I’m sitting at my desk, realising my mood has picked up again in spite of the autumnal murmurings of wind and rain outside. Out of nowhere, I am seized by a desire to be back in my Mum’s horrid ‘Arum White’ Austin Maestro, travelling along the road that leads away from Hillsborough and out to the Rivelin Valley, before the city yawns wide and breathes out Derbyshire.
How many times must we have made that journey? It felt a little like being underwater, moving through a deep pool of green leaves, sunlight dappling tarmac, blur of low stone wall, shallow river beyond it, heard but unseen.
My memory tells me that my hoola hoop got lodged in a tree along that road. I threw it up and the branches stretched out and caught it, and would not give it back. Is that a true memory? Of my dad trying to shake and tickle the tree into spitting out my treasured (yellow?) hoop? Or was it a stranger’s hoop that I merely spied there, then concocted this fable of personal loss around it? A disbelief that my hoop was out of reach for ever – yes, the feeling is real.
I wonder if, more than forty leaf-falls later, that damn hoop is still stuck up there?
My sudden need to be back in that ugly car, travelling down that road with my Mum & Dad, slams into me with such force that I feel winded. I feel I might cry, I feel I might scream if I allow myself to believe that I cannot, ever, go back. The mundanity and cruelty of that fact are too big to contain.
I know, of course, that what I really want back is my Mum, as she was then, in all her inflamed, unpredictable, loving, controlling, bewildered, brave glory. As a child, I worshipped my Mum. She soothed and distressed me, protected and exposed me, she was my world and my prison. She was spacious with love, barbed with anger. She was my Mum. And I adored her.
I am talking about her in the past tense, and yet she is still here. Here, but not here. Alzheimer’s is agitating the water and I can scarcely make out her reflection. There are so many things I want to say to her, but I may as well cast pebbles against rock. It is as impossible to connect with my remembered Mum as it is to climb back into that godawful car of which she was so touchingly, yet bafflingly proud. I wish I could sit with her again in the upstairs Austrian café in Bakewell, eating the Apfelstrudel with cream that was our favourite treat. I wish I could say to her: Mum, I know you couldn’t help it, not really (surely?), but your fire was not a tame thing. I was too drawn to it, it blistered me, and its smoke was choking. For years, I have had to keep you in a box, because I can no longer deal with your shit. I have loved you ferociously without always liking you. And now, here you are, the embers of the person you once were cooling to ash before my very eyes. I want that fiery, shy, hot, cold, wounded, wise and gentle person back. The Mum who would listen to me, who would hug me and stroke my hair, who wasn’t always there for me when it mattered, whose temper was a predatory animal, but who loved me with a bloodied, hot tenderness.
‘I know you,’ you say to me now. ‘I know who you are, I love you.’
I love you too, Mum. For most of my life, it has pained me to love you. Now, in your almost childlike state, your face open and full of detached wonder, that love is a simpler thing. Albeit stained with the bloom of grief for a woman who still sits in front of me, yet is as unreachable as that hoop in the tree. The hoop that will outlast us all.