Relentless

 

 

To my children,

I’m sorry our memories together are tinted with sadness.

I’m sorry for being the reason you had sleepless nights, your dreams were put on hold, and your successes were delayed.

I feel cheated out of a life where I never got to be there for you. I wasn’t allowed to be the mum I wanted you to have.

For a short while, I was the mum who could never find you when we played hide and seek, even though you always hid in the same place. I was the mum who kissed your knees when you fell over, taught you to sing the alphabet, and read you stories at bedtime until you fell asleep. Seeing you both happy brought me so much joy. I will always cherish the time I was able to be there for you. 

Then, over the years, I slowly fell from grace.

I’m sorry for the hurt and heartbreak I caused you, and for the burden I placed on your shoulders. I want you to know that all of my intentions were only ever good.

I want to tell you my side of the story to try and help you make some sense of the last few years, in turn, I hope you will forgive me.

 

45 years old

I’ve lost my shoes. 

How is this possible? There are only so many places I would put them. I know I was wearing them when I walked through the front door fifteen minutes ago, or at least I think I was. We don’t have a dog that could have chewed them and hidden them behind the sofa, and I don’t have a toddler who is keen to dress like mummy. My children are now both at school, so I can’t even say baby brain is my reason for misplacing them.

‘Mum, how can you lose your shoes?’ My daughter, Audrey, is eight years old going on sixty. She’s got an old soul.  ‘I’ve found them! Mummy, you’ll never guess where they were? They were in the fridge!’

Audrey drops them on the floor in front of me and sure enough they’re cold. She jumps onto the bed. Tears of laughter stream down her rosy cheeks. This is the hardest I’ve ever seen Audrey laugh, and it’s infectious. I lie on the bed next to her and now, just looking at each other sets us off into fits of laughter.

I love this moment. One of my happiest. 

A last fond memory.

Over the next few weeks, I find myself losing things more often. I misplace my phone and sunglasses, as most of us do, but I keep forgetting my lunch when I go to work, and I’ve locked myself out of the house twice now. I’ve found my keys in the sock drawer and the margarine tub in my bag! There’s a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that this is more than just normal forgetfulness. It’s out of character for me and is starting to become a daily hindrance.

One evening, when the children have gone to bed, I google frequent forgetfulness. In the two seconds it takes for the search page to flash onto the screen, a rush of fear shoots through my body, a realisation that this could be serious. I skim read the underlined sentences and the highlighted keywords. I think I’m going to be sick. My heart races and my head spins. 

I close the page down, shut my eyes and remember to breathe.

Shit, what am I doing?

I’m not a doctor. I shouldn’t be self-diagnosing. We all forget things, don’t we? 

I go into the kitchen to pour myself a large glass of the wine I bought earlier from the bottle shop, but when I open the fridge door, I realise I’ve left it in the car.

 

48 years old

It’s a beautiful crisp winter’s day.

The sky is royal blue, unblemished by clouds. The low-lying sun blinds me as I make my five-minute walk to the coffee shop where I’ve worked for the last seven years. The bell rings as I step inside.

‘Morning Geoff, hey Lillian.’

I head behind the counter, take off my thick black fleece and hang it on the clothes peg. I put on my apron ready to take my first orders. 

‘Oh, sweetheart.’ Lillian comes over and rubs the tops of my arms. She has tears in her eyes. 

‘You okay? You’re upset…what’s wrong?’ Geoff and Lillian have been through a lot with my family. We’ve been friends for years. They’ve always been there for me. When I needed a job they found one for me at their coffee shop. I love it here. I can’t bear to see either one of them upset, I love them dearly.

‘Have a seat sweetheart, Geoff’s going to take you home.’ Lillian’s voice is gentle.

‘But why? Has something happened?’ 

Lillian sits opposite me. She reaches over the table and cups my hands in hers.

‘I’m sorry, you know how much we love you. Do you remember two months ago? We all agreed you weren’t going to work here anymore. Do you remember any of that?’

My skin crawls. I try to remember. Words appear but then fade. I can’t hear or see them clearly, they don’t come close enough, they won’t stay—damn it! They’re just out of reach.

Lillian squeezes my hand. ‘Don’t worry. It’ll all be okay.’

​​

The weather is cool today and the clouds threaten rain. I make my five-minute walk to work with my umbrella in my hand, ready for those first spitting drops. I’ve worked at the coffee shop for the last seven years. The bell rings as I step inside.

‘Morning Geoff, hey Lillian.’

I head behind the counter, take off my thick black fleece and hang it on the clothes peg. I put on my apron ready to take my first orders. 

 

‘Oh, sweetheart.’ 

I turn around and Lillian is standing behind me.

‘Come and take a seat. Geoff will take you home.’

 

51 years old

Where is he? His mobile’s not connecting and I’ve been waiting for him to call me all evening. He knows I worry when he’s late. I was going to drive over to his workplace, but I can’t find the damn car keys anywhere. Three hours late! Three!

I play out the different reasons he could have for not calling—his car broke down and no phone signal, a car crash and he’s in the hospital. Shit! Where is he?

A car pulls into the driveway and beams of light flood the kitchen. Peter’s going to get it when he gets in here. How could he be so thoughtless?

The front door opens. It’s Audrey and Richard.

‘Where’s your Dad? Is he with you? He’s three hours late, I’m worried sick. He hasn’t had the decency to call and let me know what’s going on.’ 

Audrey and Richard glance at each other. Audrey sits down at the kitchen table, drops her school bag to the floor and sighs. Richard puts his arm around me and pulls out a chair. 

