Dying for heaven
"Life is what happens while you're making other plans" – John Lennon
Tearing itself through my body, I was consumed once again. It was a fear that made me tremble inside; an overwhelming need like a hunger denied of food; a pain that was most definitely real yet without a observable wound. Just like time and time before I sat staring at the scenes of my jilted memory. It plagued me in the kindest way – giving permission to a fraction of my lust to remember, yet obscuring what I had convinced myself was too terrible to remember anyway. The fantastically normal abode clouded my vision whilst my eyes tried to concentrate their way up the gravel path inclining to images permanently etched on me. The white freckled wooden door was upon me now, I could see through the disturbed glass panel enough to make out a coat rack. I didn't touch the glass – I didn't really want to be here in the first place – but it was insisted upon. The door opened as if by magic – I would have given that more thought if I hadn't already been sure this wasn't real. I was in now, through the porch door, gaze now upon those awful walls. How it was possible I'll never know, but brush strokes of pinks and blues contaminated the walls and were offset against the plumpness of the grey and purple sofas – much to the same marble effect. I cringed at the thought of having to do the tour again, I knew what followed. Stair case to my left now and kitchen out back, walking up the stairs I saw the event that stuck played out again for me.
"When I grow up I hope I look just like you" my tiny self confirmed.
On track, I followed the course laid before me. One bedroom on the left now; medium sized; pink and blue flashes and dogs running in front of me. "If it wasn't brown it was pink" I thought to myself. Biggest bedroom coming up, 2 single beds – different arrangements at different times, a tape player on the floor and darkness. The only one left now and then surely I can leave again. A box room with nothing in it but shapes and me - I think. I could see a tall figure crouched by the side of my oblong reluctantly stroking my tiny head. I seemed to be trying to fall asleep but fighting the lightness I felt for fear of being left alone - as much as it pained me having him there.
Enough, my eyes focused back to reality, it was still raining outside the window. I blinked a couple of times and pushed my contacts quickly from one side of my eyeball to the other – staring into the pointless always made my eyes dry. I distracted myself with menial tasks for the rest of that afternoon; I knew I wouldn't have to think again for a while if I kept myself distracted. I knew that the same pictures would be presented to me again soon, and then again and then again. I also knew that one of those times I'd be in the mood to look a bit further around the house – maybe even venture out of the street; to school, to the shop and possibly even the house after this one - which wasn't as pink.
"Have you started reading it yet?" I'd come to the place I could always go - my sisters - and the same question came at me that seemed to always come recently. She didn't give me chance to say no again.
"It's getting so good; I can't stop thinking about it. I started at 7 o'clock last night and didn't put it down till 1 am. I can't stop, I can't, it's like I wanna keep reading but I don't want it to be over you know?" I knew, and it was a rhetorical question anyway so again, no answer came.
The thing was, I'd already read the first parts of the story Ellie was gushing about, and it knotted my stomach in utter dread that I may never feel for real what these two wonderful characters did to each other. I ached to have what they had, everything I was relied upon having it. It hurt to bring myself back to reality each time I was asked to and it was frankly embarrassing to try to control the ecstasy I depicted of this make believe world.
"Do you want a cup of tea?" there's a question I had an answer to that she needed to hear this time.
"Mmm yep, thanks" I shot my eyes towards the sink to suss out the cup cleanliness situation. It was good today and I could stay in my seat.
The tea was being made through a babble of excited sighs, words and hand gestures all about this book. I didn't need to interrupt, just look interested, nod, laugh and "mmmmhhhmmm" every now and again. I'd get round to reading it, just when the excitement was over this end.
She was brilliant to me, I looked up to her, adored her, she made me angry and frustrated, yet still no feeling could deflate our connection. It amazed me how you could feel so many things for one person and still stay so close to them. My empathy for her grew every second I was around her, sometimes it was so overwhelming that I was left with no choice but to shut down and try to ignore the existence of some things. Our roles were totally intertwined – reversible and just as important as each others. Sisters by blood, somehow with a natural connection that threw us together as aids, as family, and kept us there – right by each others side. As I watched her crash from one kitchen work top to another with dishes and clothes from the tumble dryer, my mind dazed across a new set up of pictures. Clearer this time, more upsetting and one that left everything else in the world that didn't need doing even further to one side.
"I've lost all feeling on the situation now Becca, I feel like I just don't care any more. Nothing's touching me." It wasn't true, and I knew exactly how Ellie felt.
The scene was a fair few months old now, it was exhausting but strangely calming at the same time. Finally some closure? Who knew, but it was worth a try. Things were coming to a head again, but this time on Ellies terms. After 4 years of no contact Mum was finally back in touch – we knew she would be at some point. For what reason was the thing that we could only assume, despite any given explanation. First thoughts were something dire – illness? Death? Could it be genuine? That was definitely a no. In fact they were all a no.
"Becca will you go grab any dirty dishes from the front room for me?" she was commanding yet an apologetic tone ran through her voice as always.
I brought myself back to the room without Ellie noticing I had been gone. The visits were usually the same. The walk up Sandford Hill was steep but short, the steps up to the small row of houses felt like a million steps as opposed to the 6 that presented themselves each time I arrived. It always reminded me that I should get back to the gym but thankfully the feeling never lasted. The house was just like any other house, to look at anyway. This history of every word spoken inside that house was a feeling I would never shake, a feeling I was sure I wasn't alone with. I would come up to the house, hover around the kitchen not committing to a departure time, then settle down with a cup of tea. Ellie would talk, a lot, and I would listen. There were always so many things I would want to say myself, but as much as I tried once the words reached a certain point they would be muted and my actions would be blinded. I would stay and nothing much would happen but the house made me feel happier and so did Ellie.
