In the latter part of the first year after JS’s death, I had a little fantasy.
No, not the one involving me, Alistair Campbell in his Lycra cycling shorts and a mobile phone charger, but that the day after the first year anniversary, I would burst forth from this debilitating darkness like a stripper out of a giant birthday cake, a smile on my face whilst yelling, “Watch out world! I’m back!” though wearing clothes, obviously.
Now the anniversary is upon me, I realise that I was as unrealistic about my entrance back into the ‘normal’ world, as I was about me and sex-on-a stool Alistair C when we met by chance in Carphone Warehouse.
Whilst I am smiling (sometimes through tears), my appearance at the first-year finishing line is less dramatic, akin to a butterfly slowly emerging from a rather ugly chrysalis: there’s been quite a lot of thrashing around, tentative antenna waving and cracking of my protective carapace, but parts of my wings are yet to totally unfurl. There is still a chance that just as I take flight, some passing toad sticks its tongue out and has me as a tasty little snack.
Quite why I thought I’d be different from everyone else, that I could approach the anniversary of JS’s death with a spirit of feisty F**k you Grief Monster! defiance, I really don’t know. I should have remembered that acts of great defiance in the face of adversity often end up with me in tears, something which JS (were he still alive) would attest to, having witnessed me haranguing a bus driver, numerous stuck-up mothers parked outside my garage, and a particularly nasty member of staff who tried to run me over with her moped in the underground car park at work. In all cases (and there are plenty more to which I plead “Guilty M’Lord”), I boasted that I was going to show that driver/mother/colleague what for. And I did, with bells on, only to collapse in a snivelling wailing heap later.
But still, I was totally prepared for the 27th February, 2012. There was absolutely no point (I told myself) to rehash the run up to that terrible day. I’ve done it all year, hundreds of times a day, and it does me no good at all. It doesn’t bring JS back, it doesn’t change anything, ergo, it’s simply a total waste of time and energy. These few days prior to the anniversary are just ordinary days.
Except they’re not.
Perhaps they will never be. I’ve written before that years after JS’s first wife died, the days in the run up to the anniversary of her death were always a tense and fraught time in our household. I’m not saying that I was unsympathetic, but I will admit to occasionally thinking, Oh for goodness sake! Get over it!
But it’s not that easy, is it?
On the 22nd February, 2011, I got my passport out because I was going on holiday. On the 22nd February, 2012, I got it out because I needed to show it to the bank as part of the whole death and finances thing. As I waited to be seen, I flicked through the pages and saw the Barbadian immigration stamps: inbound and outbound. What happened in between those passport stamps still seems unbelievable.
On the morning of the 23rd February, 2011, our cases were packed and waiting for a cab. On the 23rd February, 2012, the cases were still packed. They are still packed from the 3rd March, 2011, the day I left Barbados, without JS, for the overnight flight home.
On the 23rd February, 2011, I was at 30,000 feet sipping something sparkling, looking forward to arriving on a beautiful sun-kissed island. This year, at the same time, I was standing in my garage surrounded by JS’s things, overwhelmed and in tears by all the tins of paint and sets of golf clubs that I no longer need, but don’t know what to do with.
In the run up to the 27th, I’ve had bizarre dreams. There was one where JS was alive and sitting at a bar in the Caribbean with friends of ours. I’ve only seen his face once in a dream and he was dead. In this dream, JS was very much alive, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt. I saw his face. He was chatting, making plans for the future. I told him not to. He asked why. I told him he was going to drown. He didn’t believe me. I handed him a thin sheet of paper on which his autopsy results were printed in old-fashioned typewriter type. It was definitely a dream and not a ‘visitation’, as in the dream I was on holiday with Rio Ferdinand. As an Arsenal season ticket holder, going away with a Manchester United player counts as a nightmare, not a dream.
No matter how hard I tried not to do the whole: This time last year thing, I have done, every day this week. No wonder there have been tears and the occasional tantrum.
Tonight, as I type this, the Oscars are taking place in Los Angeles. I have Sky News on in the background and they’re covering them. I know that my brain goes off at strange tangents, and regular readers of this blog will think that whatever I’m going to write next about Tinsel Town’s most glamorous award ceremony will be followed by But I digress.
Except this time, there’s no digression.
There is one aspect of JS’s death that I have hardly thought about. I don’t know whether this is because I couldn’t bear to, or because I have been focused on the actual events surrounding JS’s death. And yet as I approach the first year, it has become massively traumatic for me to remember.
I am sure you will have your own painful memories of the same time.
The first night after the day of the death.
It was terrible to witness my husband’s drowning and the appalling circus on the beach. For such a private dignified man he had a very public and undignified death, though now I feel sure that he would not have known anything about it, that my screaming the name of his children and tickling his feet to bring him round, the yells of the crowd, my pleading for a jet ski to rescue him, for an ambulance to save him, for someone to help him, all fell on ears wired into an oxygen-starved brain. The rest of the day was a blur: of a terrifying blue-light ambulance ride; of the hospital; of doctors; of police; the Foreign Office; the British Consulate; of tour reps; of hotel staff; of hotel guests; of heartbreaking phone calls with screams on the other end of the line.
