Today I am recalibrating.
To recalibrate: to make small changes to an instrument so that it measures accurately.
The instrument in need of recalibration is my brain. The thing it needs to measure more accurately is my memories of my mum.
I know. Trust me when I say I would rather be recalibrating my wine intake, which I REALLY DON’T ever want to do. But I must recalibrate my brain because of this:
Last night Mum sauntered into the restaurant I was in and sat down at my table. She was wearing a white vest and jeans. She looked serious, her face sallow. She leaned in across the table and began in a whisper:
Her: It’s almost over.
Me: What is?
Her: Everything. I’m dying.
Me: Mum, you are already dead.
Her: No. I’m not. This time I mean it. I really am dying.
I get hold of her bare arm and begin to rub. Her skin is cool and soft.
Me: It’s alright, it’s ok, you’ll be ok, you’ll be fine…
Her: It’s time for me to go.
She stands. And I realise that she is incredibly drunk. She sways. Her eyes reel, the lids half-open. ‘Help me,’ she says. I am, beyond any other emotion, embarrassed. I look around. The restaurant is packed. I don’t know where we are, but it feels like a wedding; all the guests dressed-up, bubbling conversation, clinking cutlery.
I have to get her out of here before anyone notices. I pull at her arm, throwing it around my neck. She is as light as bones, a skeleton resting on my shoulders as I drag and pull her. I know she is likely to be ill any minute. I keep studying her face for signs of this; have I got time to get her out before it happens?
I find a door. I shove her through it and on to the floor. I slam it shut. And walk away.
I wake up in a bed in Manchester. Next to me, Gwyneth snores. In the next room eldest and her mate have made it home and are sleeping off their party. Further down the hall, youngest is buried on his top bunk, hidden from view until I poke around and find his little face.
Everything is ok. Everything is fine. There’s no restaurant. No drunken mother. No awful moment of throwing her to the floor and slamming the door.
I haven’t seen her for a long time. In real life it’s been almost twenty-eight years, and whilst she used to regularly pop in to dreamland, it’s been a while. I’m sure that never before has she rocked up drunk in my dreams. The opposite; in the unreal, in-between world, she is usually sober, happy and pleased to see me as I get straight to work, filling her in on all that she’s missed.
In real life she was often incredibly drunk, to the point of agony and unconsciousness with no fun bit before the fall. I remember much of this. Too much. The struggle is to remember all the other bits, the normal, the love, the mothering.
This dilemma makes sense when I think of two strong memories, both from the final months of her life:
Memory 1: I am fifteen years old. Dad and I are collecting her from the hospital after a suicide attempt. An attempt which I discovered and then raised the alarm. She has been so pleased to see us, to be alive. Dad helps her into the passenger seat of the car while I settle in the back. As he walks round to get in behind the wheel, she turns to me, and she cannot be drunk because she’s been in the hospital, and she fixes her eyes on me and says, ‘Well thanks a bunch. Because of YOU I’m going to have to do it all…over…again…’ and Dad gets in the car and, ‘Right darling – let’s get you home.’
Memory 2: Just a few days before she died. I get in from a rehearsal at school and I’ve got terrible period pains. She makes me a hot chocolate and a hot water bottle. She brings me paracetamol and settles me into her bed next to her, ‘you just stay here until it wears off.’ And we smoke and talk (I can’t remember what about…wish I could remember what about) and watch telly and everything is fine and everything is going to be ok.
She was both of these mothers. My awake brain can only really remember the first, pained one. My asleep brain normally only brings me the second. Perhaps writing this book about our lives together is finally bringing those two parts of her together for me.
Perhaps her appearance in a restaurant, bringing news of her imminent death, means I might be on the way towards laying her to rest, all of her, at last.
I’ll end this ponderous post with this pic of us on the beach at Pevensey Bay, 1974. I guess this might be where the white vest came from. Ah, the brain’s a funny ol’ thing, innit?