Afternoon rolled into evening seamlessly and I felt at ease despite the hectic encounters I was having along the way. Codey was 3 – a proper little boy – a phrase used by most people to justify that their child was just a little bit naughty. But there was no getting away from it; he was a little bit naughty – fantastically so - but a lot, lot more too. Finn was 5, going on 25 and a personality beyond comprehension. When ever my mind felt dull I would force it to recount the endless hours I'd spend with Finn and it would lighten every corner back up within seconds. Finally, Luke was 11, my heart jumped every time I thought of Luke – a true miracle to my life. The first real human I knew unequivocally that I loved with all my soul. I didn't have to think, I didn't have a back catalogue of events to argue against my feelings, to tell me it couldn't be true. It just was, and from the day he was born I knew I would do anything for him. My nephews were enough for me – what ever happened in life I knew they were a constant; I knew I could control my relationship with them because it was up to me to make one with them. They overwhelmed me in every way, and I craved their life around me like a drug but the feelings never fazed me,. The feelings always seemed familiar to me; I guess I'd have to wait to find out why.
This weekend was a big one – Rob's birthday and we got to talking about it over our freshly made teas. It brought together the 4 of us in an almost forced fashion after the last year's worth of events, but as always it promised to be unnaturally comfortable but thankfully without drama. The rest of the evening and week passed quickly – it always did now – a wish I'd battled with since I could remember. I would always sit at my perfectly tidy 9 to 5 desk willing the afternoon to obscure the morning, then hoping the evening would stay a little longer. The guilt I felt at effectively wishing my life away was silly – it was a well known gripe of the world so it would be rude not to partake in a little groan on a daily basis.
Inside The Jam we sat huddled around a coffee table tucked towards the backside of the room. The soft, mauve leather armchair induced the comfortable feeling for all of us. However, Ellie sat perched on the edge of hers in a lady like fashion tugging at her thigh skimming peach dress, unnecessarily trying to conceal her dignity from the standing crowds surrounding us.
"What time are they on then?" I was trying to break the ice on the conversation in my usual awkward manner. It kind of worked.
"9 I think, but there 'ere every week so I reckon they'll just rock up 5 minutes before they're due to go on." My awkwardness seemed to be catching - I'd wonder why but I knew Ellie too well.
"Should be good, I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully they'll have some new stuff from the last time I came – but that was ages ago now anyway!" I continued with my pointless and rather boring conversation. What I really wanted was for it to be a few 470 odd ml glasses of lagers down, the band to be on and for the harmless onslaught of jokes and insults to commence between myself and Rob.
I cracked my neck as I shuffled in my seat to get a better view of the dance floor, it was full and beautiful women strutted from one side of the room to the other. First to the bar, then to the tables, then to the toilets then finally back to their seats. Their purpose was clear; to be noticed - which comforted me and irritated me at the same time. My thought process was never straightforward, always conflicted by another school of thought. Sometimes I felt a bit mad – like I had 2 of me speaking in unison – but I chose to ignore this.
"You alright Bec?" eurgh, I must have drifted into another thought process that took my attention away from reality again.
"Yeah yeah, sorry just a bit knackered!" I piped back a false truth which I thought I could carry off. I got the look from Ellie that made me openly conscious of my lie.
"You've seemed a bit distracted tonight – are you sure?" she pressed me further in a very accusing tone, but I knew she'd drop it as soon as I said yes again.
"Yes – honestly" I pleaded my case one last time.
Ram Jam's Black Betty came on and distracted the tone of the conversation. Rob immediately started off with his best impression of Pete Charles and carried it off well. This time the 'dance' felt appropriate, one time amongst the many times the dances were good, just littered with swarms of stares. Ellie was embarrassed as usual; she pushed her long brown hair away from her shoulders and took another gulp of her lager. I never worked out whether she was actually bothered by Rob or if she was acting that way for our benefit. I loved the fits of performances that commanded Rob so easily. It lightened the atmosphere and made me laugh.
"Eurgh this song" she complained with a half grin across her face "I love it but it reminds me of Dad so much. Do you remember when he used to play it full blast downstairs when we were kids? " The question was definitely directed at me but I hadn't the faintest idea what she was talking about.
"Ha yeah – I love it" sometimes I'd lie. One – so I could feel a bit more involved in the conversation, two – so I didn't make anyone feel awkward and three – because I didn't want to talk about the lack of reasons any more. I did like the song; everyone must have liked that song. It was crazy and let even the most pruned of the beautiful women in the venue lose a small bit of their dignity to do their own variation of head banging. About one minute thirty into the song and Rob was going for it; Ellie was jigging in a controlled manner to the right of me – that control would go within about another hour I suspected. To the left, my peripheral concluded that as usual Mark was sat stiff as a board, arms crossed over his chest looking just as uncomfortable as he always did. If it was possible, his awkwardness outshone mine by miles on a regular basis. The awkward gene was always one I sympathised with and had great affection for in the same breath. Mark was Rob's older brother; 6 foot tall, physically fit and some way to the epitome of tall dark and handsome – the only trait he lacked was the confidence and panache of the cliché. Although he shied away from most human contact, large crowds of people during a social event, girlfriends and any form of eye contact - he was sweet and easy to be around.
