work to do

As a young black woman growing up in the States, I often protested against the unequal treatment black people received. A boomer, I protested against many other things as well: the closure of the steel mills in my home town, the unequal pay of women compared to their male counterparts, the decision to admit men to the prestigious all-woman college I was attending.

Then I moved to Scotland. And yes, as some of my new friends have explained to me, I know Scotland is not innocent; I am speaking to my own personal experience. In Scotland I found laid-back, friendly, open and tolerant people. While I did get the odd person who felt free to plunge their hands into my braided hair (never ever touch a black woman’s hair!) I was never followed around in shops. I was never asked “what are you doing in this neighbourhood.” And when a drunk man in a pub used the n-word in my earshot, the patrons in the pub physically lifted him off the barstool and ejected him onto the sidewalk; the pub’s owner barred him from the establishment for a fortnight.

“Dinny think so, mate – off you pop! Ye no gonna say that around oor Kath!”

This was miraculous to me. I had indeed moved to – as I’d been told by one of my new Scottish friends – a “civilised country.” I was able to put the placards and signs away and use my feet for dancing instead of marching. I was able to just be me, unfettered by race.

Still, I diligently kept up with the stateside news; my family and my friends were still in the States. So when news of a certain person’s presidential candidacy was announced, I took to the streets with many of my Scottish friends who – like me – realised that electing this person to office would have disastrous consequences on a global scale.

Then, on the heels of so many other innocent black people, George Floyd was murdered. I wish every day that I had not watched that video, because now I can’t unsee it.

Floyd’s death sparked a movement bigger than any I’d seen since Dr King’s fight to get voting rights for blacks and end segregation. The US. Germany. Brazil. Italy. Mexico. London. Edinburgh. My beloved bonnie Dundee did not shy away, either: BLM Dundee was born, and I picked up my signs again. Braving the pandemic along with my friends and many other outraged Scots, we took to the streets armed with masks and hand sanitizer to make our voices heard.

I thought I was done with protesting. Now at the beginning of those so-called “golden years”, all I really want to do is grow old peacefully with my partner and putter around my garden. That said, puttering peacefully is no longer an option: this is not the kind of world I want to grow old in – this is not the kind of world I want to leave to my nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews. This is not the kind of world we should be leaving to young people of any colour.

Below is the speech I gave at the BLM Dundee protest on Sunday, 26th July. Thank you for reading.

* * * * * *

“Here I am again. Wondering why I am here again. Wondering why we – why people not just in Dundee – but throughout the UK, the US and other places in the world – are having the same conversation about the same wrongs.

Maybe you’re here because you have kids. I don’t have kids, but I do have 10 nieces and nephews. I am a great-aunt to 12 incredible young black men and women. I am a godmother. I am here for them. I see many people have brought their kids with them today. I also stand here for your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews. Because those children – all children – are the future: I am deeply concerned about the kind of world they have inherited, and you should be, too.

They face a world where they have to contend with a virus, which disproportionately affects black and brown people. A world where they have to contend with unstable weather and even more unstable leaders who seem happy to remain wilfully blind to the economic inequalities and daily racist slights and micro-aggressions endured by black and brown people. A world where it is potentially dangerous for black or brown people to indulge in something as simple as strolling down the street, entering their own home or enjoying a drink with their white friends in a club.

Cause make no mistake: while I am delighted and heartened that this movement has garnered so many white supporters, the fact that you are willing to stand here with me – with your black and brown brothers and sisters – here today puts a target on your back as well.

We all – everybody here – need to be mindful of that target. And we must work together to eradicate that target. That means turning up at as many of these protests as you can. It means donating whatever you can to organisations dedicated to improving the lives of black and brown people. It means signing the petitions to remove laws which unfairly impact black and brown people, and working to dismantle the “hostile environment” policy enacted by a government that sees all of us as expendable. It means you must be willing to call out racist behaviour whenever and wherever you see it. It means being willing to educate yourself, because we cannot build a better future without acknowledging and understanding the past.

