…AND THE WOMAN WHO ATTEMPTED TO DEFY DEATH.
(Written in 2008, edited 2016)
She tried not to die because she worried about you. Do you remember? Do you remember what she said to you in the hospital room? She lay in that bed so unlike herself, a ghost of her strong, former self. She lay there different. Strange. And she said something. Do you remember what she said? Do you remember how awkward you felt? How shy? Do you remember? Where did you get the idea that she worried? Did you see it in her eyes? Did she tell you right out? She tried defying death because she worried about you! Could that be the same woman you were scared off only a few years (or was it months?) earlier? Could it?
Of course it could. It was never her job to be strong for you. It was never her job to run after you. To make sure you were alright. It was never her duty to make sure you were fed, clothed and cared for, but she did it anyway. It was never hers to make sure you became a strong and functioning individual, but she tried her best anyway. It wasn’t her job at all, but she did it anyway.
Do you remember that time when you were afraid? When you sat on the doorsteps in the cold waiting for the devil? Do you remember why you stayed out? Because she was alone in the house? Do you remember? Do you remember her stern look? Her quiet, solemn tiredness? Do you remember the worries in her eyes? Do you remember why you were afraid?
Why have you forgotten?
What have you forgotten?
She did all she could with the resources she had. She gave you her light and you spent your time in that cellar, built by the devil. Do you remember the darkness? Do you remember sitting in the cellar playing with coins? Big dusty coins. Do you remember the rough texture of the chair? The brown colors with yellow, orange and khaki woven into it? Do you remember the dark heavy curtains? The old gramophone? If you opened its doors you saw the speakers were built into it. Do you remember sitting there alone in the dark listening to disco songs on the new stereo? Amii Stewart and The Bee Gees. Do you remember trying to sing with the songs while you played with the coins? While you went through the content of the table item by item? There were so many things on the table and in the cupboard. The shotgun by the fireplace was of no concern to you. You were busy with the little things, and the coins. What was your fascination with the coins?
Do you remember the sunshine outside on Sunday mornings? You walked down the stairs instead of going out? Those grey, black and white stairs. The color always fascinated you. These three colors all wound and bound together in never-ending twists and twirls that looked so random and so hypnotising that you could end up sitting there following the pattern forever. Then you opened the door and saw the sunshine shining in from the little window in the door. You could have just walked out the door opposite you and into the sunlight, but instead you turned and went into the dark room. You sat on the chair or climbed into the bed and you sit there still. At least in your mind. Instead of going straight forward into the Sunday sun, go out to play in the green backyard, out to play with the dog next door. Do you remember the dog’s name? The dog with the pig’s tail. Patty was her name. Patty the dog. She wiggled her tail and you patted her, played with her as she yelped in her leash.
You always liked cats better.
Her owner was a nice man and famous too. He played the piano, wrote songs and painted pictures. He was a first rate artist, but you were young and had no artistic respect for him. Do you remember how grandmother admired him? Do you remember the wife? How ill she looked. Do you remember the kindness in his eyes when he asked you to take care of his trees? They were just a few birches scattered about his yard.
He had kind eyes. The kindest eyes in the world, perhaps. Nothing evil or awful could ever come from those eyes. And he asked you to take care of his trees and you did. It was his way of making sure you didn’t ruin his beautiful garden, but you only realised that later and took the task very seriously. It was a beautiful garden. The trees were precious and his were special. The garden was his haven. He built an artist extension of his home, a hut, and from it he walked into his garden which was full of trees.
But instead of walking outside into the sunshine you turned and went into that room. That dark cellar room where you are stuck. Stuck like a ghost haunting an empty house, forever in your mind wondering why you always took that turn, wondering why you always went back. Wondering why you still go back there. Not in person. Not ever in person. The place is gone. Has vanished with time. But at the same time it’s still there. Still exactly the same, with the coins on the table and the heavy, dusty curtains.
Patty the dog died. It might have been the first sign of change. You were sad but still hardly noticed. The artist’s wife went soon after. Do you remember that? She always had an absent look and you got the feeling she didn’t like you and maybe she didn’t. She never reached down to you like he did when he asked you to take care of his trees. And she never smiled and asked you if you were still taking care of their trees, like he did. He always smiled and the smile always reached his eyes.
Unlike hers. The grandmother who tried to defy death for you. Her smile was grey, weak and faded. Do you remember? Do you remember how rare it was? Perhaps that was why you were afraid? Her smile seemed so far away. It felt like a ghost of her former smiles. Smiles she would never get back. It was a smile full of time, experience, hopes and regrets. And the closer you get to her point in the journey, the more you understand that smile.