"Hey Bec" Ellies voice was loud now - I leant in to hear what she was about to say which dragged Rob and Mark into the conversation too.
"Finns been having trouble again, I had him up most of last night wandering around my room in some sort of daze screaming. It took me hours to get him to settle down again."
I thought she looked a bit knackered.
"Don't s'pose Rob heard any of it did ya? I teased in his direction knowing full well that I was right.
"Ha, nope, same old Rob! Just keeps reminding me of you Becs, I know it shouldn't – I know the reason why he's doing it now or I guess I've had to accept it, but it just scares me that he could be doing what you did."
It was a heavy conversation for the evening as far as I was concerned and I instantly didn't want to be part of it.
"Yeah but I grew out of it Ellie, and I can barely remember that now so I wouldn't think on it too much. Concentrate on what the doctor said and keep your head above water with it all – he'll be fine!" I of course didn't know any of that was 100% true but managed to persuade Ellie that it was.
The night progressed in an orderly fashion; drinks were drunk, we laughed about life and ignored the onset of past and present issues weighing down our minds, we danced and talked until Duke finally appeared up front ready to start. The band was great – they stole cliché songs which inundated our ears 24/7 on the radio and made them fantastic. With nothing but 2 voices, a guitar and some beat boxing the songs were brand new yet totally recognisable. Swarms of girls preyed like vultures inside to get a better view of the swagger that now presented itself to the swell, so we went outside to get a better view through the big open window. Rob was up front nearest the crowds – he was pretty drunk by now, Ellie and I had the best seat nowhere near anyone and Mark hung back uncommitted to anyone, arms crossed once again. We were all pretty wobbly by now, some worse than others, some not engaging enough to confirm whether alcohol had taken proper hold yet. I started to feel bad, I knew Ellie wanted to talk to me, I knew I was unapproachable on some level for the most part. She'd been trying to bring up glimmers of feelings all night that I had taken the view to distract from to make sure that she had a break and a good night. Sometimes I misinterpreted what she needed – sometimes I should have listened and made her feel better and I guess tonight I got it wrong.
"I feel like I'm jinxed Bec." I swept my eyes across to her hunched over torso sat next to me. Her eyes glazed over slightly as they met mine briefly.
"I feel like I'm losing it, I'm not coping at the moment. I'm trying but it's just so hard. I just keep thinking about you and what happened."
I seemed to always be the worry; to me my experiences were nothing and had gone unnoticed. But they had obviously stuck in someone's head and were now causing grief by conflicting with a very similar situation.
"You're doing fine Ellie, you need to give yourself time and you're not always going to feel like this. I promise. You've done the best thing by facing up to what he did - give yourself a break." I kept my eyes towards the ground as I spoke so I could let the pictures of the past roll over my mind; it helped me to evoke the feelings needed to give my honest advice.
"What happened with me and Ed was very different, we might have been together for the same amount of time as you and Rob but we had no where near the same connection as you two. Plus you know what I'm like, I switch off and I completely ignored the fact that he cheated on me, I let my relationship die because after that it was never the same for us, he didn't try to save us but Rob is trying to save you." I meant what I was saying but I felt Ellies concerns as if I was reliving them all over again right alongside her.
It had only been a matter of months since Ellie had found out about Rob and Claire, although her baseless suspicions had been present for a long time before that. Ellie made her suspicions known, but logic and reason took over in everyone's advice. The history we'd built together as a family and the faith I had in Rob as a man left minute doubt in my own head that what Ellie was proposing was true. As the months passed and the number of apprehensive accusations quietly grew in Ellies mind, the deeper the hole got in the pit of my stomach. The hole that swallowed every truth that I confided in with all my being and instead forged a place for an ugly secret, one that would leave my family balancing on a knifes edge.
"I'm so sorry Bec." My mind had slipped back to the past again. Her voice was broken and without her saying another word I knew I needed to be right where she was but instead I was on the end of a phone.
"He has been seeing her, Claire, he came round and told me last night."
"What? What the hell are you apologising for?" too many things came into my thought process at once. I didn't know which one to say first. I started shaking and my heart felt like it had broken in two.
"I still love him Bec, time wasn't helping – it wasn't healing – I was getting worse. I felt like I couldn't live without him" she was pleading with me to understand.
"Ellie I will support you 100% in what ever you chose to do, you know that." I was livid; I knew there was nothing I could do to make any of this better. I couldn't turn back time and undo his wrong; I couldn't take away Ellies pain, my pain. As much as the hundreds of thoughts and feelings smashed through my entire body, from my heart to my head, through my veins and stunting any normal physical capability, I could not portray it in words. The only pounding thought that screamed at me finally came out.
"Are you ok?"
"Bec I was physically sick when he told me, I haven't slept all night." Her voice was almost mellow now; I knew where her mind had gone. The trauma of losing his love was diminished and amongst the suffering came a new realisation that she was loved. It over ruled everything in that moment.