The poet John Donne wrote “no man is an island….any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.” So I say to everyone present today: we are the muscle and sinew and soul of mankind. So we must continue to fight – together – against overt and covert racism whenever it rears its ugly, divisive head. Because at the end of the day, when any blood gets shed, the colour is the same: we all bleed red.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for supporting us. Peace.”

I can’t breathe…

I can’t breathe.

On 11th May I wrote a poem about my frustration over the late response to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, about the constant fear I live with that something similar could happen to my brother. Or my brothers-in-law. Or my nephews. Or my great-nephews. Or one of my childhood friends, now grown black men with sons of their own.

And this morning, I read of protests in Minnesota following yet another death of another black person at the hands of police who are supposed to “protect and serve.”

It made my chest and my head ache. The rage I am suppressing makes it hard for me to breathe.

Freddie Gray.
Walter Scott.
Eric Harris.
Phillip White.
Tony Robinson.
Jerame Reid.
Rumain Brisbon.
Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child from my hometown.
Akai Gurley.
Tanisha Anderson.
Dante Parker.
Ezell Ford.
Michael Brown.
John Crawford.
Eric Garner.
Dontre Hamilton.
Breonna Taylor.
George Floyd.

I could add more names, but I’m not going to. Because those 18 names should not be in a list like the one I’ve typed – such a list should not exist in 21st century America; indeed, in the 21st century world.

As an American black woman who spent the first 43 years of her life in the US, I know not all police are bad. Not all white people are bad. But what I see from abroad, living in Scotland where people are not consumed by race – where the main concern is Celtic or Rangers, Better Together or Independence – concerns me deeply. And I’ll admit, at times I feel guilty that I live in a country where I am safe. Where health care is a guaranteed right. Where no one has ever suggested that I “go back to Africa”.  Where I can wander around a shop without security trailing me because they think “all black people steal”. Where the police actually help you, and on this last one, I am speaking from experience.

This open season on black people grieves me greatly. It goes on and on, the list gets longer, the protests get bigger and the people with the power to do something to stop it appear to be indifferent. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by that, considering the person at the top in the US cares for no one save himself and mammon – what’s a few black lives in comparison to that?

Last night I was on a video call with my best friend of 58 years. In these days of the pandemic, I speak to my family and friends in the States via video calls far more than I did prior to the virus’ intrusion into all our lives. So I’m talking to my friend, and amongst our talk of Covid-19, I tell her of my fear that something will happen to her or my siblings or any of my friends.

“We’re all getting older,” I tell her. “Maybe it’s time to return to the States, so I can spend the remaining years of my life with my siblings…with the people who were first there for me.”

She assures me that she would love to have me back. “You could even stay with me for as long as you want to while you get established again. But, sweetie…you love Scotland! You’ve built a good life for yourself there – you’re safe there, you have health care!”

We finished the conversation shortly afterwards the way we always do: with many cyber-hugs and much blowing of kisses at the monitor. And as I poured another glass of wine before settling down to another night of insomnia and Netflix, the little voice in my head said, “sure you miss your sisters and your brother and your friends, but are you sure you want to return to the US? Why expend your energy and effort and talent in a country that doesn’t want you, where your life has so little value?”

I had no answer to that.

Make America Great Again? What a crock of SHIT.

Make America Generous Again.

Make America Giving Again.

Make America Gentle Again.

K xx

see you at the movies

I wish I had a shut-off switch for my brain. My Mom, many of my childhood friends, my boyfriend John and even my freaking therapist have all told me I think too much: “over-thinking” is the term. I think.

I’ve just returned from my daily visit across the road to my elderly neighbours. In our pre-Corona lives, I’d go inside their house. We’d sit in the lounge and have coffee and swap anecdotes and share the photos on our respective mobiles. Now, they stand in their doorway and I stand outside at a distance far greater than is recommended by the government.

I ask them how they’re getting on, how they’re feeling. “Och aye, we’re all right,” Sarah assures me with typical Scottish stoicism.

