Sudden & Unexpected?

Day Twelve: Dark Clouds on the (Virtual) Horizon
Today’s Prompt: Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.
Today’s twist: include an element of foreshadowing in the beginning of your post.

“I’m dying,” Dad said.

I was sitting in the arm chair of Dad’s boxy living room, watching as he peered at his reflection in the mirror. He wasn’t dying. At least, he didnt appear to be… Dad had experienced a brain haemorrhage at the age of twenty-six, and the operation that saved his life left him with severe epilepsy; but that was on the 23rd of December 1983, twenty years ago – a year before I was born. There were no later illnesses or diagnoses for Dad to be thinking that way. Regardless, my stomach dipped at the thought of losing our gentle giant.

He stared deeply into his dark brown eyes, a look of sorrow on his face matching my own. My heart sunk a little. Dad would often experience down days like today. He’d say seemingly strange things during those times; ‘Are you even real?’ was one question I remember him asking. It wasn’t aimed at me… or at anyone in particular for that matter – the words were just spoken out loud in the silence of the room – and then forgotten… That is, until after Dad’s death, at which point those words resurfaced many a time in the silence of my room.  Am I even real? Is any of this real?

Dad’s depression wasn’t always obvious – most of my memories of Dad are of him laughing, of him making us giggle and of his gentle, caring ways. But amidst those precious memories, I distinctly remember Dad’s darker days – day’s when Dad thought the world was conspiring against him. Once, he accused Mum of trying to poison him with a packet of ham (it was unopened at the time.) When I was about seven, Dad had to be hospitalised until he was able to recover. The doctors labelled Dad a ‘manic depressive’ – but to us he was our beautiful, strong Dad. And the most loving, gentle soul we have ever known. A man who, despite his setbacks and sufferings, was generous, selfless and giving. I still have the fluffy, yellow monkey Dad bought for me whilst he was in hospital – my sister got a cuddly penguin. When Mum told Dad she would be bringing us along on her next visit, he’d bought cuddly toys for us from the hospital staff. Even in Dad’s darkest hours he was thinking of us…

I don’t blame Dad for experiencing depression. Even the strongest of people would struggle to cope with going from a fit, strong, working male; to suddenly experiencing daily seizures, the loss of clear speech, the ability to walk long distances because of the pain, and being told that you can no longer work or drive because of the risk of an accident –  all before reaching the age of thirty. The daily medication Dad took to control his epilepsy also impacted his moods. He would try to stop taking the pills because they dampened his spirits, but then the seizures would come with even greater frequency and violence than before.

Yet despite all this, Dad always managed to bounce back – many a weekend we’d all be sitting in Mum’s living room and Dad would suddenly erupt in fits of giggles over something one of us said or at a funny memory – like the time Dad told off some boys for throwing litter into our garden and it turned out to be rose petals; or the time Mum egged Dad on the head in a toy fight, and he decided to embarrass her by announcing what she’d done over Christmas dinner to Gran and Granddad. We were in hysterics (made worse by the unamused look on Gran’s face.) Maybe our family was a bit bonkers, but Dad’s laugh was contagious and sooner or later we’d all be laughing uncontrollably with him. But not today.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a fistful of Cadbury’s Roses that I had taken from the staff room table. I knew how much Dad loved chocolates and gave him a handful. He sat in the other arm chair and we ate our chocolates in silence. rosesI looked around his living room; at the hand me down furniture Mum had given him after one of her moves; at the small electric fire hanging on the wall; at his stereo in the corner of the room where he’d play Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin; at his wooden television, which always seemed to be fuzzy no matter how much you wiggled the aerial; and my heart ached for the times when we all lived together, as a family – safely protected under one roof. Dad deserved a throne, not this isolation he found himself in. I tried to make light conversation, but I could tell Dad’s thoughts were elsewhere – and so after a while, I left.

Six months later Dad died. Of an epileptic seizure in his one bedroomed house. Alone. By that time I had returned to Spain from my four month visit home for the Christmas period. I’d left for Spain in the February, and in May I received the phone call from Mum.

The official term for what happened to Dad, and others who have lost their lives to epilepsy, is SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). It was sudden and unexpected – at least, it seemed that way at the time. But I often think back to that cold, December evening in Dad’s living room, of the way Dad looked at his reflection in the mirror and announced to me that he was dying. And I wonder – “Did Dad know all along?”

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Wherever her mind wanders, she is already home.

Day Eight: Death to Adverbs Today’s Prompt: Go to a local café, park, or public place and write a piece inspired by something you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind. Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post.

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Here I sit, in the park behind my house. I don’t have a garden at home, and so the park has become my outdoor retreat. I often sit here to catch the last rays of sun; to people gaze, to study or to read a book. Today I am here to write.

