A lot of people had to dream
To get you here
I was for a while only other people’s dream – my mum and dad’s perhaps- unsure of what my own dreams were. To go a year without dreaming, a song went, till it seems like there’s nothing new. After my dad died I stopped dreaming for a while.
8 days. Only 8 days & yet a whole lifetime lived and passed and died and lived. in the hospice to and fro and to and from my house every day the house remember you used to live with mum and sister and me before you left where we were never happy especially you especially when you lied oh no not happy moon blue unhappy rush oh
those 8 days. Lilting flow remembering soft blurs around the edges people came and went and always we remain grandma your wife sisters and me the people who came to see the wreck that was your body and sometimes kissed your brow looked and cried a little at those of us who remained grandma your wife sisters and me
I remember this immense tension hanging between life and death, suspended almost, during those last days of his life, where this paradoxical turning between nothing and everything unfolded in that liminal space, a sort of borderlands that none of us had any reference of ever existing in before.
I remember the vicar who had christened you when you were a boy small curly charming beautiful before i was your little boy small curly charming beautiful come and say a prayer at the foot of your deathbed in his voice hushed speaking of darkness creeping and religion so much more potent when you can feel death creeping and he spoke of a light he said you were close to a light that was blinding it made me feel calm to think of you there even if I didn’t believe him and the crying and the clenched hands and the crying and the not knowing and the crying where to look as we felt that darkness creeping blue creeping clenched creeping hands
on the 8th day the last day there was darkness but maybe also light your chest heaving so hard rattling so much sounding like your insides might rip apart your chest might come out to see the sunshine and writhe fish counter-top gasping for life gasping for
nurses doctor more nurses faces sombre making calls if needed we did not have much time yet those 8 days felt like time was all we had time stretched suspended and stretched itself how could it now be time? At the end i remember grandma your wife cousin and me and behind faces that seemed unimportant unsure of their number step family voyeurs who it felt exposing to be there too they never loved you like i loved you. at the end i remember i loved you. your hand heave chest pause your hand trying to get in the words i wanted to tell you your hand heave chest longer pause looks between grandma step mum cousin and me is it the end your hand heave chest longer pause still tension taut rope living dying simultaneously i remember how much i wanted you to die heave chest pause longer now longer pause longer end this pain dad heave chest pause longer pause longer longer is it time i could feel the light leave i could feel his body slowing as if i was touching death as it unfolded before me still. no more. still. the end. his hand softening in mine softening going limp and no more. hands. no more.
No more for him. He died and got away with it. I remained and kept struggling. Though he has died many times in many different ways since that day by the hospice bed. As I change I feel my relationship to him change: closer now, more tender, then distant, estranged.
I am in a lifelong relationship with his ghost.
In the years following his death I fell away into a darkness dark, richly dark, like/being drunk, that’s the best that’s/open as a field.
I searched and searched for that open field, that dark wood where i could lose myself, spent the best part of a year on anti-depressants but sleep became a stranger and I lost the rich, intoxicating textures of those dreamworlds where you could get really dark and wrap that darkness around you. Like the feeling you sometimes got as a small child wrapping your hands around your neck till you couldn’t breathe- getting a sense of something more, something beyond
it’s only me
who wants to wrap around your dreams
Early summer 1997. Sunken down the car seat my cap covers my eyes and i like it here i can look up to my left see trails trees soft blur like swirling cake mixture tasting so good so good with green dye a lot like witches gloop. each time a car passes our car tremble-tremors a little like dad’s nose when he thinks he has a sneeze but refuses to give in. he is strong like that. i look right from my hidden molehill seat – no one outside would think there was anyone but you in this car, I am your secret- and i see first your hands dry-stone strong on the wheel then follow your arms to your body fleece-thick and up to your face not tremble-tremors now rather mouth wide singing to the radio ~ if you tolerate this, then your children will be next~ I sing with you too though I don’t know what it means.
All the selves that I ever wanted to be growing up revolved around him- the herculean centre- for so many years: learning guitar; reading D.H. Lawrence books way before I could understand them; watching the English Patient repeatedly whilst he cried; listening to the White Album; him asking me about girls (he always presumed me straight, his ‘acceptance’ of my sister being gay could contribute to brownie liberal points but if his only son had told him he was bisexual it could well have ruptured something, though I guess I’ll never know).
It is two months since you left that house moon blue. I am in your temporary mole hill and am one of your only friends in the world. I like it this way. I am your secret friend. Lots of other people who care about you are angry about all the times you’ve hurt mum and sister and me and this time it seems like you really are leaving.
Always with him I felt this desperate need to impress, to make myself matter so that maybe he’d stick around a little longer, maybe i could be enough for a little while. In so much living within his shadow I internalised and carried the guilt for the black hole i now realise existed inside of him, formed through his own ego and insatiable materiality and libido. As his best friend told me years after he died, in a pub we used to go to altogether, “I loved your dad deeply, but he lived his whole life from his cock”.