“’s no what ye said this morning,” Jack says, laughing so hard his zimmer wobbles. I am instantly alarmed – what if he falls?

“Shut it,” Sarah snaps. This gentle woman, whom I’ve never seen anything other than calm, serene and smiling. I never imagined she was capable of using such a harsh tone of voice.

Jack is still laughing. “Oi Kath,” he tells me, winking one rheumy eye, “Ye best keep checking in on us. No doubt you’ll find her trying to bury me in the garden one day!”

Sarah gives me a pained smile. It’s evident that – like me, like so many other people – this new “normal” is beginning to take a toll on her. We exchange further pleasantries and then I head back across the road to my flat.

It’s 12:15 and there’s absolutely nothing for me to do. I pour myself a glass of iced tea and plop down on the sofa in my sunny living room, too disconsolate to even turn on the telly, always my favourite distraction.

Is it just me, or has it occurred to anyone else that life in lockdown is a bit like the Home Alone movie? Except it’s a really shitty final instalment with no comic relief. I’m a loner by nature (“anti-social” Mom used to call me; my boyfriend does, too). I’ve lived alone for the majority of my adult life. So one month into lockdown, I can honestly say I’m not doing too bad: 95% out of 100. Though I do have my days…days when I feel restless and weepy and my thoughts run away with me.

That said, living alone never bothered me much. According to government figures released last year, an aging population and an increase in the number of young people living alone means more than a third of households in Scotland are filled by single occupants, about 885,000 people. I have many young friends who live alone, but it didn’t really bother them: they had active social lives filled with pub quizzes and club nights and regular meals out in restaurants or at friends’ homes.

The same applies to my older friends, living alone due to divorce or the death of their spouse/partner. They may not have enjoyed living alone, but they had activities to offset their solitude:  they sang in choirs, volunteered in charity shops, and had regular lunches with friends or nights out in the Ferry.

Corona has put the brakes on everything. I’m lucky in so many ways; though I live in a tenement building, I have decent neighbours and a private garden. Yet I can’t help but think of the many people who live in tenements or multis or cities with limited access to green space – what are they supposed to do? What about people stuck with the ASBO neighbours from hell? And why am I thinking about stuff like this? There’s nothing I can do about it, so why do I sometimes feel guilty when I sit in my wee garden on a sunny spring day sipping Chardonnay?

I need brakes for my brain.

Know what else I can’t help but think about? All those end-of-the-world movies that I grew up watching on Sundays at Shaker Theatre with my siblings or Friday nights with the boyfriend of the moment at Miles Drive-In. Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth. Charlton Heston in Soylent Green. Ray Milland in Panic in the Year Zero.

I can’t exclude the more recent crop of disaster films: The Road. 2012. War of the Worlds. Daybreakers. The Crazies. 28 Days Later. Contagion with Laurence Fishburne, which is currently showing on Netflix – can’t believe they are showing that now!

For me, movie fan that I have always been, this virus and its accompanying restrictions is an extraordinary, extreme and extremely unwelcome case of life imitating art. Masks, panic buying, boarded-up shops, deserted streets, lack of essential supplies, frantic efforts to find a vaccine. That shit is supposed to stay on Hollywood film lots or cinema screens….

Oh wait, all the cinemas are closed.

no backsies

“Sike!” 

“Gotcha!” 

“April Fool!”

Following a night in which I got very little sleep, I awakened to a beautiful sunrise – it looked like it was going to be another cracker of a day. Standing at the kitchen sink while I waited for the kettle to boil, I stared out the window at my cherished garden. It looked reassuringly normal. The hostas were starting to bloom. Tiny blue tits were busy pulling bits off the coir baskets that held my pansies to make nests. The ivy along the fence was still; no breeze yet.

The calendar on the wall informed me it was Wednesday “1st April, but I had serious doubts that I would turn on BBC Breakfast to hear any of the news presenters say “April Fool.”

By this – my 15th day of lockdown – I would’ve not only forgiven but joyously kissed the feet of anyone in power who said “April Fool.”