As I sit, cross legged on my blanket, my eyes are first drawn to a family of Asian origin – a young couple and their toddler, who teeters on her feet, her tiny arms poised high like a tight-rope walker. She wears short denim dungarees and a crisp white sun hat. Her chubby, inquisitive legs are dotted at the ends by a pair of frilly, white ankle socks and teal strapped sandals. Her feet patter this way and that and before long, she spots a stray piece of paper fluttering in the grass. She waddles over and crouches to catch it as the wind sweeps it up and away from her reach. She follows a little before flopping onto her bottom, distracted by a new allurement in the grass.

The curious little wanderer continues to explore as Dad watches from his seat on a nearby bench. His hair is full and thick as it dances in the breeze. Mum is lolled across the tire swing and is rocking to and fro, her limbs draped over the sides in a rag-doll fashion. I am in complete awe of her; her relaxed state of being; her complete trust in her partner, who watches over their baby girl; her ability to just be. She does not fuss or stir, she doesn’t rise to instruct or to check that everything is in order – she simply sways, her youthful face cast to the sky. What is she thinking? Does she dream of her homeland and relatives afar? Does she wish to be transported to that vibrant place? Or is she just stealing a moment to herself whilst she can? Something in her manner tells me that whatever she is doing, she seeks nothing more than this moment. Wherever her mind wanders, she is already home.

She remains in her serene state, even as two Staffordshire Terriers begin to bark, bolting toward a group of girls who are pic-nicking nearby. The adult dog bulges and swells with muscle and the pup, who is equally sturdy despite her smaller frame, boasts a beautiful blue-grey coat. The young boy clutching at the reigns doesn’t stand a chance and he is forced to dig his heels into the grass as though competing in a tug of war. He leans back so far that he is practically horizontal and he slides to the floor in his struggle. I can’t help but chuckle as the power hounds drag him along on his bottom, tugging and yanking until they eventually reach the girls, who are squealing and disbanding with haste. The jumpy duo find this even more thrilling as they lick and pounce and chase. The boy’s mum is heavy with child and has been lumbering her way over. She takes charge of the reigns and within moments, all is calm again. The teenage girls begin to drift and edge their way back to their blanket, reforming like tidewater.

I return my gaze to the young family and smile. The little girl has discovered her sleepy mummy on the swing and she reaches up, making a clutching motion with her tiny fingers and hands. Daddy saunters over, lifting her onto the tire swing as mum wraps her arms around her daughter, holding her baby close to her chest. It is here that I remain, gazing at their love, watching as Dad pushes his small family on the swing. And as I watch, it is as if time is standing completely still.

Lost

Writing 101, Day Four: Serially Lost
Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.

What’s important is reflecting on this experience and what it meant for you — how it felt, why it happened, and what changed because of it.

I was working at a beach front bar in Alicante, Spain; a decision I’d made on a whim aged seventeen. My best friend had asked if I wanted to move away with him, so I dropped out of college and announced to my family that I was leaving. Mum never tried to stop me, she said that she wished she’d had the opportunity to travel when she was young. My sisters were insanely jealous. Dad cried. Everyone said I would be home in three weeks…three years later I was still living in Spain, only visiting home twice in that time, the most recent at Christmas. Back then, I felt I was living in paradise, a far cry from my dreary home town in Manchester. I had not a care in the world. That was, until my world as I knew it came crashing down around me.

It was a sunny day in May, I was outside on the terrace cleaning the tables when I heard the phone ring from inside the bar. Nothing unusual. My friend and colleague, Alina, answered. There was a pause – and then she called out my name. I strolled indoors, and casually took the receiver.
“Hello?” A long pause. Odd. “Hello…?” I repeated.
“…Hayley?” came the broken sound of my Mum’s voice from the other end. She sounded so far away. So…distant. I sensed that the distance had nothing to do with the miles between us… She choked, struggling to say the words. She didn’t have to, because in that moment I just knew – knew that my perpetual fear had become my reality.

My heart heaved in my chest as my world became a sudden vortex of emptiness. A vacuum of nothingness. All senses lost. Somewhere in the distance I could hear Mum crying as she struggled to tell me that Dad was dead. “It’s your Dad…he’s…gone.” And then sobs. “…Hayley? …Hayley?”

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. I dropped the receiver and somehow my legs carried me outside. Somewhere far in the distance, I heard an awful sound, a prolonged and painful moan which seemed half human, half animal. As Alina wrapped her arms around my shoulders, I realised that sound was coming from me. My knees buckled beneath the weight of the world and I dropped to the hard pavement, my heart wrenching as it shattered into irretrievable pieces. I trembled and shook as waves of uncontrollable sobs consumed me. I heard muffled voices approaching to see what the matter was. As my world violently tilted and turned, I was forced to stand before I was sick. I have to get out of here. But where do I go? I don’t belong here. I left. Alina called after me but she couldn’t leave the bar unattended. I walked. And walked and walked. I found a secluded spot on the beach, and there I sat, just staring out to sea.