And then everyone left and there was just me. Thousands of miles away in paradise in a hotel room overlooking the the sea which killed JS, and the beach on which I knew life would never be the same again.
That first night alone, was, in some ways, worse than the day when the momentum of death kept me going, kept me hauled up by the armpits even though my feet were barely touching the ground.
Friends in the UK knew friends in Barbados and arranged for them to ring me. They suggested that they came to pick me up and take me to their house. It was a Sunday night and they were staying in to watch the Oscars. I would be very welcome to join them. I declined. I didn’t know them. I didn’t know anything except that my husband was dead and I was alone and far from home.
The sun went down.
The restaurant below my hotel room began to prepare for dinner.
I paced the room, a room which was the same as we’d left it in the morning: JS’s clothes over the back of the chair; his toiletries in the bathroom; the bed unmade. It was the Mari Celeste of rooms. Nothing had changed and yet everything had changed.
I could hear guests going into dinner, leaving their rooms, chatting as they walked along the corridor outside.
The band struck up.
I couldn’t bear it.
I rang the friends of friends and asked if I could change my mind and watch the Oscars with them. They said they were on their way.
I went down to reception, an area which overlooked the restaurant. As I waited, all eyes turned to me. For a moment, the band slowed down. It was surreal, almost comedic. I remember giving a slight wave and saying (to no one in particular) with an ironic laugh (not the right word, but if you were next to me, I could do an impression and you’d see what I mean), “Yes, I’m the woman on the beach whose husband drowned today.” I’ll never forget it. I want to forget it, but I can’t.
The friends of friends arrived. They were lovely. Warm Northerner’s working in Barbados. They drove me to their house which was on the edge of a golf course. It was absolutely fabulous. As I walked in I thought, “I must tell JS about this place!”
They made me tea and cheese and biscuits. They were terribly kind. They wanted me to stay with them.
I couldn’t settle. I couldn’t sit still. I needed to pace. Pace and pace and pace. I paced in their bathroom to try and get some pacing out of my system.
Warm Northerners had the Oscars on the television. I tried to watch them, the pretty dresses and the handsome film stars, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t sit still. My body was jumping inside.
I’d only been there (I think) half-an-hour or so when I asked them to run me back to the hotel. They wrapped up the cheese and crackers and we drove back.
The moment their car lights left the property, I desperately wanted to run out of the gate and up the road and beg them to take me back with them.
Armed with my snacks, I went back to the hotel room. I remember the band were playing Chris de Burgh’s Lady in Red. I hate the sentimental pap of Lady in Red at the best of times.
I put the televsion on. Coverage of the Oscars was still in full flow.
I kept pacing.
I could hear footsteps outside and doors close around me, couples going back to their room after dinner. Together.
The band stopped playing.
I looked over the balcony. The restaurant was almost empty.
I couldn’t stay in the room.
I went down to the bar. It was outside. I could hear the sea lap on the beach.
I drank whisky with the hotel manager and two of his friends who were in Barbados on a golfing holiday.
They were kind men, but they couldn’t sit up drinking spirits forever.
We all went back to our rooms.
There was still Oscar stuff on the TV.
I got undressed, put the white hotel dressing gown on and paced the room.
Everything was deathly quiet except for the noise of the whistling tree frogs. The first time we went to Barbados, JS made up a song for me. It won’t mean anything unless you know the tune, but the words go like this:
The whistling tree frog went over the hill
Down to the valley so shady
He whistled and he sang ’til the greenwood rang
And he won the heart of his lay-ay-dy frog
This trip, he promised that he would finally get round to composing a second verse by the end of the holiday.
I turned the TV off, lay on the top of the bed and turned the light out.
Seconds later I turned it on, terrified, images of what I had witnessed flooding my brain.
I put the TV back on.
I started pacing again.
Pacing. Pacing. Pacing.
In the early hours of the morning, I had to get out of the room. Still in my dressing gown, I started pacing around the property, desperate for human company. There was a man sitting underneath the pergoda where earlier the band had been playing. He was on a chair, asleep. I wanted to talk to him. To someone. To anyone. I paced round and round that bl**dy pergoda in my white dressing gown, but the man didn’t wake up. I went over to the bar and started poking around, not for a drink, just because I didn’t know what else to do. A big man appeared. I explained who I was and what had happened. He had heard all about it. He was sorry. I asked who the man under the pergoda was, the man who I couldn’t wake up despite circling him in a snowy white dressing gown. He was the hotel’s security guard.
I went back to our (my?) room.
The TV was still burbling away: News. Oscars.
The time difference between Barbados and the UK meant people were getting up at home. I rang them or they rang me. They kept me talking. I can’t remember what I said or in what order I spoke to people, I just know that those people I spoke to prevented me from doing something stupid thousands of miles away in paradise until my wonderful brother could arrive from the UK, which he did about five o’clock later that day.
The sun came up.
There was the sound of the clattering of dishes from the restaurant below as the breakfast buffet got underway.
I ran a bath, but felt too weak to get in it.
I lay on the bed.
The phone rang.
I can’t remember who it was, I just know that I was asked to go to reception as a car was being sent for me to take me to the hospital.
I put on a dress, heels and all my jewellery and a slick of lipgloss and went downstairs.
Couples were going to the beach.
I was going to the mortuary.