And then there was the cat. What was her name? She was supposed to stay in the cellar. Did she? You loved that cat. But you went to the cellar room long before the cat ever arrived. You went there to listen. To count the coins. To …
Remind me? To do what exactly? You never remember the room with the cat in it, do you? It didn’t like it there. It stayed clear of it. As you should have.
Do you remember the strings? Tying and untying your strings? Tying knots only to untie them again. The little problem solving girl, making knots so she could solve something. Other things she couldn’t solve, but she was good with knots. She never knew the other things needed solving. Didn’t know there were problems, until she realised she was stuck in that cellar room. Never understood until the door closed behind her and she was there in her mind again and again wondering, waiting, and trying to remember.
She remembers most of it. She remembers her grandmother’s harsh voice that winter. She remembers sitting on the stairs waiting. She remembers the desperation. She remembers feeling strange feelings, without knowing where they came from. Remembers feeling sad, knowing only what sad was because she had seen it in other people’s eyes. Remembers waiting for the boogieman.
Why did she wait?
Why did you wait?
Why did she return?
What drew the little girl into the dark cellar room?
And what on earth made her stay?
She was always allowed to go. There were never any locks. Never any threats.
The little girl with the braids. Like Pippi Longstocking who had a pirate dad and a pet monkey. She was strong and always in a good mood. You were too. You were a lot like her, even though your dad was bipolar and not a pirate. Though sometimes those two things felt like the same thing. But even in the dark room singing the songs you didn’t understand. Singing and counting coins. Big fat coins. You never took any without permission, did you?
She had such desperate look in her eyes as she lay in that hospital bed. It was so strange. So different. As if a part of her had already died and gone to heaven. A part of her, but a part of her had stayed because she worried about you. A part of her stayed and tried to fight the grim reaper because she wanted to make sure you grew up alright.
Do you know what she worried about? Would she be proud of you?
You used to make snow angels in the dark. Do you remember lying there in the backyard watching the dark sky, starlit sky? It was so peaceful and you just wanted to lie there, stay there forever, let the frost freeze you down, be still like water, you were so fascinated with frozen water. It always captured your attention, always made you tilt your head and seek it out, especially if there was a body of water flowing underneath the ice. Later your drawers filled with pictures of such phenomena. You wanted to be just like the ice, clear as the heavens and frozen completely still.
Then you quickly jumped up and continued running around. Continued your games and your simple wanderings. Snow angels during the long dark winter, dancing in the rain but in the summer time you were often busy elsewhere. Still you played in the yard especially when there was a football game at the stadium. You liked to stand by the fence and watch the people walk by. Occasionally you would ask a stranger for the results, but mostly you just looked at the people. Strangers in colorful coats and heavy shoes. Where you always alone? Did you have friends?
They thought you were bit strange, but some of them liked you anyway. Not all of them, but most of them tolerated you anyway. But there was one. One who shared your days, evenings and blizzard blackouts. You invented games and listened to odd music. She always had a smile on her face and was always polite to your folks. Did you tell her your secrets? Did you tell anyone your secrets? Why did it take you so long? Was your heart made of stone? It was the status quo, wasn’t it? Better the devil you know…
Was it a devil? Down in the dark room, a dark devil with horns and claws and tail as big as a snake rattling in the corners? Was he visible? Did he speak to you? The big presence haunting your soul. Did you ever notice? You kept on visiting the room. Tip toeing in the mornings, Sunday mornings, down to the basement. Tip toeing into that room with the dark curtains and the heavy carpet. Do you remember the smell? It smelled of dust. Everything in that room smelled of dust.
You would put on an LP, the disco album with Amii Stewart, and others but you liked her song best. You danced to it and you sang sometimes, muddled strange words which weren’t really any language at all at the time. Did you ever hear breathing? Did you ever hear anyone crying as you sang? As you sat in the chair, or lay on the sofa bed? Do you remember the ceiling? No, but the cupboard. You remember the cupboard above the fireplace. The fireplace was never used, but you were curious about it. The story of the man, who built the house, haunted your mind. This was his room. His workplace. His hiding place from the world. You liked to hide there too, didn’t you? But why there? Why hide in the place you were trying to get away from?
You didn’t know. It’s a peculiar thing. People protect themselves, especially children, in a strange way. They sometimes even turn bad things into good. It’s the magic of people. Would anyone have been able to keep you away from the dark cellar room? You always opened that door with such anticipation. Was it the music that kept you coming? Or was there something else about the room? The coins? Making stacks of them. The solitude? The darkness in there, even when it was a bright summer day? Sunday mornings, when others slept, you went in there.