There were small things I could do to maintain a semblance of normalcy. That first cup of coffee and a cigarette, which I had at my desk while checking my email. These days it was mostly spam: cruel messages from cruel people selling face masks “guaranteed to protect your loved ones from coronavirus!” Emails from dodgy people containing even dodgier links to videos purporting to tell you “what your government doesn’t want you to know about Covid-19!” Emails from the HR department at my job explaining how the furlough programme worked and how long it would last before we could (hopefully) return to work, “this date being subject to change based on government advice.”

There were the usual morning things I did everyday pre-lockdown: make the bed. That takes two minutes. Feed the fish. That kills another minute, and it’s not a task I perform every day, as their feeding schedule is every other day. Work on my novel, which I deeply enjoy doing first thing in the morning, and which usually uses up one or two hours. Unfortunately, this morning I only managed three paragraphs; my treacherous brain was insisting on going off on tangents I did not wish to explore.

There’s always breakfast. Depending on what I felt like eating, cooking was always a good way to spend the time. A grilled cheese sandwich…perhaps a BLT with pickles. Bacon and pancakes? Something simple, like salmon on toast with cream cheese, or my all-time favourite: sausage and hash browns with toast? I knew I was lucky to have choices, to have food in the fridge and the freezer and well-stocked cupboards. Wondering how many people were not as lucky turned my stomach into a small hard knot – I no longer felt like cooking…I didn’t even feel hungry any more. Instead, I lit another cigarette and made another cup of coffee, averting my gaze from the bottles of gin and wine as I did so. I do not want to end up a fat alcoholic at the end of this.

If only I knew when it would end…if there were a concrete day on the calendar I could circle in my favourite shade of green to look forward to.

If only somebody could say “April Fool” and all this would just go away.

“There are no backsies for this,” the annoying little man in my head whispered.

A large glass of wine silenced him.

interesting times

There is no sun in Dundee today. As I type these words, it’s bang on 7am so it’s light outside, but there’s no sun: the sky is a gun-metal gray. And I can tell there’s no wind – at least at the moment – because the ivy outside my living room and kitchen windows is still; not slapping against the windows the way they would if it were windy out. I suppose it doesn’t matter, as I have done all the laundry there was to do: yesterday I even removed the covers from the cushions of both sofas and washed them. There’s no need for me to clean my wee flat; it’s fuckin’ immaculate, and it still smells of bleach and Dettol from the thorough wiping down I gave everything on Sunday.

Do animals think? I think my fish are confused…they’ve been hanging in front of the tank in a line like aquatic soldiers at attention, staring out at me for a little over 90 minutes now. Are they wondering why the overhead light is still on? Why their Benevolent Fish Goddess is still seated at her desk in her pajamas, her hair an uncombed and nappy nimbus around her head?

It’s been five days since my work shut down. And since I have been avoiding the news for the sake of my mental health, I missed BoJo’s speech yesterday, which means I awakened this morning to discover the country is now in lockdown.

The first thing that popped into my head upon learning this was that ancient (supposedly, as it’s never been proven) Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times.” As a boomer, I’ve seen a lot of “interesting times.” Wars. The successful and unsuccessful assassinations of political figures. LBJ signing the act that gave black people the right to vote on television. Man’s cruelty to man as evinced by Matthew Shepherd and Rodney King. Roe v Wade. Too many school shootings. Katrina. I could go on, but why bother? None of those events has given me a frame of reference, or any kind of preparation, for this.

My emotions vacillate wildly between hope and positivity, fear, anger, sorrow and dread. I’m a control freak; I knew this about myself long before my therapist brought this facet of my character to my attention. I need to feel like I have a measure of control over my life, and I’m certain many other people feel the same way. Now, an event out with everyone’s control has forever changed life as it once was.