I look behind and see yellow-red waves of “Vote Labour” scattered across the back seats. I feel very important because you are my dad and you seem very important on this day. whenever we get out the car and I look up to see your face charming curly beautiful talking to people holding yellow-red waves, I overhear you say “we have the opportunity to offer our children a brighter future- better schools, better hospitals, better ways of tackling crime, we can dream again”. I don’t know what it means but I feel excited and copy your smile curly charming, the woman you are talking to looks down “isn’t he adorable?” “vote labour” I reply. I am trying to be my dad’s dream, though I don’t understand what it means.
He was the light of the party, the one people flocked around eager to drink in some of his light. To get drunk on it. There were times when I didn’t have to speak at all, I could just bask in the afterglow of his charm, just by the genetic luck of being his son, sitting silently at his dinner table while he had friends around and the step family, laughing at the jokes when others did and smiling from time to time, I felt empty and worthless but it was so easy just to coast like that in his shadow. That black hole of his I felt in myself as a kind of ego-death, I didn’t have a clue who I was (I mean I was also a teenager) but dad could shout and charm and fuck through the domains of his life with startling success because of his privilege as a handsome white straight man, freed from guilt by his ego.
I am at your house it is the year you died and i have found outI am going to London to study and you are tangerine-warm happy so happy oh so happy and you are crying and you hug me close thinner now i feel your body-cage splinter against my own but it is still you i look up though not far now no molehill now no i cannot be your secret anymore i see you seeing me not looking but actually seeing with those eyes still curly charming beautiful though your hair is perished your face is gaunt. beautiful. still. i will remember this moment always because in this moment i know you love me but i am leaving and soon you will be leaving me forever
Even now, as I try and write “him” from “you” I find myself drifting back to him in the second person, the difficulty of separating myself from him. As he dominated my life whilst living, so in death he looms over my writing. It has taken so much pain and energy on my part to let him/to make him die, even all these years after the hospice. I found this from a diary a few years back, displaying my continued obsession with trying to keep the parties going, and to be that light, as he had been:
where have all the good parties gone?
Why does the party have to end?
Each time more lonely than the last
Dreams of loneliness,
Like a heartbeat, drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering, what you had,
And what you lost
The kitchen of the house where you used to live remember with mum and sister and me where we were rarely happy mostly moon blue something is coming something lurking I can tell by your hands nervous and by mum eyes familiar-strange who has been telling me this will be important for the past week but has said nothing more. My mum has been letting me know when things are important for a long time but that never makes sense when you are a kid, only when you are no longer a kid. I am 13 now and perhaps no longer a kid but important blue things have been happening always in my life. Now you are telling me that you are going to die that your bones dry-stone strong are breaking now your insides are being gutted fish-counter splayed by a cancer that won’t stop till its tentacles have wrapped themselves across every inch inside of your fleece-warm body. This kitchen holds many blue memories murmurs many conversations never had haughty plates on shelves never used though this perhaps is the bluest and your hands in your hair before it perished and my hands on your hands sitting on your legs before they withered and the crying and the breaking and the crying and the hands
years later after you had died mum reminded me that i I shouted at you that night that you’d already left me once how could you leave me again
I think a lot about the different selves we encounter and how trying to represent yourself/your lives/ your lovers/ your friends makes you realise how messy this can be. Through writing we create case studies of our lives to try, I guess, to share some of our consciousness in a public form? Is it also maybe to externalise some of the pain so it doesn’t always turn inwards and be so destructive? Maybe representation(s) of ourselves are our attempt at looking at all the different possible truths in our constructions of reality.
I read recently about how you have this ought-to self: the self that you think you ought to be in order to avoid negative outcomes. Then you have this ideal self- bound up with all the desires of the things you want to be and then between these the actual self (though I never got how you could ever reach an understanding of an ‘actual’ self, surely that is just a process of negation? Thinking in abstracts and all the things you aren’t allows you to reach a better understanding of who you are at different points and in different contexts?) My ought-to-be self, once I began to rage against him after he died, became the opposite of everything in my own personality which linked me to him- whenever I noticed myself feeling confident or charming- it would later instill this sense of guilt, that i could not become like him
Now here you go again you say
you want your freedom
It is two months since you left that house moon blue. I am in your temporary mole hill and am one of your only friends in the world. I like it this way. I am your secret friend. Lots of other people who care about you are angry about all the times you’ve hurt mum and sister and me and this time it seems like you really are leaving. We will never have this time together again, though I don’t know that yet. Every Friday I come round to your new house hidden down the road from that old house moon blue and we watch films- mainly Bond and action films (ataway to make me a man hey pops?) and mostly it’s just us. sometimes though your new girlfriend is here too and you keep me awake having sex in the room downstairs. I don’t like this because you were probably almost definitely having sex when you were still with mum but it still makes you very exciting
The remnants of those foundational years, in his shadow, meant that my desires to be like him sketched across into the circles of my ideal self - the deepest desires of being in some ways like him and getting away with it. With none of the pain or guilt. In the negative interstices between those two points I lingered, ashamed of the aspects of him I saw in myself yet unsure of how to be anyone else. After the hospice the “I’s” were a lot harder to find than I thought. So many times I tried to kill those aspects of him/myself.