Reality had called upon me once again and I was back watching the fidgeting bodies enjoy their night. Time was moving quickly, too quickly. One minute I was enduring a night of socialising, talking and trying to explain sense of a senseless situation, the next I was at work again and the weekend was over. It was a merry-go-round of get me bys taking me to an era where I hoped I could shake this feeling. I had a back catalogue of dreary events that surrounded me from past to present, and was set to follow me to the future. Not just my own distaste for 'normal' life, but everyone else's too. I was the youngest of 3 girls; often described as assertive from year dot and of course awkward by nature. I was cute, apparently, but slipped through clumsy stages of growing up which mirrored that of the alteration from Bruce Banner to The Hulk. It saddened me looking back so I never really tried, but sometimes it was forced upon me. As the years passed my hair changed from short and weird to beautifully soft and golden; to long and serious with little personality back to a style which resembled that of my mothers, but unfortunately suited me best. The consistency of everything in my life was incoherent. One minute I had lots of friends, the next I was a loner, I found myself locked into a family that felt like it was trying to break free from one another, a notion which was confirmed then invalidated again and again over the years.
"Stop it! Please stop it!" I sobbed helplessly in the corner of the long carpeted landing space. My hands were protecting my ears but the pain was cutting through me as if it were me being punched. Reality quietly reminded me that work was getting boring and so my mind wandered off at it's own pace again, destination was never something I controlled.
"Fuck off then! Fucking walk" The dark haired woman screamed with thick, deep red blood trickling down the centre of her freckled face. I'd seen the weapon launch from one side of the room to the other and catch her off guard. The pieces of stone from the oddly shaped chalky ash tray lay closer to me than anyone else.
It was Christmas Eve, and she was drunk I guess. Ellie's back was red raw, she'd had had her turn and was now on the street composed and reasy to leave. Defending herself and trying to fight back was all she could do b. The woman was letting loose as if it were a fair match yet the obvious seemed to escape her – the two defendants were just children . I'd heard the screams, the uproar of insults being lead by a mature voice and seen some of the lashings. But it was too much, I was 11 years old and the only thing I could do was shut down and hide. I curled into the dark and waited for it to finish – by this time Ellie and Sam were just a few minutes into an hours walk to my Dads flat. I sobbed at the pain they must have been in; the cold that presented itself outside and selfishly at the fact that it was Christmas. To this day I don't know really what started the onslaught and I remember nothing more, no details, no words, no faces, no movements and no idea what any of the rooms looked like. If I let myself, I would obsess over where my instinct to stop it was back then. Why did I just crumble and try to block it all out instead of going into the room and trying to stop it? I was certain it wasn't fear that curtailed me – so what was it? The idea that I could have done something ridiculed my nature from that day on. From a family of outwardly confident individuals, some of them with a definite fight instinct; came me – a coward.
Ellie was a sociable person from day one with the distinct ability to chatter. She was the opposite of me in most ways, approachable and made friends quicker than I'd ever observed. I yearned for this ability, but I knew the most I could do was actually make a friend in the first place. Her nature was always kind, genuine and her beauty matched. Her enormous blue eyes concealed sad stories and emotional events that lapped each other over and over. Something no one would ever know unless invited to. She became a professional at concealing how she felt, instead instincts told her it was best to simply suck it up and deal with it. We both came to realise eventually after many years of torment that this was the worst way to deal with anything.
We grew up, sometimes together and sometimes part, it didn't really matter in the end. By 35 Ellie was a full time mum of 3, married, separated and whole again – or almost. By 30 I was still single, living in a nice apartment alone and enduring a job that gave me a stress free life. Receptionist was my trade and I liked it. I was good at first meetings – I was approachable, happy and went the extra mile for everyone. Past first impressions became a little difficult sometimes. Making a connection seemed tough – I didn't know how to get to know someone and so I hid behind a fairly solitary post and enjoyed feeling helpful. I had worked at Fusion – a gym in Norwood for 3 years now, benefits included a free membership (which I rarely used anymore) and the chance to listen to music all day. They were primitive pleasures which travelled far for me. My outlook on life had become fairly simplistic - I was frankly stuck in a Rom Com and I wanted no part of day to day detail – the good bits were enough for me. I guessed that my attempts at a stress free existence which seemed lazy to most, and my blasé attitude irritated a fair few people. My feelings were that most of those people created their own stress to make them feel like they were achieving something.
I'd come to the place I could always go again. The black leather pinched against my bare legs as I settled onto the two seater in the front room.
"How'd it go then?" her expectant look was baffling. Why should this date stand out against the rest? I quietly sighed.
"Well, we went to eat in that small Thai place in town, it was a bit creepy cos they had candles out and weird music playing."
"Ha, oh yeah I wouldn't like that" it was an accepted fact that we both hated forced romance. Candles were a no no unless it was Halloween or they were being used to freshen the whiff of the front room.
Ellie's worst moment for forced, but necessary and somewhat appropriate romance, was her proposal from Rob all those years ago. To start, a bath was run for her – the first 'cringe' presented itself here, followed by an inventory of tiny awkward moments. The water wasn't quite warm enough to melt the supposedly relaxing and romantic bath salts that awaited her; uncomfortable was a word she singed onto the framework of the story. 2 glasses of wine were presented and so was a naked Rob to the bath side.
"You're not thinking of getting in here are you?" this line of the story never failed to be presented among a comical tone.
Candles were lit all across the bedroom, floor to window ledge and beyond. The scene sounded like something out of a Romantic classic, but every time it was told I felt the tease in Ellie's account and couldn't help but laugh. There was Rob, presenting to his love on one knee a ring in palm of hand, and a rose between gritted teeth. The answer was yes but of course Rob was swiftly commanded back to his feet through sheer embarrassment.