Your grandmother never came there. She never went down the stairs. Not ever. Do you remember how she used to walk? To you she was always three meters tall, with a straight back and gracious moves but the truth was she was old. She had a bent back and walked with a clutch, one, not two as she should have. She was stubborn, like you.
More stubborn than stone, more stubborn that stone…
To you she stood tall. She was your guiding light, your Mecca, your compass, your soul. She was the one you fought with and the one who forgave.
Do you remember your shouting matches? Can you imagine what these fights would have looked like had she not died when she did? Had she not lost her battle with the Grim Reaper?
You didn’t expect that she would loose, did you? You expected her to win. And when you realised she wouldn’t you were sitting in the living room, in the chair beside her rocking chair and you were watching a music video. There were airplanes flying in formation and you realised that she would die. The airplanes did their stunts and the tears trickled down your cheeks. It was Van Halen. Do you remember the song? Dreams, was it called? Or Blue Angel? It doesn’t matter. You never saw it again. The airplanes scattered, turned into birds and you felt she was flying away from you. She was loosing the battle, although she tried her best, this was a battle she could not win.
But she tried.
She worried about you. Do you know why? Did she know about the room? Did she know it would haunt you? Follow you? That the haunting of the cellar room would continue long after you left the house for good? Did she know that you would take it with you wherever you went? Did she know? Or was it something else she worried about? You were the last child she held her shielding hand over, protected like a mother hen. Was she just sad to leave you in the big bad world with other people but her to protect you?
You went downstairs. You felt the walls with your fingertips and you watched the pattern on the stairs, as fascinated as usual. The tears stilled in your eyes. Stilled, but the pain was still there. The pain was so deep it was tearing you apart. And you saw the bright blue sky out the small window on the door you never used. But you turned anyway, turned away from it all and walked into the dark cellar room once again. Do you remember the smell? The devil lurking behind you, waiting to get its claws in you. Was it red? Did you hear it breathing in your ear? Did you hear it standing behind you? Was it comforting? Did you find comfort in that darkness? Did the tears swell your heart? Did they all run down on the inside, filling your heart and your soul? Did the tears ever stop running? Did they ever find a way out of your body? Or is that why you kept going to the dark cellar room? Why you keep going? Does it fill a purpose? Does it relieve the tension of your heart? Do the tears flow freer there?
You, girl of the thousand smiles. The girl with the braids and the Forget-me-nots pinned to your shirt. You always had a smile in you. You always looked puzzled, but happy. You always did look happy. Where you? Did the dark room take all the sadness from you? Did your sadness fill the walls and carpet and the curtains? Did all the fear and the pain seep into that room, and stay there? Did your sadness feed the devil and its madness? Is that how you stayed smiling, stayed colorful and happy?
Did she watch over you? Did she win despite of it all? Win by way of loosing? Did she keep a shielding hand over you? Does she reside on the top floor, above the dark room, watching over the balance that is so delicate? Does she still?
Do you remember standing by her grave? You hesitated. Everyone’s eyes were upon you and you were first in line. You were supposed to walk to the grave, stand on the bank of it and make a cross mark in the air. But you hesitated. The tears streamed down your face but you weren’t the only one to cry. They comforted you, many helping hands making you feel welcome and a part of something that was still very much alive. You felt their arms on your shoulder, like god touching you. And when you stood there and they walked past you, you still wished you could climb in there with her, didn’t you?
Or were you still too high strung on life and its colors? The snow angels and dancing in the rain? Yes. You never wanted to climb down there, not really. It was just something you told yourself, wasn’t it? Instead you wanted to shout at her. One last shouting match. And you wanted to be angry at her for loosing her battle. You were angry at her for loosing the battle. So angry you hardly ever forgave her at all. It wasn’t in your power, not for a very long time. You kept on visiting that room. And surely she never felt your anger, never blamed you, but understood. Surely she did?
And you keep on making snowangelmarks on the world. You keep on visiting your little dark room with the dark curtains and the heavy carpet. You count the coins. The old silver coins and you listen to Amii Stewart and you sing. Do you remember the lyrics? You didn’t know what they meant at the time, they only received meaning later. Heavy, wonderful meaning.
“I don’t want to lose you, this good thing.” And you still sing it sometimes, don’t you? You sing it when you’re happy and when you’re sad and in your mind you’re still sitting in that room, playing with the devil’s coins.