I’m on a last-minute camping trip in Blacklands. My friend was going and invited us along and I couldn’t think of a reason why not. “Come on kids, we’re going camping!” I yelled up the stairs. “What, now?” said the eldest. “Yes, right now. Go pack!” I said, as I crammed the teapot into my handbag.
They thought I was joking “But mum, you’ve not gotten dressed for three days. You haven’t even been out to get milk, and now we are going, camping?” I didn’t realise how unspontaneous I was. How bad I’d gotten.
“Are you ok mum?” the youngest one asked, looking concerned, “have you run out of your tablets again?”
“No I haven’t, and yes I’m fine. We’re going camping. Why is that weird, why do you think there is something wrong with me?”
“Because yesterday you made us hide under the living room rug when someone knocked on the door…” said the middle one.
I realised how desperately I needed to get out the house. I’d become a hermit. A recluse. That one from ABBA who moved into a forest and never went out.
The husband was all for it. It would get the kids away from the TV and out in the great outdoors. He dug out his beloved mini BBQ and the Decathlon inflatable tent. He filled his pockets with sausages and the cooler bag with beer. He was keen for me to leave my pit. Stop taking to the plants and stroking cushions.
I’m writing this in the middle of a field. The tea kettle is about to whistle. It’s also about to rain, but never mind. We have hot chocolate and marshmallows. How cool am I? (Ok, don’t answer that. According to you readers, my writing is excrement, my poodle-hair-do is ten years out of date and I only have this gig because I’m ‘doing’ the editor. I know you don’t think I’m cool.)
But I feel cool. This time three-years ago, my beloved Maurice was killed in the Shoreham air crash disaster. Thanks to my friend, I’m not at home crying. I’m doing something he’d approve of (not my wonky tent erection). I’m living.
When I went to Firle Vintage Fair I missed him so much it was a physical pain in my chest. He loved ribbing me about the ‘tat’ I bought. His daughter used to dance there. This year, I signed me and the eldest up for Charleston lessons. This is to show I honour people not here. I will make an utter fool of myself in front of a class full of people with rhythm. I will make my daughter laugh. I will think of Maurice laughing at me. He had the best laugh.
Tonight, I’ll tell the kids that ghost story about the man who cut off his wife’s finger before pushing her off a cliff and how years later his car broke down on a windy night on a lonely dark road. How the door he knocked at was opened by a beautiful, eerily familiar figure. How over a candlelight dinner, he noticed she was missing a finger, and when asked where it was she screamed ‘YOU’VE GOT IT!’ Gets the kids every single time. It’s best told really quietly so the kids are really close to you when you get to the final sentence. My friend Meg told it to me all the time and she was the best. I used to wet myself in fear, aged 13.
While this is a distraction from missing Maurice, the knowledge is still there. I was with my brother and our kids the day of the crash. At the exact second Maurice’s car was hit, I was bouncing on a trampoline, laughing my head off. There is a video of me, head tossed back in joy. I watch it and hate myself for being happy.
I didn’t know though. I didn’t know and even if I did, what could I have done? I was there when my aunt died, and it was awful. It was like being in a dystopian nightmare. I wish I hadn’t gone. I wish I’d been on another trampoline, suspended in the air and the second before I found out the world had turned on it’s axis and I was going to have to live with a splinter inside me for the rest of my life.
But people die, and we are left with ghosts and grief, guilt and shame. We show appreciation for our lives by getting up, saying yes, dancing badly and putting the kettle on. In the words of Big Joe Turner ‘Get out of that bed, wash your face and hands. Get yourselves in the kitchen make a noise with them pots and pans.’
I’m trying, but underneath it all, how I miss you my friend.