"Mmm, not good. So anyway, I had the most delicious chilli prawns and noodles and Jared had Green Curry. They do a nice meal down there ya know you and Rob should try it sometime." I was doing my best to deflect from giving Ellie a run down of the most boring date I'd been on yet.
"Brilliant, nice food, creepy setting, any chance you're gonna tell me about Jared?"
I was interrupted before I could finish.
"Nice? Brilliant, another one that doesn't measure up!" she rolled her eyes with a smirk, but I could tell that she was being partly serious.
"I dunno, he wants to see me again, but I just don't think I feel it. You're supposed to feel something straight away aren't you?" the fact I was asking this question worried me. I knew how I felt about this.
"Sometimes it takes a couple of dates Bec, you can't know for sure if someones 'the one'" she was definitely being sarcastic now but I had my retaliation planned already.
"Well you knew straight away with Rob." I was smug but didn't show it.
"Yeah and look how that turned out."
"Yeah you're still together" smug again. I raised my eyebrows to show she was being brainless and I wasn't.
"So anyway are you gonna see him again or not?"
"Probably, I kinda wanna try that new Indian place that's opened down the road so it would be a good excuse..."
"Becca! You can't..."
"I'm joking! God!" I sniggered as my plan to lighten the mood and get us off topic started to work.
"Seriously though Becca, it's been a long time since Ed – maybe you should take a chance on this one?" her concern for my lack of a love life was now concerning me. But I felt ok about it.
"Ellie, you will get your nieces and nephews out of me when the time is right!" another hint of sarcasm streamed from my mouth. However, there was something inside me that doubted what I was saying was true causing a brief knot in my stomach.
'Life' was an accepted occupation in my eyes. You took the good with the bad, plodded on and led a similar life to everyone else in existence. Anyone straying away from this path was silently mocked for chasing vague fantasies. Impatience would flood through the veins of any onlookers, waiting for the desire ridden person to see the light and realise there is nothing more to life than what we already have in our sights. My world was based upon knowledge, experience, science, medicine and judgement. I despised every part of it. Instinct was no longer to be trusted yet relied upon when there were no other possibilities – it was a contradiction too far. I rebelled and dreamed of ridiculous events that would take place in my life to make me different. My dreams left a hole in my days. There were no certainties in the imaginings – just feelings – feelings that left me feeling excited and happy; full and content. The true extent of how I felt was never really revealed to another person, I kept a deliberate simmer under the surface in hope of escaping such mockings.
"I've got an appointment to see Dr Lawrence tomorrow." I brought the conversation about failed dates, babies and responsibility to a close.
"Still getting those pains?" Ellie was pottering around tidying the kids toys up now and barely looked up at me.
"Mmm" it was a worry to me but I didn't know how to talk about it. It was an attempt at talking that failed and left me feeling that Ellie wasn't really interested but most of all that I was getting myself all worked up over nothing.
"Let me know how it goes" she was concerned, as much as anyone could be with the conversation attempt that I had just presented.
The day went as it usually did, we drank tea, I helped straighten the house up, Rob came in from work and we teased each other over silly things for an hour or so on and off and the kids unstraightened the house then went to bed. It was time for me to venture home then start the day over again fairly soon after. I walked down the lane and started back to my place which was on the opposite side of the hill – it looked miles away if you stood at the front and peered out across the velvety emerald banks. In actual fact it was only a 20 minute stroll away and something I began to enjoy. I took my time and allowed the specks of rain to touch upon my bare skin as I approached the deep red front door. The lock was stiff as usual and I pathetically shoulder barged the door as I gained access. Two small and winding flights of stairs awaited me, before a left turn took me down a dark hall way finally to my apartment door. I threw my keys on the black and grey freckled worktop to the left of me and made my way to the dvd player in the corner of the living room. I would watch another film to distract me, I had stuff on my mind and not just my usual cravings.
"Take a seat Miss Harman."
I was nervous and not doing a good job at concealing it.
"So how can I help you today" Dr Lawrence was perfectly polite and was simply starting the ball rolling, but I took offence to the today part of the question. I'd had a fair few meetings with Dr Lawrence in a short space of time recently and this made my case weak in my head.
"Well, nothings really working, I'm still having the same trouble and the pains getting worse a lot of the time. It almost feels like I'm getting cramp in my tummy when I move and sometimes I can't stand up." I felt a twinge of embarrassment. I wondered how many people came into Dr Lawrences office with pain and it ended up being something silly and not painful at all? How can you measure pain? I was in agony sometimes but what if I was just a woos?
"It's been a long time now hasn't it" he lowered his spectacles to the end of his nose and began scrolling through the surgery notes on the computer in front of him. And yes, it had been a long time, almost a year in fact and I'd tried every drug, diet and patience game in the world.
"Ok Miss Harman, I think we've tried it all as far as we can at this stage. I'll send a referral off to a specialist today so they can take a look at what's going on. I think it's probably digestion related but here's hoping the specialist can confirm that for us." He was dumbing down the terminology for me and it was slightly frustrating. I liked to know the proper terms used and the exact details of what was possibly wrong with me so I could go home and do my own research. I thought if I knew everything then no outcome could take me by surprise and scare me. I needed the information to ask my questions – I didn't trust doctors and felt that I would catch them out if I knew more than they thought I would. I was naive and in any case wasn't getting any such answers from Dr Lawrence today, he didn't have any so I would just have to wait.