I can’t help but feel dismayed, watching people spread wild conspiracy theories on Facebook and other social media platforms. I’m annoyed by the proliferation of “it’s the end of the world posts.” It’s appalling, watching people fight on Facebook. I’m deeply concerned, watching my friends in the care home industry, the NHS, Police Scotland and those who work in supermarkets go to work every day while I – like the vast majority of the populace with common sense – remain safe indoors. Apart from those times when I go out in my garden, to weed, to cut the grass, to trim the shrubs. I thank God for that small patch of earth.

Mostly, I am broken-hearted watching my friends with mental health issues grow more and more distressed. I can see it in their posts. I can see it in their private messages and their texts to me. I can only speak to my own experience, but I know, on those days when depression has a relentless grip on me, getting out helped. Going to work helped. Especially where I worked, where people hugged one another. If you scroll through this blog, you will see several poems and essays I’ve written about touch. Touch is healing; it’s essential to good mental health. One of the things I love about my partner is how he touches me…he holds my hand, he hugs me. We always fall asleep holding each other. Lockdown puts an end to that.

So I try hard to keep my spirits up. I need – I want – to keep that black dog at bay. I am going to see the end of this nightmare, and although I don’t know the how or the when, I just keep telling myself “this too shall pass” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, KJV).

Y’all stay safe.

K xxx

physical distancing

Let me use my favourite Dundee-ism and say: I’M GOBSMACKED.

I can’t wrap my head around all this. I’m up – been up since 5:45am, but not because I have to go to work…there’s no work for me to go to: when I arrived at my job yesterday morning I was greeted at the door by our head of Health and Safety, who gently told me to go home. “You’ll continue to be paid,” he said. “I can’t give you a precise date on when we expect to re-open….maybe after the Easter holidays.” Shocked into silence, I immediately started to cry, which led to a small bout of hyperventilating. Thankfully, he did not laugh at me.

Thus I’m on Day 2 of the new “social distancing.” A term I’ve grown to hate; humans are largely social creatures by nature, and this term sounds so grim and foreboding. Henceforth, I shall refer to this as “physical distancing”.

If you’ve been reading this blog since its inception, then you’ll know I’ve pretty much always practiced physical distancing. I am a loner by nature, a trait I probably inherited from my father. Although I like people well enough, am known for hugging my friends and blessed with good friends on both sides of the pond who truly love me, I’m not a big fan of humanity. Unlike my Mom (and Anne Frank) I’ve never assumed or believed that people are basically good. Which is probably a good thing, because it means I can be delighted by the rare random acts of kindness I witness on occasion. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing a lot of these lately.

My bonnie Dundee – which you will be aware that I fell in love with upon my first visit – is changed; it’s like a ghost town. The few people who are out and about give you a wide berth – they stare at you with naked suspicion and even fear. As Dundee is tiny, and I’ve been here for 18 years, I know a lot of people – I see them every day on my walk to and from work. We stop and chat, crack jokes, and often we hug.

Covid-19 has changed that. The security guard at the Central Library always stands at the bus stop to have a last fag before starting his work day and as I’m a smoker too, we always pause to say hi to one another and have a wee blether about the weather or what we plan to do at the weekend. He’d switched to standing inside the gates to the Library, and now he’s not there at all, as all the libraries have closed.

The Syrian guy whose family owns my local shop used to be outside every morning sweeping the area in front of the shop clear of fag ends and crisp packets and other litter. We became friends after my 3rd redundancy, when, in desperation, I asked him for a job. He calls me “Miss Lady”. “You too smart to work in a shop,” he told me, “Have faith – you will get job right for you.” (I did).

His name is Bijou, and after that exchange I would visit his shop frequently; usually to buy cigarettes, as my smoking increases when I am stressed, and being unemployed is always stressful. We learned each other’s stories and always parted with a warm clasp of both hands. Now, Bijou doesn’t sweep the front of the shop in the mornings anymore, letting the winds blow the garbage away. He stays inside the shop, and though his voice remains warm and welcoming, his smile is sad and we no longer part with our ritual clasp of hands.

