Thinking of my cousin Hannah and her husband Lochie today, and the loss, too sad for words, of their daughter Chelsea Anne, who died mere days before she was meant to be born, for no good reason. As I go to bed in Norway, a new day starts in Australia, and it is her funeral. We wish it did not have to be. We wish we could all wake up into any other world.
Today when I went downstairs with Felix, I was tired. Michael is away again this week after being back for the weekend. Felix has been sick and on Sunday night and Monday morning we had to go to doctor three times in twelve hours. He seemed a bit better so I contemplated sending him to the barnehage so I could rest and read. He begged to stay home though, and to get a bun, so I agreed. He was so happy it made me happy too. We drove into town and he decided he wanted to sit in the stroller (a good move actually – it was so icy). We sat and ate our buns, and I drank my particularly good latte, and we were happy. Behind us was a mother with a newborn. Soon her friend arrived. Felix went to play with the toys. I went to play with him, and noticed her friend was heavily pregnant. Soon after that another woman with a newborn arrived. They seemed so happy. I could hear them nattering away about how their babies were sleeping and eating. All of a sudden, I couldn’t stop crying. Felix played. He looked at the babies, then found a baby doll in the cupboard. ‘Mummy hold this one’, he said.
After a while I told Felix it was time to go. We walked to the park but it was so icy we didn’t stay for long. The bright sun got in Felix’s eyes and the seagulls dipped and soared. We went to pharmacy in the shopping centre to replace some of Felix’s medication (we’d picked it up yesterday but it wasn’t in a toddler-friendly form). We went next door to Lindex and I bought Felix a cardigan with rainbow cuffs. By the time we got home I was feeling better. We took off our coats. ‘No winter’, Felix said, ‘No snow come down’. ‘It will be spring soon,’ I said, ‘and all the snow will melt’. Felix entertained himself beautifully while I did the dishes and heated some soup. I thought about the modules I will be responsible for teaching in the autumn, and had a good idea about a text to include. We ate our soup at the table. ‘Light on!’ he said. ‘Light on in the kitchen!’ ‘We don’t need the light on in the kitchen. But look – we have a candle! The candle means we can sit at the table together and enjoy each other’s company.’ Felix looked at the candle and then at me, and gave me the most beautiful smile in the world.
Felix and I have been alone in Salt Lake City for a couple of days, while Michael flew to Chicago and back. We have done some errands and visited coffee shops, gardens and parks. Last night I took Felix out to dinner at our favourite Noodles & Co. I had a glass of wine with my meal. It was possibly the first time I had ordered a glass of wine for myself when no one else was drinking (I was going to say when dining alone, but I wasn’t). I felt the warmth of the wine tingle down my shoulders. Felix was blissed out. He sat in the highchair, holding onto the front of it, looking around at everyone and up at the lights, doing a slow happy jiggle, opening his mouth distractedly every now and again for me to spoon more food in. He’d already eaten up a good portion of the ciabatta roll, crumb by crumb. When I put some of his rice puffs on the table in front of him he pounced on them with delight. Felix, I said, I love you so.
But I have been feeling sad, too. Recently, three of my good friends lost much wanted pregnancies, one right at the end of the first trimester, and two into the second trimester. It is heartbreaking.
Tonight, at another Noodles & Co (there are plenty), ‘Are we human, or are we dancer’ came on the radio. It tunneled me back a few years, when it was one of the songs played in my yoga class at the gym. I would listen to it, and the other songs, and think of my friend Kate, who died for no good reason, when a truck ploughed into her bike. And here it was again.
I thought of Kate, who will never have a child. I thought of my friends. I thought of the little lost ones who lived such a short time and couldn’t get beyond life’s beginnings. I thought of the frail marks they leave on the world. The hearts they re-arrange. The beautiful name of my friend’s son, stillborn at 20 weeks. And my own little one, with no name but only a clutch of poems.
Outside the late autumn light flared in the trees.
Felix knew the answer to the song. He smiled and wriggle-jiggled and kicked his legs and danced.
Felix was not happy. He held it together while our friends who will house-sit for us were here for dinner and house-orientation (well, he held it together as he perched on my shoulder while I paced the floor), but once they left, he let us know how sad he really was. I tried feeding him lying down on the sofa, which sometimes works when he’s unsettled. But he kept raising his little face and staring me straight in the eyes, then sticking out his bottom lip, quivering, frowning, and then letting out the most pitiful sobs. He was happy in the sling for half an hour, but once he came out of it the same thing happened. We even tried some baby panadol as he only had his vaccinations the day before, but that didn’t work either.
At ten pm we took him for a walk in the pram. The cool air outside calmed him down immediately, and after a while he fell asleep. Of course he woke up the second we arrived home, so I took him upstairs and we lay on the bed together. He wasn’t upset any more, but wanted to play. After a while I put him in the crib next to the bed. But he kept wriggling over so his head touched the bars, sticking his arm out towards me and just gazing at me. So I picked him up again. We lay on the bed, our faces two inches apart. He wouldn’t take his eyes off mine. ‘Goo’, he said, ‘agoo agoo agoo brrrsh’. And he touched my cheek and even managed to get a handful of my hair at one point, and we lay there for an hour, just smiling and gooing, our eyes locked together. And at last he got sleepy and had a long drink and went to sleep around midnight.
