Archive for June 12th, 2008


June 12, 2008






Sometimes the past prickles to the surface.


Sometimes it races by on a bike, waving joyfully and shouting cheerfully and it makes you smile as you remember, as you watch it weaving carelessly along.



The past bubbled up today. Sweetly. But uneasily too.  Sometimes the past jars and makes me want to cry. Bittersweet histories.


A cousin emails. She never does normally. She never has, come to think of it. She acknowledges that. We grew up together, on a farm that huddled in Kilimanjaro’s shade, the mountain delivered our drinking water. Another sweet, ice-cold, clear, clear memory. We were brown-skinned-bare-footed-blonde-haired peas in a pod. Until tragedy and life and death ripped our sweet little young green shell open and flung us carelessly to opposite ends of the earth.


Her father shot a lion that had cornered a herdsman up a tree when he was only 14, my own stood in front of the skin, pegged out to dry to have his photograph taken (a tiny sepia print that sits beside a bowl of oranges in my dining room). He is grinning, pretending the trophy is his, not his big brother’s; all of brown-skinned-bare-footed-blonde-haired five year old his. 


My cousin wrote and I rejoiced. That’s something else that tastes sweet: reunions, especially unexpected one.


She told me that a friend of my dad’s was travelling up through Africa – from Botswana through Zambia to my small dusty corner of Tanzania. A friend of Jimmy’s, she said.  It always tugs at heartstrings. My dad’s friends. They’re still here. Some of them. But he’s not. Not Dad. Not Jimmy. He hasn’t been for a long time. But there’s still this big achey hole. Why? Why? He has been gone now for longer than I knew him; he died when I was 19 when I was immortal and was pretty certain everybody I loved was too. Such glorious naïve happy arrogance. Bumping crazy reckless through life. You bear the bruises, you don’t think about scars.


So he died. Suddenly. Stolen.


And later, much, much later, when I was all grown up and a big girl who ought – of course – to be quite over her daddy’s long-ago death, the loss grabbed me by the throat so tightly, so suddenly, that I was winded, could hardly breathe.


That’s when I spoke to a counsellor. A kind man with a Geordie accent. He worked for Cruse. He knew all about death stealing loved ones: it’s what he did, he said, helped to explain what was left to the rest of us.


He told me it wasn’t uncommon, when biting my lip and trying not to cry (again, so that my poor darling children had to explain my weeping away to one another, ‘why’s mummy crying?’, ‘cos her dad’s died, silly’. Dear sweet, sweet babies: only 19 years ago – how ridiculous I felt; how forgiving our children are). He told me it wasn’t unusual to suddenly miss this grownup who’d gone long ago because you were a grownup now too and you wanted to know them as just that. I wanted to know dad as the man he was, not just the father he’d been.


So that’s why this man, Jimmy’s friend, who has suddenly been dragged from a past into my present, so that’s why this man’s name is suddenly synonymous with dad and his going and his growing-up and mine so that there’s this whole tangled bitter-sweet sadness and longing and joy and missing and loving and lumps in throats and memories clamouring unexpectedly for attention. Grief is very, very complicated. That’s what Alan at Cruse said.


I sourced Dad’s friends you see. Those that I could. Those whose names I could find on websites. Because I needed to know. I needed to know him better, even though he was gone. I loved what they told me, I loved that they said ‘he side-stepped bullshit with the agility of a sword dancer’.  What an epitaph.


Old men’s names in my Inbox at Outlook Express, old men who look like the seventy year olds they are, not the 47 year old Dad was. (I can’t imagine my dad looking old: the Grim Reaper kept him young and vital forever). Old men who use computers, the stuff of fantasy and science fiction and James Bond movies when my dad died (he said Sean Connery was best, better than Roger Moore; I wonder what he’d have made of Daniel Craig?). The stuff of the future (mine of course, not his). Like cell phones. I’ve given my cell phone number to the old boy who’s on his way up to the outpost.


I hope he comes to stay.


I hope he talks about Jimmy.


I hope, I really hope, I don’t cry. (My kids are bigger now; they’ll be embarrassed).


But I think I might.