One Friday I ask you to play me music so I can get to sleep. I am 7 years old and will remember being this age forever. Because you left. This is when you introduce me to the police, crowded house, neil young, the beatles (but not the white album, yet) and Fleetwood Mac. I start dreaming really rich dark things then across open fields where I can only see where i shine my torch. i can hear waves not too far away and the sense of something lurking always something coming danger close but it is intoxicating to be dreaming.
Years later, when you are dying, I will dream of the two of us walking through a garden gate and in that dream i hear the chords to the Fleetwood Mac song murmuring under the surface of the dream and the place where your hand was on the gate i smell and lick so i can swallow your touch forever along with the splinters in my mouth and i remember thinking that everything you touched in that dream would be the last time you ever touched it because you are going to die. I wake up, alone, and you are still alive but you are going to die. i know you are going to leave
Have you any dreams you’d like to sell?
8th June 2017. General Election night. I am in the Hermit’s Cave pub in Camberwell and around me I am surrounded mainly by friends that never knew him, part of the selves I have created in London after he died, but there are two friends here who have known me for many years, and knew him very well. I keep them close to me because they are my bridge back to that life, my way of remembering myself then and knowing myself now. They also know all the different ways my relationship to him has changed, when he was alive and now that he is dead.
It is one of those nights where everyone is buying rounds, so we are many rounds deep but no-one is keeping tabs and everyone is happy to buy, it feels very different to how poor we usually feel as twenty-somethings in LDN. One old friend and me are drinking guinness, which always feels like the drink you buy to make an occasion (even when there is none) and instantly it makes me feel nauseous (though this could be nerves). I take a sip but barely swallow because we are chatting so manically and my eyes roam around each booth in the pub creating backstories of the people I see. I love doing this.
I spot here- troubled lovers with their complicated body language; there- posing lads who shout over each other with peacock struts and over there- old friends, much like us, huddled in the comfort of all the years and the deeply tested, deeply known love.
The pub is tense, it is one year after that worst year: that nauseating usually-once-in-a-generation feeling of waking up to the horrors of first, Brexit, then Trump, and no one here believes deep down the results are going to be anything other than a shit show bow to austerity and the ethno-nationalist monstrosity Toryism. It’s looking like I’ll have spent my entire twenties under Tory rule. When my mum and dad were this age, in the early 70s, they were newly qualified social workers hot in the wake of the hazy sexual revolution and thought they could change the world. They had a sense of a future. (though as mum has gradually revealed to me over the years, and to herself, it was mainly middle class white men that thrived back then, at the destructive expense of others)
All day we have been canvassing in Croydon and I have, for the first election in my adult life, actually given a shit about the Labour party and their potential to actually offer something more, something beyond the neoliberal horror show that has defined and crippled my generation. We are a long way from the treachery of Blairism in this pub on this night, though it doesn’t feel far enough to reduce the Tory majority.
I remember thinking how much dad and me would have argued over the past couple of years about Corbyn. How he still would have defended Blair - their lusts for power riding beneath their supreme eloquence and charm. New Labour and he both spoke of dreams that built hope in people but undercut them with lie after lie. Recently i’ve been obsessed with the parallels between that big picture and the tiny picture that is my life, crude as that sounds and crude as it feels to write.
Both men, Blair and my dad, at each and every moment and under the guise of ‘progressive liberal’ politics, spent their lives propping up and enforcing neoliberal patriarchy.
That was the thing about New Labour and dad: when you really needed them they never stuck around.
Now here you go again you say
you want your freedom
Maybe that night it was my turn to have my freedom. From him, from Blair, from their shadows. With the unexpected success of Corbyn that beautiful night, the nascent belief that we had something of a future back, and what it meant in terms of the death of new labour, it felt like i could let him die. That night in June felt momentous in all sorts of ways which I’m yet to understand.
Dreams of loneliness,
Like a heartbeat, drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering, what you had,
And what you lost
it is raining, your funeral, shadows gather, voyeuristic, on your grave is written your name and underneath the words, etched forever in marble, there is a light that never goes out. But it does. you died. and the parties will never be the same. The world is a little darker.
grandma, who had buried many babies before she buried you, wrote on the wreath that she lay by your grave “my beautiful son, I will miss you always, your selflessness was never greater than when you said the greatest pain i feel is not for me, but for all those that I will leave behind”.
I never wrote anything that day. In fact I didn’t write anything for years after he died. But i’m writing now. & I’m dreaming now but the pain goes on and I still like to get dark, richly dark sometimes and wrap those dreams around myself and, in spite of all my attempts to kill him for good, sometimes in those dreams I find him in the open field by torchlight and i know that he is going to die but it feels good to see him for a while and spend a little time together in that secret world. In those dreams he sometimes holds me and when he does he is fleece-warm again and i feel his hands dry-stone strong wrapped around me and i can hear the chords of the song murmuring beneath the surface of the dream.
Those dreams are the only place where I can find him now, my secret ghost.