"I have to apologise Ms Winters, it is cancer. It's in the very, very early stages so we've certainly caught it early enough for it to be treatable."
Mum had been back to the nurse on 5 or 6 occasions complaining of the same issue; lumpy, painful breasts. She had felt a change yet all this was put down to was the menopause. Understandable I guess but sometimes just appeasing someone works miracles I thought. In the end it worked its miracle and confirmed a suspicion.
"Mischevious cells that's all they are" she looked healthy and kept her sense of humour but was almost in a state of denial.
Ellie and I were not impressed by the brush off. Radiotherapy followed surgery, and a scar marked the time when we saw the more human side of our mother. Thank you notes were dished out for the care she received from her daughters, and for a while I felt like I had a place in her life. I taxied her from Hospital to bed while the radiotherapy took its toll and I felt more at ease with her then I ever had. As far as we knew the cancer never came back.
I contemplated all possibilities as I dawdled back from the surgery to work; I had taken my lunch break to cover any missed time from front desk. It meant I didn't have to tell anyone where I was going and allowed me to avoid any probing questions into why I was going there too. I was instinctively worried but had no choice but to brush it off for reason and probability took over and demanded my fears quashed.
"Has it been busy?" I replaced my lunchtime covers position behind the desk and tucked my black leather handbag under the desk by my feet.
"Nope, you know what it's like in here around this time" I'd been told but as it was my lunch time at this time every day, I wasn't as sure as Sharon seemed to be insinuating.
"How was your holiday anyway, I haven't seen you in a couple of weeks?"
"Hunni it was fabulous!" Sharon was 45 going on 21 and had an infectious personality that I adored being around. She did the menial admin tasks for the establishment and was based up stairs in the office, which never mattered as she loitered around reception with me for as long as she could get away with. Some people I just connected with and I liked it when I did.
"The beaches were fantastic, I've come back fat as a little piggy but spending time with Lucy was amazing."
"Find yourself a young man out there?" I willed Sharon to settle down and be happy; she was lonely and experiencing empty nest syndrome.
"I wish, no I just don't fancy anyone my age Becs to wrinkly and saggy!"
"Ha trust you!" she had a crude sense of humour that suited me perfectly, I never had enough balls to crack the kind of jokes she would about sex but her inappropriateness tickled me.
"What about the date you went on the other week, how'd that go?" she met Daniel on an online dating website that I'd put her on whilst bored at work one day.
Sharon is a fun loving lady with a wonderfully warm personality and an infectious sense of humour. A mum of one, family is important to her but she deserves a man in her life that will cherish her and appreciate her for the fantastic woman she is. Sharon is looking for someone to experience new things with, go for meals and drinks and to hopefully build a long term relationship with.
We worked on the synopsis together, it was hard and sounded cheesy but was the best we could do with the 20 minutes stolen while the boss was on lunch. We ticked the boxes that applied:
5 foot to 5 foot 5 inches
45 years young
Average build (although this one was contested and an email nearly went off to the site designers to display an option of 'just a little bit round')
1 child – non dependant
"He was quite nice yeah, we drank a fair bit of wine and had dinner. I invited him in for a coffee and things got a bit naughty you know..." she had a mischievous grin on her face and I knew where this was going.
"I reached down into his trousers to get a bit of a feel but there was hardly anything there Bec! Her hands gestured inappropriately along with the description and I caught site of a customer standing in the hall way in front of me. She smirked and swiped her card that opened the silver barriers towards the gym area.
"We've all been there love!" the patron quipped. Sharon hadn't seen her and howled with laughter at the shock of being caught out.
Lowering her voice she continued.
"Well I was a bit tipsy and I think I might of offended him a wee bit" she bit her lip and grabbed onto my wrist as if to confirm that she knew she was bad but thought it was more funny than anything.
"What happened then?" I was hooked.
"Well he zipped himself up and left! Haha! She'd amused herself and me a lot. I was in slight shock that she had actually been that upfront with a guy and wasn't regretting it, but I loved it at the same time. She certainly saw more action than I ever did and her stories kept me entertained for hours.
"Guess you haven't heard from him for a second date then?"
"Ha no, I did send him a message once I'd sobered up to apologise but looks like he's left the site."
"Ha brilliant, you've scared him not only out of your house but off the website too. You have a special talent Sharon, but maybe you should try and keep it under wraps in future!" I giggled my way through my advice and pulled myself closer to the desk.
"Anyway, I have some rather lovely news for you Missy" oh god, any lovely news was man related in Sharon's brain.
"Oh no who now?" I mirrored my thoughts and made my distaste at where the conversation was going again known.
"Tall, chestnut hair, stunning smile, beautiful green eyes – almost seemed like a vision of a dream had walked through Duncan's office." her description did sound appealing, a knot intertwined itself through the entirety of my stomach. It felt strange.
"I spoke to him" off course she did based on this description, "he got the job and will be taking over as lead personal trainer in a month"
I suddenly felt irritated – why would I have to wait that long to meet him?
"He's got to work out his notice first and move down from some place further north, seems like he moves round quite a lot." It felt like Sharon was answering all my questions at once.
"So you found out everything about him in how long this time?" I rolled my eyes softly to cover up any glimmer of interest I was unwittingly showing to this conversation.
"Put it this way, if you don't go for it I will – in fact I might still for it anyway! Get your claws out and prepare for a fight lady cos this guy is phwoar!" she was serious and it made me cringe a little, but I felt a sudden surge of pain shoot through the knot still in my stomach and dilute into tiny little butterflies that swamped by chest. I took a deep breath in and frowned to myself confused by what had just happened.