‘What is it? Richard? What’s going on?’ 

‘You remember when Dad got sick? You remember all the time he spent in the hospital and how we used to visit him every day? He didn’t get better. He never came home to us, he died, eight years ago.’

‘He died?’ 

Audrey stands and kicks her school bag out of the way. Tears pool in her eyes. Her pale skin looks translucent under the cool glow of the light bulb above her.  She wipes her cheek and frowns at Richard. ‘I can’t do this again.’

Do what?

Audrey runs out of the kitchen. She heads upstairs and slams her bedroom door shut.

Did I upset her? Did I do something wrong?

My head pounds.

​                                                                  

 

I wake and the pain I saw in Audrey’s eyes haunts me. She was too young to lose a parent. She was always daddy’s little girl. She loved Peter with a passion.

I sit up in bed. I think I’ll make her favourite breakfast for her—eggs and bacon. I go to the kitchen, put the pan on the ring and spray in the oil. I pull my knitted jumper around me to keep out the cold draft, and get the bacon out of the fridge. I place a rasher into the pan but there’s no sizzle. What’s going on? I lift the pan by its handle. 

‘Shit!’ 

The handle is red hot. I let go of it and it crashes to the ground. 

Audrey and Richard run into the kitchen. The pain in my hand makes me nauseous. I don’t know how to make it stop. Richard takes my wrist and places my hand under cold running tap water. 

 

​‘What are you doing?’

‘I was making Audrey some breakfast, but the pan wasn’t hot, then…’ 

‘You must’ve put it on the wrong ring and it heated the handle. Why are you cooking it now?’ 

‘For breakfast!’ Christ! My hand hurts so much. 

‘But, it’s one o’clock in the morning. It’s the middle of the night.’ 

I look out the window and the sky is the colour of coal.

 

53 years old

I didn’t sleep very well last night. My children kept me awake with their cries, wanting a feed every two hours and not settling in between. Perhaps they’re beginning to teethe?

Sleep deprivation's exhausting.

I told Peter to get some rest. He has work tomorrow. At least I can try and sleep while the babies are napping.

I heard other screams in the night too. I don’t know if they were real or if I dreamt them, but those cries filled me with terror. I only hope that whoever they belonged to is okay now. I was too afraid to search for their owner and anyway, I couldn’t leave my babies alone.

It’s very nice here at the facility. I’ve made some new friends. Jodi and I get together on most days. She’s much older than me. She’s always knitting. She told me she was making a scarf for her husband, then I heard her tell someone she was knitting booties for her grandson, but the wool is pink, so I think she’s a little confused. I think she may be sick too.

I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life right now. My babies are both sleeping in my arms. They are blissfully content. I watch them so closely, taking it all in, knowing they will only be babies for a short while. I want to breathe them in. The love I feel for them is overwhelming, a feeling only a mother knows.

I hear the door open. It’s the midwife come to check on me. 

‘Mrs Ashmore, it’s time to get into bed now.’ 

I stand with my babies in my arms. I place them in their cot careful not to wake them. 

‘Oh, my beautiful children.’ I can’t take my eyes off them. ‘Aren’t they the most gorgeous babies you’ve ever seen?’

‘They certainly are Mrs Ashmore. Now let’s get you into bed. It’s late and it’s time to get some rest.’ 

They're so lovely here. I really am blessed.

 

56 years old

Someone came to see me today. I didn’t like him, he scared me.

He said he was my son, but I don’t have a son.

He was trying to trick me because he looked like Peter around the eyes. He was persistent, but he only stayed a little while. I told him to leave, to get out of my room. I think I unnerved him. I told him I didn’t have a son and not to come back again. Hopefully, he won’t. I’ll tell Peter when he gets back from work tonight.

They keep trying to make me eat, even though I already have. They’re trying to force me, so I keep telling them that if they do I’ll be sick. I spit out their food, it has no taste. I refuse to be treated like an animal. If I don’t want to eat, I shouldn’t have to—no one can make me.

When Peter gets here, I’ll tell him I want to leave this place.

I don’t like it here anymore.

 

57 years old

There were muffled voices around my bed today. I don’t know who was here, but I know someone was watching over me.

I couldn’t make out what they were saying or see their faces. They spoke quietly to each other and whispered sweetly into my ear. The words were not clear, but the sounds they made were filled with a sense of love and a message that everything, finally, was going to be okay.

Whoever was here loved me, and their energy filled me with a warm glow from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. It was peaceful, blissful, and reassuringly calm. It was like I was being held in my own mother’s arms all day. I liked this tranquility after the bewilderment and frustration I’d felt for so long. I was no longer frightened or scared, only content.

I dreamt of cradling my two sleeping babies. I kissed them on their forehead as I sang sweet lullabies to them.

Then, in the distance, I saw the brightest and most beautiful light, and I was free. Free from a mind that was diseased and sick. Free from a body that didn’t know how to protect itself. Free from pain and confusion.

The life I had known was over and in its place, was an overwhelming sense of having loved and having been loved.

 

Audrey and Richard, I hope reading my side of the story shows you how I had no control over my disease. Although many things were said and done, I never stopped loving you both.

Thank you for your patience and boundless devotion. I’m blessed to have such generous children and I'm proud of the people you have become.

You were the greatest loves of my life.

 

I promise to watch over you closely, and whenever you see or feel something beautiful, know that it’s me, holding you in my arms, gently kissing your forehead and singing you the sweetest lullabies.​​

 

Mum

XXX

 

THE END

 

 

​​​© Michelle Upton

 

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