I don’t know how long I sat there for. I don’t know what I felt, or what I thought, only that everything seemed so insignificant. So bland. So colourless. So…empty.

In the hours that followed I discovered the cause of Dad’s death – his epilepsy. I knew it would take him from me eventually. From the very moment I first witnessed Dad having an epileptic fit when I was aged five, I knew that his violent seizures – which caused him to plummet face first into concrete, to scold his skin as he landed, uncontrolled, on hot surfaces, to almost drown in the bath – would one day take his life. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I regularly had nightmares of losing him. Sometimes the dreams started off happy; Dad and I would be out, walking the woods or the canals. He would name the different birds we’d see and hear, and then, somehow, we’d become separated. I would call out after him. I could hear him calling out for me in the distance, but I could never quite reach him. Then he would be lost. Gone forever. I’d wake to tears streaming down my face. And now, my reoccurring nightmare had become my waking reality.

Despite knowing Dad’s epilepsy made him vulnerable, and that one day it could quite possibly take his life, I wasn’t prepared for the suddenness of his death…Parents aren’t supposed to die until they are old… Dad was only forty-seven – his hair hadn’t even turned grey yet…I never had the chance to say goodbye….Does he know I love him? When did I last tell him I loved him? Was he in pain? Oh I wish I had never said that when we fought. I’m so selfish. Why was I living here and not there? Spending those precious last moments with my Dad? Why didn’t I stay in Manchester when I went home for Christmas? Why was I so preoccupied with coming back here – to this empty place? Why did he have to leave so soon? So suddenly? And all alone? Was he in pain? Did he know he was dying? Dying alone… Did he call out for us? I should have been there. Does he forgive me for not being there? Was he hurting? I’ll never see his face again. Or feel his bear hugs. Who will walk me down the aisle when I marry? Who will my future children call Granddad? Is this it? Is this my life now? I don’t want this life. I want to turn back the clocks. Was he in pain? Oh – why did he have to be alone? These were the unanswered questions and thoughts that taunted and haunted me, left me racked with guilt and grief for the many, long, bleak months that followed.

Sorrows are our best educators. A man can see further through a tear than a telescope. Grief should be the instructor of the wise…

– Lord Byron

Without risk of this post becoming too long, or too depressing, I will omit the dark period that followed my Dad’s death. My grief continued for a long time afterwards, however, those feelings of utter emptiness and despair did, over time, subside. The pain of losing a loved one never truly leaves – but the dull ache and rawness eventually gave way to acceptance; with acceptance there came an understanding; understanding paved the way for peace, which, in time, allowed happiness to reside in my heart once more. It is true when they say – time heals. That’s not to say that time has healed the wound completely, but I have learnt to live with the scar of losing my Dad. There are still times when I am transported back to the moment of Dad’s death, and I am haunted with hindsight, guilt and grief. Yet, I understand that Dad’s love was so deep, so great, that he would never ever wish unhappiness on his family. Time has taught me that life is precious. Moments are to be cherished. Time has taught me that we should express our love and gratitude daily, because in doing so, we share our love with the world. I am thankful for the brief time I spent with my Dad, for the memories that we shared. Those spots of time in our existence will always remain, and however short-lived those moments were, however fleeting – the love I hold for him in my heart is infinitely endless.

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Loving you always – forgetting you never xx

Forever Young

Writing 101, Day 3: Commit to a Writing Practice

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Today, try free writing. To begin, empty your mind onto the page. Don’t censor yourself; don’t think. Just let go. Let the emotions or memories connected to your three songs carry you.

Ok – so I cheated a little with this one – I’m still struggling with the concept of ‘free write’ when I know somebody else will be reading my work. I’m still trying to break out of my habit of attacking these assignments in the same manner that I write my Uni assignments – checking for grammar and punctuation and that it makes sense… I’ve also only written about one song! I may return and write about two more songs using the concept of free write later! But for now, here’s my first attempt.

Forever Young – Bob Dylan

Forever Young reminds me of the most courageous, selfless man I have ever been blessed enough to know – my Dad.

garfieldMany a day passed when the sound of Dad caterwauling to a cacophony of Bob Dylan tracks could be heard from our kitchen, as he cooked for us his latest concoction; sausage and egg butty (with a cheese slice); waffle and bacon butty (with a cheese slice); sausage, waffle, egg AND bacon butty (with a cheese slice). At the time, I didn’t quite appreciate Dad’s love of Dylan’s raspy tones, (or his Garfield the Cat inspired sandwiches for that matter!) But when Dad passed, I longed to hear him wailing out of tune, I craved Bob’s lyrics and for the sound of his harmonica to drift through our home once again. But most of all, I wanted nothing more than to see our gentle giant stroll through the door holding a great, big, greasy butty (with a cheese slice!)

