I was asked something thought provoking a week ago.
‘If you could go backwards or forwards in time, which way would you go?’
My thoughts had initially been quite grandiose while I mulled over my reply. Epic and exciting periods in history immediately presented themselves.
I could see the pyramids being built in Egypt and look at their empire when it was at the peak of its power and opulence, stand on a grassy knoll and see who really killed JFK, watch Jimmy Hendrix play the last two hour set at Woodstock, or witness firsthand the tearing down of the Berlin wall….
But what about the future?
Dangerous. A lot could go wrong. Dystopian events would probably have occurred. Each possible outcome seemed worse than the last. We may have been blown up by terrorist dirty bombs, overwhelmed by the seas due to global warming, have been hit by an asteroid, washed away by tsunamis, or succumbed to the zombie apocalypse. Donald Trump may be president…
I was completely stumped – and at the time concluded simply that it was safer to travel in my own lifetime so that I would avoid changing history and screwing the present up.
The conversation concluded with my rather dull and ill thought out answer, but tonight I’m thinking about it again because it seems infinitely more relevant.
Tomorrow I go to my mom’s nearly empty bungalow again for the last time. When I’ve locked up it will be empty, and while I never liked the place to begin with the moment will represent a significant milestone in my life.
I’m annoyed with my continued preoccupation on the subject, and that I keep coming back to it over and over. I’m so confused about my feelings relating to my mother’s death that I struggle to put it into words.
While she was alive I was continually in conflict with her. Regardless of how I tried to make sense of her to myself and others I never did my feelings justice. Typically my spoken words were angry and monosyllabic when my thoughts finally took form, and I usually deadened the pain they caused in the pub with my friends, and later on my own.
Her lies, manipulation, emotional blackmail, verbal abuse and unwillingness to ever apologise or understand the impact of her actions and words in later life drove me crazy. I wanted nothing to do with her for years until about eight months before she died, and even then every moment spent with her was an immense struggle. I had to continually play mental hopscotch as I tried to head off potential arguments and censor my discussions. I didn’t want events in my life to be used as weapons in conversation later as they had been many times before, decade after decade.
I got back in contact when she was admitted to hospital. This was partially because I thought it was the end and I didn’t want to leave things between us as they were, but mostly because I didn’t want my dad to face it by her bedside alone.
As it happened she hung on longer than expected and left the chronic respiratory illness unit five weeks later. I honestly thought that through sheer bloody mindedness she would never die. She’d just argue death to a standstill upon arrival until it laid down its scythe and gave up.
The time I spent with her in those eight months, if I am completely truthful, was out of obligation, not love. Each and every minute spent with her felt like I was carving off a piece of me that I didn’t want to give and that she did not deserve.
But then she died. My parent actually died. It was both expected and unexpected, and now I don’t know how to feel about it.
Theres a part of me that has softened somehow since her death. It’s beginning to remember the good times, without the mist of anger and stubbornness caused by old conflicts.
The memories this part of me is reviving are somehow more vivid than before. When I concentrate I can feel the corduroy trousers I wore when I was little and see the coal fire in our living room, with a box of white firelighters to the left. I can feel the warmth of my mother’s arm through her nylon jumper as I rested my head on it while we sat on the sofa watching the black and white TV.
I didn’t always feel hostility toward her. I know that now.
I used to adore watching her paint and draw, and loved to see how her compositions took shape and form from nothing but a blank canvas and some mixed and coloured oil to what I viewed as a masterpiece when it was done. Before my brother arrived when I was ten, we used to do this together, me reading a comic on the floor, and her painting while she smoked and talked. It was for a time something we shared alone.
In another memory she unexpectedly bought me a Millennium Falcon for Christmas. It was a gift way beyond what she could afford, but she knew how much I wanted it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy getting a gift as I was with that one. I can remember it like it was yesterday. The smell of the new plastic and the colours of the stickers in the cockpit where I sat Luke and Chewie are with me right now, as I type.
I also remember her working with me to make a pirate outfit for school. She tied a spotted black neck scarf for my head and made a thick curved cardboard cutlass covered in tinfoil. I was so taken with it that the sword never made it to class. For hours I ran around the garden with a makeshift eyepatch and a plastic budgie on a spring mounted to my shoulder (a faux companion stolen from my pet’s cage) waving my sword left and right, shouting ‘Yaaaaarrrrr’ as I dived out of bushes to swashbuckle imaginary foes.
The sword couldn’t take the heroic adventures its owner was intent on having. It died shortly after from extensive tree related injuries and was laid to rest in the bin later that evening. I remember that there were daffodils in the garden and the grass had been recently cut, but thats really all I can recall about that day. Apart from the fact I was a really, really happy little pirate.
But thats all past now.
Tomorrow another memory will be made involving my mom. Its as significant as any of the ones above, but I don’t want to experience it. I want to swear and shout and make it go away, and above all else I don’t want to face it.
So today the question my friend posed means more than it did before.
If I could travel anywhere in time, forwards or backwards, I think I would travel to the day after tomorrow.
I’d go there so I didn’t have to lock the door to her bungalow for very the last time.
I’d go there because I don’t want this memory in my head.