It is a strange thing, to be so needed.
Ok now this is the main thing. On Monday we drove to Fredrikstad for a scan. I was terrified. On Saturday I was so nervous that I felt nauseous all day. But this time, Michael was with me. He lent me his iphone and I played Stoneloops of Jurassica in the waiting room, which so successful at distracting me that I didn’t even hear them calling my number. Then we went in for the ultrasound. And there’s a little one in there! It’s alive! It doesn’t seem to have the same problem as last time.
I was so relieved I went out of the hospital and I cried. For the little one who will never be born, and the little one who in all likelihood will.
And then we met my parents for coffee and cake in the old town.
After lunch I called my Grandma. Eventually I managed to interrupt the flow of family news.
‘I’ve got some news for you too’, I said. ‘I’m pregnant again!’
‘Oh!’ she said. ‘Someone else is pregnant too!’
Not exactly the response I expected, but anyway… ‘Who?’
‘Well, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tell you, but Caitlin rang this evening and she had her scan this morning and she’s twelve weeks!’
‘How – where are you…’
‘I had my scan this morning and I’m twelve weeks!’
Many breathless phonecalls ensued. Caitlin is the wife of my cousin Joseph. They are living in London at the moment. All going well, these babies will be the first great-grandchildren on this side of the family. My Mum and her sister will become grandmothers together. Everyone is ecstatic. Apparently my Grandma was so excited she gave herself a migraine.
I had the scan on Monday. Wednesday was the estimated due date of my previous pregnancy. And on Friday, two of my closest friends in Adelaide had a baby girl. So, for me, it is slightly bittersweet. Yesterday and this morning I felt this piercing, heavy sadness. This new story is wonderful, but it is coloured by the old one. And it feels so unreal. In my (very limited) experience, pregnancy doesn’t mean a baby. My parents have driven off for a few days holiday in the mountains. They will be back next weekend, but then they head back to Australia. I think I also feel sad about that. About living so very far away. But I have learnt, too, that sadness passes. That it is like a thick mist, damp and cold, touching and clouding everything. But it lifts. Already I feel a little better. I made some rather strange but fairly tasty brownies this afternoon, and I go back to work tomorrow. I am looking forward to getting into routines again. I feel rested. I am looking forward to writing and thinking on my Fridays off. And we are looking forward to our new stories, to all their colours.
I wrote a lecture last week about the concept of home in the books we’ve studied this semester. We were thinking about diaspora.
As I wrote the paragraph about Robinson Crusoe, I cried. I remembered reading the novel four months ago. I remembered so clearly the blissful, dozy happiness of that cottage in Bright. The hours of half-heartedly prodding the beginning of the novel between watching the tennis and sleeping on the couch. I even have a photo of me asleep on the sofa, Robinson Crusoe propped against my nose, the top button of my trousers undone because they were just starting to get too tight.
I brought the novel with me on the day of the termination. I was closer to the end, then. I remember being utterly horrified when Crusoe sailed off with his English rescuers, not even waiting for his new friends the Spaniards to return. My surgeon was impressed by my bedside reading. We had a discussion about colonialism. He was a closet Australian history geek.
I wrote the paragraph, and I cried. But then I wrote the next paragraph, and the next, and I finished the lecture.
But I realized there is more to say. There is definitely more to say.
In the last week we’ve bought a tumble dryer and ordered a dishwasher. Moving up in the world. And some hooks to hang towels on. And lights for the stairs. And summer tyres for the car. I made waffles for breakfast on Sunday. I’ve been making progress on Henry. We’ve stumbled on, alongside our interrupted and interrupting grief. I am so unbelievably glad it is Easter break now. Easter starts on Thursday in Norway, but at the kindergarten we have Wednesday off too. I plan to mark essays all day. It will be brilliant.
The snow has all but gone. The land looks strangely naked without it. Brown and rubbed thin. As though the whole world could just collapse from exhaustion. But it won’t. It will just catch its breath a while longer, while the birdsong already haunts morning with dreams of colour. And before we know it, it will be May, beautiful May, though that still feels as distant as a foreign country.
I’m thinking of my Dad today because he’s had the most horrible week. Last week his twin sister died after a slow and terrible illness, and then on the weekend an errant house guest stole his camera and his lenses and his penknife, his most prized possessions. Which is just not fair.
Actually, it’s been a pretty shattering year so far.
I have often grimaced uncomfortably when he whips out his giant camera at family gatherings, but I’ve always loved seeing the portraits he’s taken afterwards. That’s mostly what he photographs, people’s faces. And then prints them out to show us all.
I am glad I visited my aunt Irene with my Nanna and Michael last time I was home. It was Nanna’s idea. I am so grateful. We talked about Christmas, and her children and her grandchildren. We looked at photos.
My aunt did not have an easy life. But my Mum said what seems most clear at the moment, as the family comes together, that underlying everything, and despite everything, is love. She loved her family and her family loved her.
