And a deep hurt this morning, among so many deep hurts, is knowing that he never got to read my first novel. I thought having my book cancelled weeks before publication was the worst thing that could happen to me this year. I hadn’t shown him the book because I wanted to wait until it was really a book. Published. His family name on the cover. Yet now it means nothing except I can still hear my father’s laughter and I live in the hope that I might hear it again.

So I’m writing this and I don’t know if I’ll really post something so personal. I don’t know if I want these horrible unstructured words to represent all that I’m feeling because they don’t. But when I write, I do have a sense of something greater than my pain. I don’t mean to make people pity me or perhaps I do. And that also troubles me. Why share this? Why talk about this? Perhaps I want reassurance. I need to know that on the other side of this is a life I’ll be happy to live, that I’ll still have a chance to write, to be the man my father made me. Yet it sickens me to think that I’m even thinking of myself. That I cannot be strong. That I simply cannot stop crying."