“It’s okay to cry.”
I was back in the office of my counsellor.
Could it be just me or is crying in front of a stranger, a strange female, something that most middle-aged men would find acceptable? I did everything that I could do to keep a stiff upper lip. I braced myself. I took deep breaths.
“If you want to cry, it is all part of the process.”
I was part of a process now. I was in the process of working through a personal trauma that had brought me to a crashing standstill and…now I was being asked to cry as some type of cleansing therapy. The problem was that I thought that crying would be just a little distraction. It would be like having leaches placed on an exposed stretch of skin with the intention of them sucking out the corruption. Tears would not do it. I hadn’t even cried at my father’s funeral or at any time since he’d died.
One of my favourite films is Field of Dreams. This, as most of you will know, is a male weepy. There has never been a time when I have watched it that I have been able to control the seepage of emotion.
“Dad, do you want to play catch?”
I can feel the artesian well now, but there is no music, no camera angles and no conclusion to our shared journey. You see, the film was a process in itself. As was my father’s death. The question is, why has the death of my dad come back to haunt me after over five years?
A huge lump of granite lay in my stomach. I was being asked to regurgitate the past. That block of forever granite was there, sentinel, obstructive. My dad was listening to what I was about to say. I heard him sitting in the corner, a shuffle of shoes and a cursory clearing of the throat. It is alright, I wanted to tell him, it is alright, I’m not going to break down. But the tide of emotion was returning from the morning I saw him cold and grey in the sterility of the hospital’s chapel of rest.
“You go, Matthew,” my mother had said. “I can’t look at him.”
She had sat all day and through the night. She had talked and silently sobbed as he waded into the shallows. She held his right hand, closer in this moment than in many a year they had shared before. She was holding his hand when the nurse arrived to check. It wasn’t alright. My mum, trapped in hope, had not noticed the changes on the monitor. She held his hand and squeezed as if to rub some more time into him. His chest rose and fell, rose and fell, and he was, for all intents alive. The nurse moved off quickly and returned with the doctor. By this point, my mother would have been becoming aware. But her husband was breathing. Watch the rising and falling of his chest. He always slept deeply.
“Mrs Evans, I’m sorry but your husband is dead.”
What did they know? He is still breathing. Look at his chest. Look at his chest.
“That’s the respirator, Mrs Evans. It is the respirator that is doing that.”
No, it wasn’t. He was still alive. He was sleeping. Come on Brian, wake up.
I have never seen her so empty as I saw her that morning. I was the dutiful son taking the lead. When I saw him in the chapel of rest, I understood that his passing had left a vacuum in all our lives.
“Dad,” I murmured. “Dad, what are you doing scaring us all like this?”
He didn’t answer. His face was sunken and pale. Death had been with him for some ten hours.
I wanted to be Jesus. Come forth Brian. The stubborn bugger wouldn’t move; he was in a mood with me.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered so that my mum wouldn’t hear me.
I wasn’t really sorry about what I was apologising for but I was sorry that he managed to die before we had properly worked it through. You see, we had argued some months prior to this and had only recently, grudgingly shrugged of the disagreement. And disagreement it certainly was. As our arguments went, this was top by a long score. Every single family factor was brought to the table and every last piece was served in ballistic fashion.
Charlotte had started sitting forward in her chair as I spoke. She was avidly listening but her stance had changed from counsellor to interested participant. She had become the audience and would occasionally stop me to ask for explanation of events and back-stories. Back-stories, I had in abundance.
My dad was born the second youngest of a family of twelve. He had ten brothers and one older sister. By the time he was ten, his father had left the family in search of work. He never returned so it fell upon his mother to bring up the sons. The daughter had married and moved into her own home. At the age of twelve, my dad had to go around to his elder sister’s house with a note. The note informed her that their mother had died suddenly. Norah, the sister, was obliged to take the other siblings under her wing. I gather that she did so with a stoic quality that was common of that age. The war had just ended so there were a lot of people in similar circumstances. War had taken many fathers in the field of
combat whilst enemy bombings had taken a significant number of those who remained at home. A brave new world was at hand and the ones who faced it did so with uncertainty and trepidation. Nevertheless, the worst was over.