Love is difficult. But sometimes, suddenly, effortless.
And my Dad is brilliant. It was so nice hanging out with him last time I was in Australia. He took such good care of me. He cooked us dinner, took us out for dinner, brought pasties home for me during his lunch break, kept the pantry liberally stocked with chocolate, cried over my poems. And took some great photographs. Especially one night when we went out for pizza on King William Road, Mum and Dad, my brother and Michael and I. We sat out on the pavement in the evening warmth. It was a good night.
So I’m thinking of you today, Dad. I can’t wait to see you in July. And I hope you get a new camera soon. I love the way you wonder at the world, and at people, and the worlds within them.
Many things happened yesterday. My aunt died, my cousin’s daughter was born, and another cousin got engaged (all on my Dad’s side). I read some of this news on facebook, and some in an email. I feel a very long way away.
But also not. I feel very connected to my family, and to life and to death.
Yesterday, driving to work, I saw a row of frosted birch trees standing in an field of snow. The sun (a welcome stranger in these parts) shone fiercely, directly behind them, illuminating the layers and ribbons of mist caught in their hair.
And tonight, from my new window over the roof tops, I watched the moment evening became night. It was a long moment. The sun does not set here as it sets in Australia – blink and you’ll miss it. It lingers. But I’m not talking about sunset, I’m talking about a long time after. And also I don’t mean ‘fades’. You know, ‘day fades into night’. Because here it doesn’t, not on clear days. Slowly, slowly, long after the sun has set, the blue gets deeper and deeper, sifting its way through a thousand shades, until suddenly the whole sky is a deep iridescent purple. Glowing, I say. And in the middle of it, the first star.
We took this photo in the mountains in Norway, last summer. It pretty much sums up what I am feeling right now. I can’t tell you why, just yet. I will probably tell you soon. But see the small stone, alone and yet not alone, amid the undulating hills of stone. See how the red flowers bloom on the rock. Take a deep breath. And see how if you looked up, or turned around, or walked on, the mountains would spread their arms around you, the clouds would part, the earth would press its face up to the sky.
I met Kate in the Lake district in autumn. I remember the wet leaves on the paths, the clean air. It was a walk organized by the University of Leeds hiking society. Kate was friendly, and tall like me, and doing a PhD in chemistry. She told me how much she loved living in her house in Meanwood. When later it turned out that she had spare rooms in the house for the coming academic year, I jumped at the chance.
Two other brilliantly lovely young women moved in too, and it was the nicest shared house I’d ever lived in. Those are our joint collection of teapots, keeping each other company on the top of the kitchen cupboard.
Kate was always buying flowers and baking cakes. We used to wake up to this amazing smell and a scrawled note to help outselves to home-made bread. We had a cleaning roster we stuck to and the house was always sparkling. We often had house meals – pancakes, waffles. Once Kate made this incredible French Onion soup. I hate onions, but it was amazing. Another time she made vegetarian shepherd’s pie. I made chocolate pudding. Ruth made quinoa. Heather made pizzas from scratch.
Our basement was crammed with bicycles, which we carried carefully over the clean kitchen floor, and balanced precariously down the stairs. It was a fifteen minute bike ride into town or to uni. There was always a copy of the Guardian on the kitchen table. The living room was filled with plants. The pin-up board was covered in postcards from all over the world.
Kate submitted her PhD in atmospheric chemistry (you know, climate change stuff) at the same time I handed in my thesis. Her viva was a couple of weeks before mine. She graduated the week before me, exactly three weeks ago (I stole this picture from her facebook page. I hope this is ok – tell me if it’s not). I didn’t get to see her while I was in Leeds because she was off in Germany checking out her new home. She’d been offered a two year post-doc in Mainz.
One week ago, Kate Furneaux was riding her bike in Leeds and a truck knocked her over and she died.
My other housemate, Ruth, rang to tell me yesterday. I can’t believe it. But it’s true. I am so angry at the world. I want to punch the walls down with my fists.
Kate really was incredible. Any one of her million friends will tell you. She had such enthusiasm, positivity, generosity. I have never met anyone with such lovely energy. She loved the world and her family and the friends she had a habit of collecting from several continents.
She was always last to go to bed, pottering around in the kitchen with a pot of exotic tea, cooking up some ridiculously healthy organic vegetables and chopping salad to take for lunch the next day. In the morning, she usually left the house before the rest of us had stumbled out of bed. She worked hard on her phd, spending long hours in her office at uni. But she was always off doing something exciting on the weekend – hiking or camping or visiting friends, or going to a festival or a football match. She moved out a couple of months before the rest of us did in order to do field work in Borneo. And it feels so hollow to write this because all we can do now is tell stories about her, and it’s not supposed to be like that. She’s supposed to be making her own stories. She’d just turned 27.
I went to yoga last night and I was doing ok, but at the end they played that song by Sting:
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
how fragile we are
It was raining outside. I lay on my mat, breathing and alive, the way Kate should be. I lost it completely.
Because I don’t like how fragile we are. I think it’s crap.