And I get that. He – like me and many other people – is afraid. And fear and uncertainly makes people do strange things. Me personally, fear causes me to react angrily – I find I am frequently angry since this whole mess began. I am angry that I have three friends currently stuck in foreign countries hoping they can get home. I am angry that the kids where I work will not get to walk across the stage in Caird Hall to get their degrees following four years of hard graft in English, Anthropology, Political Science and other subjects – they will have no Grad Ball. I am angry that there are unscrupulous people taking advantage of the elderly by offering to go to the shops for them, taking their money and not returning. I am angry that the asshole who lives in the building behind me thinks it’s funny to build a toilet roll pyramid in his window. I am angry at people who still aren’t taking this unprecedented event seriously. Mostly, I’m angry at the people in power who failed to act quickly.

Having said that, I realise anger is no good; it’s certainly not good for my physical health or my mental state, which I’ve fought so hard to regain following the death of my Mom. So I remind myself frequently to just BREATHE. I clean my wee home, which I am grateful for. I thank God that my family and my friends are still safe, and bless the technology that allows me to speak with them and see their faces daily. I take joy in the fact that outside my kitchen window with its new curtains things are blooming in my tiny garden and the weather is now good enough that I can hang my washing outdoors.

I check on my elderly neighbours Jack and Sarah every day. And I try to be a comfort to Josh, one of my beloved kids from work who is staying with me for the moment. He’s such a sweetie, and he’s so young, and this is so scary. I’ve been told I’m not the easiest person to live with, and that may be true. But I’ll be damned if I let someone – anyone – I care about go through this current uncertainty alone.

No man is an island; we ARE in this together. So take care of one another, and STAY SAFE.

K xxx

funny

Home from work, safely behind a locked and chained door in my favourite fleecy Eeyore pajamas that were a Christmas gift from my best friend of 57 years and her daughter, whom I jokingly refer to as my surrogate child. It’s mid-April but this is also Dundee, so the heating is on and I’m wrapped up in the duckie blanket, a parting gift from a little boy I once taught when I worked for a nursery school in the US named Blake who was taken by social services. They came right in the classroom, flashed their ID badges and took him, right in front of me and Blake’s classmates. When I protested that they needed to wait so I could give them his naptime blanket – blue and patterned with gay white and yellow ducks – Blake said to me, “Keep it, Miz Mack….you’ll need it more than I do.”

He was four. How did he know that…how could he know that? How could he know that I would love that blanket the way I loved him, that almost 40 years later, I’d sit on a sofa wrapped in that blanket for comfort?

Funny, ain’t it.

The past two weeks, I’ve thought a lot about things that strike me as funny. They may not be funny to so-called “normal” people, but I have a quirky, offbeat sense of humour, and I well remember, during one of those arguments my Mom and I had during my teenage years Mom shaking her head at me, muttering under her breath as she left the room “why can’t you be normal?”

Funny, right?

Know what I find funny? The way people insist on labeling things, on labeling people. The way the new order – otherwise known as the PC Brigade – are now offended by everything to the point where one can no longer joke about anything. Though I suppose that could be considered more pathetic than funny.

Wanna know what else is funny to me? The way people – the way I – continue to do things long after the reason for doing them ceases to have any real purpose or meaning.

Take house cleaning. Why do I clean the way I do…mopping, vacuuming, dusting. I live alone, it’s not like I make a massive mess. Surely I can get away with house cleaning once a month instead of once a week.

Why make the bed every morning? All I’m going to do is get back in it, so why bother? The time I spend making the bed every morning could be better spent having an extra cup of coffee.

Why bother painting my nails? It’s gardening season, I’m going to get dirt under my nails, but mostly, they’re going to break, either from gardening or from opening boxes at work. In the same vein, why do I bother painting my toenails? Sandal weather isn’t that long or that steady where I live, and at my age, bending over to paint my toenails sometimes hurts. And don’t suggest asking the BF to do this: feet gross him out.

I realise there are some things that remain necessary, like laundry. Clean clothes remain a necessity, and I like – weather permitting – hanging my washing on the line outdoors.