I have stories that he told me about his childhood but there aren’t many. I know that a bomb once landed in their back garden after a raid. They discovered it the next morning and put ashes over the offending intruder until the right authority came to deal with it. Ashes? Odd choice.
So, the years that followed were growing up years. He was a bit of a dare-devil and a tearaway. He played rugby to a decent standard. He told me of a brief relationship he had with a married woman and about the ensuing fight he had with her husband. In fact, he had two fights: one with the husband and the husband’s mate in which my dad was beaten up and one when he hunted down his cowardly assailant some months later and gave him a return beating. I was proud of that part of him. After the war, he went to technical college even though he had passed his 11 plus. He was bright, gregarious and sharp as a knife.
“You sound as if you’re proud of your father.”
“I suppose it does. But…” I had to stop and think. “But actually, I often think that I never knew him.”
I’ve noticed with myself in the last couple of years that I have drawn further within the older I get. My wife has noticed it as well. She has told me that I never talk about anything.
“Why do you think that is?”
“What’s the point? It doesn’t solve anything. Nobody notices. It’s like the stuff that people say after a sudden death, “Make the most of every second because you never know when it’s your turn”. The thing is, that it is always going to come around, your time. Somebody has just died since I’ve written that and you’ve read this . Seize the day! What I want to know is how we are supposed to seize it. What are we supposed to be seizing?”
“Do you think they may mean that we should do what we really feel that we should do?”
Charlotte was coaxing out more explanation.
“I think it’s just something that people say as a comforter. When somebody has died, we have a desire that it must make sense. We aren’t just born to die. We are supposed to be creatures that have a higher purpose. It’s supposed to have meaning. What if it was all just nonsense? What if every single thing that we do, every series of events that snake around us, everybody we have ever loved or even hated for that matter, are just accidents of chance. If that is the case, then we are all lost without even knowing it.”
“What do you think?”
She asked me this question, probably aware that I didn’t have an answer. My mind was tumbling with newly sprouted hypotheses but there was nothing firm about it. Mental masturbation is what it was, creating questions and running down pathways, not to reach a climax of understanding but just to play around with the thoughts. The truth of it was that I liked this after-accident evaluation. Part of me was dead and the rest was floating above the scene trying to make sense of it. Nevertheless, just the act of trying to make sense made sense.
To Be Is To Do.
To Do Is To Be.
Do Be Do Be Do.
Cognito ergo sum.
“I think that I don’t know. I think that I will have to think about it some more; and then some. I think that I should sometimes stop thinking and just do, be do be do. My dad never had a problem with discarding deep thinking. He once criticised me for thinking too much about the past. He told me to, “Just get on with today.” I told him that I found that impossible and that I found the past interesting. He said something about dead people and nonsense. I just nodded and turned away. I wonder if he would have ever imagined that I would be thinking about him now all these years after he died?”
Don’t think. Don’t prevaricate. Act.
Act 1 Scene 1
A middle-aged man in a room with a woman. They are sitting facing each other. He has his right leg crossed over the other and is pushed back into his chair. She is sitting slightly forward. She holds a notepad and a pen but she doesn’t write. The man is talking. The woman is listening. Her eyes watch him whilst he looks beyond her into some vague setting.
“Where are you now?” She asks.
I’m back in school. I’ve just played football for the school team and I scored the winning goals.”
“Why do you look so unhappy?”
“My dad never came to see me. I played football lots and scored lots of goals. I was a decent player. Not once, not ever, did my dad come to see me play. How does a father do that to his child? What was he thinking? The thing is that I learnt from him. I learnt how not to be a father. My wife taught me how to be a proper one, a dad and a husband.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“I suppose that it should make me feel angry. I should be full to the brim with resentment. All those years of playing and not once was he there to see me. That was the norm for working class men. Too busy at the club with their mates playing at being lads who never grew up. Never, never. And, do you know what? I do feel something about that which is not anger at him, but guilt for my own self. It was me who was the cause of him not being there. I was a let-down and there was nothing I could do to change his mind. He didn’t come to see me because he wasn’t proud of me so I spent the rest of my life trying to make him proud. That was after I had got over the fact that I once thought that I hated him.”