"Well maybe this time I will go for it, you might just have that fight on your hands." I did my best impression of fighting talk, it was disastrous and I felt embarrassed for myself. I nervously shuffled some paper that didn't need shuffling in front of me to distract and hopefully show Sharon that I'd had enough of this conversation.
"Best get back to it Becs or Duncan'll be after me! I'll come see you in a bit sweetie – mwah."
Her desire to come back later after my awkward moment that maybe only I had experienced after all, comforted me.
I felt sick for the rest of the day and went home a couple of hours prior to my shift officially ending, my slumber was restless that night and I tried to comfort myself with endless DVDs and various other distractions. 3 days passed but I still couldn't shake the bug that seemed to be taking hold of me. I was exhausted, I couldn't eat and there was hardly any explanation.
"So you're not being sick?" Ellie questioned me like I was a freak of nature.
"No I told you, I just feel awful, I can't sleep or eat and I just feel like I could be sick any minute." The irritation probably showed in my answer but what I was describing was true so I was beyond worrying about it.
"It don't seem right to me. Have you been to the doctors?"
"Nah, there's no point and I don't have the energy to go up" I was practically falling asleep whilst holding the phone tightly against my ear but I knew I wouldn't.
"Hmmm, I'm gonna pop round later with some fruit and some painkillers for you"
"Don't Ellie, I mean thanks but I don't want you or the kids getting it – it's bloody awful. You're best just staying away until it's over. I'll be fine." I so wanted the company right now but knew what I was saying was right. This was the hardest thing about being the way I was. I had very few people I felt I could call on in times when I frankly just needed someone to cuddle up to and listen to me moan. It was times like these that I felt lonely and the ache got worse. All I could hope now was that I was on my feet in time for next week.
"I don't like it but it makes sense, I'll keep checking in – try and get some rest."
"Human nature is to wrap the entirety of our brains around one half of something that resonates with us the most, then act as if the other half doesn't exist"
I leant forward in the blue padded chair which was framed with pine legs and back, and rested my hands gently over my face. I needed a minute. I felt myself welling up but my eyes would not allow the free space to overflow and confirm my pain. I took a deep breath in and tried to compose myself but more time was needed. Dr Lawrence understood and didn't try to interrupt the tender piecing together of what I'd just heard next to what was going to happen.
"I'll get you booked in right away Rebecca" the formality had dropped; I was no longer Miss Harman. More of a human bond was needed to console me at this present time.
It didn't matter what he was saying, suddenly a weight was inside me, something I didn't want – I felt like ripping myself apart just so I could get rid of this intruder that had torn apart my life within seconds.
"Rebecca?" he'd realised.
"I, I, I don't know what to ask." My voice shook and my eyes stopped dead in front of me looking at his pressed cream trousers. They were perfect I thought to myself, it was 4 o'clock and still not a crease in sight. I wondered how this could be seeing as though he was sat down all day.
"Rebecca, you don't need to ask anything. I'll tell you everything you need to know at this stage and you can go home and talk it through with your family."
Ellie, how in the world was I going to tell her - she needed me. I contemplated the effects of hiding it from her for a split second but it was insane. We spoke nearly every day. Who knew what this was going to do to me but I was sure it was something I would never be able to hide. The anger surged through my veins again – I didn't want this – I felt like screaming.
"Eurgh" I slammed my fists onto my knees and met eyes with a troubled looking Dr Lawrence.
"Is it..." I took a deeper breath now, "Is it curable?"
"I can't say for certain Rebecca, but it's certainly got some hope to be." His voice was soft and he tried to reassure me with a smile that forced his bottom and top lips to curl under and meet in the middle.
I didn't know what else to ask, I sat in silence for minute after minute, staring, sucking in breath as if I had something to say then curtailing any sign of an outbreak of expression.
I slowly pushed through the heels of my feet and stumbled as I finally came to a standing position; I eased my handbag onto my shoulder and thanked Dr Lawrence before leaving the surgery. I didn't know why I thanked him, it seemed strange to me and it became the only thing I contemplated whilst I walked towards the hill. Was I thanking him for being nice about the news that was just delivered to me or that he had told me in the first place? You thank people for moving to one side of the pavement whilst you navigate the streets on your daily errands, but what other choice do they have? A collision is the only other option. You thank a shop attendant for giving you your change whilst you buy your milk, but it's your money. They never thank you for purchasing goods from them, for helping them make a living, but we automatically thank them for giving us what is actually ours. I started to become irritated that not once could I remember the little grey haired lady in the corner shop thanking me for the countless loaves of bread, and pints of milk I had purchased from her over priced convenience store. Convenience is price nowadays I thought to myself; I could just as easily go to the giant supermarket another 5 minutes down the road from me and feed their pockets. A car now insisted I pay attention by hammering their horn to a constant melody until I stepped back onto the pavement. I was inadvertently on my way to where I could always go. Instinct had taken over and I was now stood at the bottom of the lane. My body wanted no part of the trek that was in front of me, and my mind was fighting between needing Ellie and not wanting to unload this into her life.
I slumped against the wall to pass a few minutes before unleashing the inevitable.
"Who is it?" I could hear his tiny voice breaking through the cracks in the wooden door frame, beckoning me to tell him my name. I smiled as I usually did and sang back.