I have Bob’s lyrics tattooed on my inner arm:

May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung;
May you stay forever young.

Forever Young reminds me of how Dad lived his life, and of how I aspire to live mine each day: May you always do for others and let others do for you.

Bob Dylan

Bob in his heyday.

I was lucky enough to see Bob Dylan on my travels. I went alone to watch him play live at the Vector Arena, in Auckland. Despite the packed out venue, there was an empty seat beside me, which I honestly believe was occupied by the love and spirit of my Dad. I listened in admiration to Bob’s two hour set, imagining Dad watching Bob play live when he was in his heyday. Admittedly, my heart sunk a little when the curtains closed before hearing Forever Young play; but then, to my utter astonishment and gratitude, the curtains rose, and Dylan’s harmonica once again drifted throughout the stadium to the sound of the crowd cheering. The unmistakeable melody of Forever Young filled Vector Arena and filled my heart, enveloping it with Bob’s words and the love of my hero, my Dad.

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My Dad in his heyday 🙂

Presthaven Sands

Writing 101, Day 2: A Room with a View (or Just a View)

If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?

Today’s twist: organize your post around the description of a setting.

A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.

– Joan Didion

A wave of nostalgia rises in my chest as I wistfully leave the quiet of my quaint Oxfordshire room. I am washed upon the shores of Presthaven Sands. It has been over twenty years since I have walked these grassy dunes, yet I am here now, a child again; blissfully unaware that these moments spent holidaying in Wales, would be some of the last of a time when our family remained complete.

I remember well the walk from our caravan to the beach; wooden walkways weaving upwards through the dunes, stopping just short of the crest of the hill. I try to keep up with my sister, Sarah, who races ahead in her usual bid to lose me. She is two years older than I am, but her height would have you think more, at five years of age she is all legs and feet. Some of the horizontal slats are missing from the pathway and I hesitate before hopping across to safety. The thick, grassy blades beneath are sharp, but my memory sharper, as I recall a previous trip to Wales when one of those blades borrowed itself deep into the sole of my foot. Oh! How I’d tried to fight back my tears as Mum removed it from my tender skin.

With trepid steps I continue, the wind whipping through my hair as it carries the high-pitched yelps of Alex, our fluffy white Samoyed, high up into the sky. Never did I feel so alive then in this moment of pure anticipation and bliss. The beach was a rare experience for a young girl growing up in Tameside, Manchester, and I longed to stay in that place forever.

I finally reach the summit, joining my sister at the top. We stand overlooking the beach below, eagerly glancing over our shoulders as we await the moment Mum would signal our descent. She’s talking to my Auntie and Uncle and we try to catch her attention. 50I can just make out Dad’s dark hair dancing in the distance, wild like the wind, as he trails a few feet behind the others. Dad mostly walked in solitude, preferring to take it all in. When Mum finally nods her head, off we bolt, racing down to the beach below! Our descent is as dangerous as it is thrilling; the fear of being bowled over by a big barking bundle of fluff; the stray sand dunes with their thick, pointy blades, the jagged rocks and sea shells which have been washed up along the beach edge. I stop to collect a few, holding the hem of my dress and placing them gently inside my make shift hammock. I have vivid memories of lining them up once back at the caravan, cleaning them and admiring my new-found treasures. Even now, aged thirty, I own shiny pebbles from the beaches I have visited across the globe. My Mum says I’m a hoarder. Admittedly I am, but only a hoarder of memories and sentimental things. I’m much more brutal when it comes to discarding material objects, (much to the satisfaction of the local charity shops!)

We walk our usual annual walk to the lighthouse; a walk we can only take once the tide is out. Mum tells us that we’ll have to be quick before the tide returns, which only adds to the thrill and excitement of our adventure. The further we walk, the more the sand resembles the sea, which has left behind imprints of ripples and waves. 47We stop along the way to kick a beach ball with Dad, to draw pictures in the sand with sticks, and to admire the rainbow coloured jelly fish which have been washed up along the shore. Alex yelps at them and has a good sniff. Mischievously, Sarah and I throw lumps of sand on top of them to see how their bodies wobble. As we get nearer, the white and red speck of the lighthouse on the horizon grows taller and taller until eventually, it looms large above our heads like a giant majestic sea creature! The sea waves crash against the rocks as the sound of seagulls circling above permeates the air. We climb the jagged edge to the lighthouse, our feet slippery and mucky from the soggy sand. Once sitting safely, we gaze out over the water and breathe the salty sea air deep into our lungs.

We made it! Our family; forever united in our perilous adventures across Presthaven sands. And it is here I remain, in that perfect place, which is forever imprinted in my heart.

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