Raymond Chandler was, to put it in terms as horribly unpoetic as his would be magnificent, one hell of a goddamn writer. We may or may not have him to thank for the invention of noir, the hard-bitten PI sodden with scotch and regrets, the femme fatale with a predilection for dangerous men and uncanny ability to smoke without blotting their perfectly painted red lips, all that jazz - frankly, I can't be arsed to research it, but let's assume he was one of if not the actual progenitors of that genre. Whatever, fuck it. Take all the poetry he has woven, all the faultless evocations of sultry Californian '40s nights, every furrowed brow of every gruff detective, every curve of every dame his pen ever traced, and cannon it into the Pacific. His letter above, his one simple description of the bewildering devastation of a bereavement, tops the lot.
One hell of a goddamn writer.
One hell of a passage to inspire someone.
It's been six months and 12 days since my mum, halfway to a long-planned and anticipated Christmas holiday in a Cornish seaside hotel, in a Travelodge near Stonehenge, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. I'd seen her a few days earlier in a Caffe Nero near Fenchurch Street, where she'd mentioned in passing that recently her chest had been feeling heavy, and I'd frowned and told her she really should go to the doctor, knowing full well she wouldn't, before going on to enthuse about how amazing Tesco's online grocery shopping was because you clicked a few buttons and stuff just turned up at your door. She'd half-smiled and promised to try it out, but said it was difficult because she was so busy, I knew how it was. And I did. She'd given me a bunch of Christmas presents. She'd stopped mid-conversation and suddenly talked about how she'd recently remembered a song she used to sing to me when I was a baby to get me to sleep. She'd idly sung a few lines of it to the cafe, to the middle-aged women charging up with caffeine before tackling the last of the Christmas shopping, to the businessmen huddled round laptops struggling to feign interest in their final pre-holiday meetings, and they'd all ignored her. We'd hugged goodbye and she'd disappered round a building, and that was it. She went home, I went to work. She never saw Stonehenge, and I never saw her again.
On Christmas Day I sat and stared at the untouched presents under the tree and tried and tried to remember the song she'd sang. I couldn't.
And I still can't.
Six months has passed; it feels like a week, and it feels like a decade. I used to feel paralysed with guilt that I wasn't using every spare moment of my day being terribly creative and amazing in some way. Now days just slide over each other like a pack of cards falling off a poker table, all piling up in an insignificant puddle of numbers and symbols. It's July and I've not really done anything at all since December. I had, in my more self-obsessed moments - and yes, I do have those, if you can possibly believe that notion! - hoped that the pain of grief would inspire some searing work of genius, that I'd suddenly be able to knock out a symphony or a novel or a really, really awkwardly unfunny sitcom, but it was not to be. Not enough concentration on the beauty of the loss, too much on the comparitively useless life that continues on?
But no. Not that. I can see how this has affected those close to my mum. They're stuck headfirst into a hurricane of loss. They can barely move through the days. They've been sandblasted raw. Nature abhors a vacuum, and her presence was so huge that for it to suddenly vanish...well, their own little personal universe has collapsed in on itself. And I'm hovering above it, somehow, orbiting this howling pit of despair, making the right noises, and sympathising, and empathising, and all the while kicking ten kinds of shit out of my heart which went to sleep somewhere at the end of December and won't wake up. It just sits there, rubberised, numb and useless.
It would wake up, but what's the point, really? Why wake up into the comparitively useless life that continues on?
But no. Not that again. I am numb, I know I am. It will hit me, I know it will. I am not in a constant state of despair because I don't think about it. And when I do think about it, I immediately stop thinking about it. And when I dream... Christ, when I dream that she is there, in my house, pink with excitement and trying to hold my hand, and I very matter-of-factly refuse, and wander off distractedly, explaining over my shoulder that "you're dead so I can't, really"...when I dream that, I wake up and I do not think about it. I do not think about the Tigger that I gave her that she is buried with. I do not think about it because to start to think about it would lead to finality; where can that procession of thought go apart from tumbling ever downwards, gathering snatches of memories and snapshots of the past into a terse summation of a life until bam, it hits the ground, and it's all over, forever?
But no. It's not that.
Out of the blue, in the middle of November last year, on one of the rare occasions me and my partner would go to her house and stay for the very shortest amount of time permissible within the realms of politeness, my mum sidled up to me in the spare room. "I've found your blog," she said. "And I read all your other articles. It's very good. It can be our little secret."
I'd never shown her anything I'd written. Too whimsical, too moody, too full of swears, too much salaciousness, too many coded references to a hidden life of banality I thought would disappoint her. Too self-absorbed. Oh, the irony. Far, far too self-absorbed. And now I can't write.
I can't write. Because what the hell would I write about if it wasn't going to be about her, always about her, forever and ever and ever, about every single facet of her, about how she was so strong and so unique and so irreplaceable and how she runs through every sinew and bone of my mind and body and how I felt terrible every day because she was so supportive and she told me I was talented and I didn't believe her and worse, thought she was stupid for thinking well of me, even though she had unbeknownst to me kept everything I'd written in my youth before I started shamefully hiding things away on the internet with no names, even the e-mails that had been published on Digitiser and Planet Sound when I was a kid which had made me so happy, so happy, but I'd hit my 20s and wallowed in self-pity and laziness, and I always assumed that one day I'd get off my arse and wake the hell up and apply myself and be able to stop floundering around and do something with my life, because she had said I should be a writer and she had read this stupid little blog and she'd liked it, and I wanted to say that I couldn't put it into words how sorry I was that I made her wait and wait for me to use even a tenth, a hundredth of the part of me that had the ability to sparkle and shine because, basically, that part of me was her, and now it was too late.
To which she would say: "Hmm. I'm not sure I like your blog any more. It's got a bit miserable lately. You should go back to writing about that band that you like." (And I would suddenly remember one evening, 15 years ago, when we sat in a cobwebby loft and she showed me her diaries from the mid-'60s, filled with carefully-annotated lists of the top 40 every week, complete with typically teenage adoration over HIS dreamy hair or HER beautiful dress, pages and pages of the stuff, and I would think, oh yeah, that's where it all came from).
And she would say: "I found this thing on the internet that said 'If you don't start living your life soon, you will run out of life to live,' and I printed it out and put it above my computer. I think you should have it." (And I would know that that is exactly what she would have done if she had been here to do it).
And she would say: "I think it's time to concentrate on the beauty of the loss, Julia."
And she would have read this, and known that in the future I would look back on it and hate every word and delete it in a fit of shame, and she would have printed it out and put it in the folder next to my Digitiser emails and my Varsity newspaper film reviews and the sugar-paper-mounted stories from when I was five years old, and everything I'd ever done, and kept it in her desk drawer. Because she would know I would find that folder. And she would know eventually I'd have to carry on, otherwise there would have been no point in her collecting it all in the first place.
And I can't really argue with logic like that.
After all, when love is gone, there's always justice. And when justice is gone, there's always force. And when force is gone, there's always Mum.