"It's Bec!" the door squeaked open in slow motion and through the ever increasing space; I saw Codey lowering himself from his tip toes on the step. He grinned a cheeky grin back at me that I knew was demanding I go play with him this instance. I couldn't, not yet.
"Hi Bet, where have you been?" Finn had presented himself in the doorway to the front room now in not much more than his school t-shirt after hearing my entrance. His speech was getting better, but if I was honest I think I had just spent enough time around him to know what he was saying. The looming news in the forefront of my mind had leapt out and grabbed my emotions so that his angelic voice seemed even more so today – I held back the tears that would soon win me over.
"I've been at work darling. Did you have a good day at school?"
"Oh yes, I have been a very good boy." It was very matter of fact and I believed him. He wouldn't say it if it wasn't true.
"That's brilliant Finn, well done! And how about you Codey, did you have a good morning at playschool." He stood in front of my face now as I crouched down to speak with him. Each of my fingers were lifted as they lay in my lap, as Codey visibly searched his brain for words to describe his day.
"Yeh, I played with my mates and played with the cars Bec!" he was excited and the undulating tone in his voice confirmed so. I mirrored his satisfaction as best I could then rose to my feet in preparation for Ellie.
"Come up stairs Bec" Codey was pulling on my arm, urging me to follow his lead up to an array of different games in his bedroom. A wave of guilt came over me at the thought of saying no. I let him drag me to the end of the hallway and I could see the accomplishment wash over his face. I shouted as I floated past the kitchen where I knew Ellie was busy transferring wet clothes from the washing machine to the tumble dryer.
"Hey!" I sounded like my normal self.
"Oh hiya, you alright! Shall I put the kettle on?"
"Yes please! I'll be down in a minute"
I made bright green dinosaur after dazzling red dragon, whilst Codey watched in amazement and congratulated me on my accomplishment each time. I had no idea how long I was up there until Ellie came up to retrieve me.
"You alright up here?" the question was directed at me but the answer came from Codey.
"Me and Bec are making dragons mummy, look!"
"Oh yeah, they're amazing! Did you make that one Codey?"
"Yeh mummy, but Bec helped!" it was the other way round but he was so happy I couldn't make my usual jokes and steal the title of best dragon maker ever from him.
"The last cuppas cold, but are you coming down for another?" she was still clueless and that reassured me.
I followed her down the worn carpeted stairs, every heavy step I took would not last long enough.
"When's Rob back from work?" I needed Ellies full attention and that meant another adult had to be in the house. The kids were hectic and were still learning the art of conversation etiquette, so a full, uninterrupted chat was yet to take place in that house.
"What's the time..." she tilted her head around the corner to the clock which hung above the bin, "he'll be back any minute actually."
I would wait and distract in the mean time.
"How are things?"
"Yeah not too bad, went to see Finns new speech therapist today."
"Oh yeah? How is she?"
"Yeah, bit wobbly at first, she obviously hadn't read his notes but we had a good chat about it all and she understands."
"Good, did Finn take to her ok?"
"Yeah he was fine, he was in one of more wired moods, very chatty!"
"Bless him" I gulped my freshly made tea.
"How you feeling now anyway, all the funny business passed?" she was referring to my 5 day bug that never amounted to anything you could physically see. It had passed in one sense and had grown out of control in another – I didn't want her to know.
"Yeah feeling not too bad now, bit drained still but I'm out and about. Doctor signed me off for exhaustion for a couple of weeks so I have time to find my feet again."
I heard a key in the front door...
"Hello!" Rob was home and happily calling through to suss out the visitor - there was always a visitor in Ellies house.
"Hey" Ellie and I called out in unison to varying tunes.
Shit, this was it, delivering this news to Ellie felt like it was going to be even harder than hearing it for the first time myself. I could stall longer I thought to myself, let them have dinner, wait until the buzz has died down from Rob getting in from a hard days slog, wait until the kids were in bed? I felt sick, I felt like crying, I felt like I would never be able to do this. As usual none of those feelings were illustrated; I just felt the frustration drown me as I was yet again unable to express anything. Codey was happily playing up stairs still, which was odd as it wasn't often he was alone and entertained at the same time. Luke was in the park across the road with Simon and Levi – Luke was never in the house any more – he was a social butterfly that had transformed early for his years. Finn was happy in his own little world on the computer, bangs were heard every now and again when excitement took over when a new score was met but other than that not a peep could be heard. Rob started off upstairs, one; to change out of the shirt and tie which instructed us to take him seriously at all times when present and two; to greet his youngest son. Just me and Ellie left, no distractions, nothing left to talk about – if I left us too long in silence Ellie would fill the gap and start talking nonsense and then the job of telling her would exceed my limits of capability.
"It's cancer Ellie." No fluff, no preparation, I just blurted it out. Shit I should have checked if she was holding her tea or not still. She was.
"Ahh" a breathy squeal came from Ellies mouth as the tea she was just picking up from the counter, toppled to one side and the burnt, milky substance grazed the top side of her hand.
"Becca?" she looked exactly as Finn did when he was unsure of a situation, confused, needing clarification and scared. My arms and legs were heavy through sheer numbness, my heart ached inside my chest and pounded against its cage as if trying to escape. I became Dr Lawrence.
"There's no way to tell how it's going to go at this stage, he's booking me in for surgery at the clinic next week from there I'll probably need to have some radiotherapy."