Tag Archives: Memories

Good grief

Sunday 16 August,2015. I’m driving home and talking to my father on the car phone. It’s a winter evening but the days are getting longer.

 

Me (in a grave tone): Notice you can hear those chirpy birds at dusk now. The really chipper ones. They’re all happy and chatty …

Him: Ugh. I know, I know. They’ve been turning my stomach cold for the past couple of weeks. They may as well be yelling “Chirp, chirp!! Summer’s coming! Summer’s coming! Chirp!”  I’d like to shoot them.

Dad looking casually suave ... and me looking like a boy with special needs.

Dad looking casually suave … and me looking like a boy with special needs.

Neither Dad nor I are fans of the Australian heat.

 

Me: And they’re not even edible birds …what other birds do we eat besides chicken? Duck. I can’t think of any others …

Him: Royals used to eat swan.

Me: True. What other birds do we eat?

Him: Oh I don’t know. Geeses …

Me (laughing): You just said ‘geeses’ instead of geese! Idiot.

Dad chuckles. The energy of our amusement is accelerating.

Me: And turkey! We eat turkey.

Mum and Dad as Crusaders

Mum and Dad as Crusaders

Him: Yes! Turkey!! Ha, you squawked that word the way you mock me about squawking words when I’m excited! … But then I squawked it straight after you!

Me (laughing): Quail, we eat quail.

Him (speaking with a grin I can hear): Well I wouldn’t eat a bloody quail.

Me (still giggling): I know you wouldn’t. And pheasant, we eat pheasant.

Him: I wouldn’t eat a bloody pheasant either.

I continue laughing. Dad tries to laugh but it triggers a coughing fit and we end the call.

He dies a few hours later.

Both of us as adults

Both of us as adults

The following Friday, a cloudy day in late August, we bury him. My brother-in-law and I speak at the funeral, my mother reads Dad’s favourite poem, “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

At the grave, the wind blows robustly around us as his New Zealand relatives sing in Maori and perform a fierce and powerful haka.  It’s an impressive finale.

For the fortnight following his death I keep phoning him. We used to speak to each other for about an hour every day, and habits are hard to break. Our final conversation was a typical one and I miss those talks.

Dad was my father, confirmed by our unnervingly similar personality quirks and physical make-up. But mainly we were friends. We shared the same interests, held many of the same views, and had a borderline telepathic understanding of each other’s thoughts and responses.

Dad

Dad

I’ll miss our connection and I’m disappointed that I’ll have no new Dad-related anecdotes. But thankfully many of them are indelibly imprinted in my head (and I’ll soon repost two that I wrote in 2012, you can see them by clicking on these links – “Fatherly Advice” and “Balloon Friends”).

It’s a month today since Dad died.  (Though it wasn’t until Monday 17th that we knew).  It’s sad that he’s gone, but his death has ended his suffering. My grief is intense and will continue for a long time, but mostly when I think of him I smile (or chuckle out loud) at the endlessly (& often unintentionally) entertaining things he did and said. On balance, it’s a good grief.

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My special box

“Hi Simone, I hope you’re well.  I know you haven’t heard from me in a long time but I wanted to let you know that Ian’s had a heart attack. He’s okay, but I know you two were close so I thought you would want to know.  Did you know he’s divorced now? Martin”.

There was more in the Facebook message, but that’s the important paragraph.  I’ve not seen or heard from Martin in ten years.  The same time I last saw Ian.  We’d worked together but I haven’t given him much thought since leaving that workplace.  With the memory suddenly thrust in my face, I feel compelled to reflect on our most poignant time together. Belly-crawling like a snake under my bed, I pull out my “special box”.

GrasshopperThe contents of this are varied.  There are a lot of letters and cards, and more obscure items; a shoelace, a plastic grasshopper, a broken Batman key-ring, a cork.  To an outsider it looks like junk, but each of these items holds a specific memory.  Some have “romantic” associations akin to Monica Lewinksy’s blue dress (though more hygienic).  Others, like the alarm clock (a gift to mock my obsession with punctuality), are entirely innocent.  All items have a link to a person or moment I don’t want to forget – good and bad.

I find the envelope I’m looking for and take it to the living room.  There’d been a pub gathering to celebrate me leaving the place I’d worked with Ian and Martin.  At the end of the evening, when there were only a few people left, Ian drove me home.  He stopped the car outside my house.

Ian:  Well, this is it …

Me:  Yep.  The time has come.  It was a good night, though, wasn’t it?  And I’ll email you, obviously.

Ian:  Oh yeah, of course, me too … listen, before you go, I just want to give you this.  I didn’t want to give it to you in front of everyone.

Ian had handed me an envelope and told me to read it when I was inside. He said he’d be embarrassed if I read it in front of him.

For the first time in a decade I open the envelope and re-read the eight hand-written pages.  Ian says he has feelings for me.  He outlines detailed accounts of our interactions at work (we’d never seen each other socially).  He wants to see me again.  He wants to know if I feel the same way.  He makes no mention of his wife.

Mini Alarm ClockWhen I first read this dramatic and detailed declaration I was flattered, and genuinely stunned.  In the years we’d shared an office I never had any idea that he’d felt this way.  I was shocked that I’d been oblivious and tried to recall any moments that I’d missed – I drew a complete blank.  I met him the following weekend to have an awkward and emotionally charged conversation.  That discussion ended the possibility of any friendship and we haven’t spoken since.

Ian must have confided in Martin for him to send me his elusive Facebook message.  I feel like I’ve been shoved back in time; I’d never expected to hear from Ian, or anyone connected to him, again.

I throw out the letter, along with many other items from the box.  Some things are best forgotten.  I don’t want my memory of Ian to be of that uncomfortable shift in our friendship.  He was a colleague who I’d laughed with each day.  I’d enjoyed our conversations, both the meaningful and the frivolous.  He was a good work friend and that’s how he’s going to stay in my head.

Present-day life is filled with things that make me feel bad.  My special box has been exorcised and is now only filled with memories that make me feel good.