Feeding my fish and cleaning their tank remain a necessity: I love them, and I don’t want them to die. Same with the houseplants: I bought them (though some my BF bought) and I love them, so I must care for them, even the ones that I foolishly hung from the ceiling in front of windows that require a ladder to reach.

I’d add cooking and eating to the list of necessary things, but even though I like to cook, since my Mom died there are many days when I just don’t bother: I’ve no appetite, and I’ve developed the mystifying and annoying habit of puking (involuntarily) after eating. Roy (my grief counsellor) says this is one of many side effects of grief.

What remains necessary to me is sleep. If they had an Olympics for sleeping I’d take the gold. Roy says this is also grief related, and on this I suspect he may be right: I sleep a lot, hoping to see my Mom in my dreams. Which sometimes I do, and these dreams are good, they’re comforting, they make me happy. I run home from work and jump into bed…I fall asleep on my poor BF at the weekends. Asleep, I am happy – I am safe.

As a kid, as a teenager, I was the child who slept a lot. Mom used to always tease me that I was sleeping my life away.

Funny, ain’t it.

Firsts

Today marks one year since my Mom passed. It’s raining in my bonnie Dundee – appropriate, as it rained – a proper thunderstorm – the day my Mom died.

The year has been a hard one; I can’t believe I’m still here. It’s been a year of neuralgia and nightmares (when I’m not in the grip of insomnia) where I awaken myself screaming and crying, where I awaken my poor partner because I’ve been shouting and hitting him in my sleep. A year of forgetfulness: forgetting to feed my fish, running to the bathroom three times in the morning to put on deodorant because I can’t remember if I put any on. Talking to people and stopping because my mind has suddenly gone blank. A year of puking after eating. A year of therapy and various antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds.

It’s the news of yet another death that sends you into a total meltdown and you don’t want to think and you can’t bear what you’re feeling and you just wanna sleep so you take one pill and then another and another and a few different ones and drink some gin and your friend’s been trying to reach you for hours so you’re awakened by the sound of the police shouting your name as they bang on your living room window. “I didn’t really want to die, Officer….I just wanted my head to be quiet for awhile.”

A year of “firsts” you never wanted: the first birthday I didn’t get a card from her; the first time I couldn’t send her a card for her birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas. The constant assault on my memory: making spaghetti for tea and remembering how I made spaghetti for Mom. Walking down King Street in Broughty Ferry and remembering taking Mom there when she visited Scotland and her delight in everything. The daily agony of coming home from work at the end of each day and rifling through the mail and none of the envelopes bear that familiar handwriting.

It’s fear. Not for yourself, cause you’ve become indifferent to anything that may happen to you, but fear of losing someone else you love. So you make your partner crazy: why are you coughing like that? Why are you limping – what’s that mark on your arm? It’s praying to a God you’re no longer sure you believe in to keep your brother and your sisters and everyone in your Cleveland family and Dundee family safe.

It’s trying desperately to function “normally”. Work, clean the house, cut the grass, talk to people. It’s Skyping with your best friend’s daughter and having her tell you “It’s good to see you smile, Aunty Kathy.”

“I smile,” you protest, shocked. Surely you smile …don’t you smile at people at work every day?

“It’s not the same smile,” she says. “It’s not in your eyes anymore.”

And time continues to pass, and you wake up on a rainy Saturday in Dundee and it’s been one year since your Mother squeezed your hand for the last time.

I miss you, Ma.

 

on Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve I woke up at ten past nine. And I felt pretty good, considering the fact that the first thought I had when I awakened was “it’s Christmas Eve and my Mom is not here.”

I’ve been struggling in the run up to Christmas this year. It seems unfair…it feels wrong, that Christmas should just go on when Ma is not here to enjoy it. My Mom loved Christmas. The tree, the lights, the decorations. The Nat King Cole Christmas album. She loved it when I was a kid – even now I can see the look of joy on her face as she watched me and my brother and sisters open our presents – and she loved it even more once she’d become a grandmother and then a great-grandmother.

So I decorated my wee flat the way I’ve always done, putting the tree up the day after Thanksgiving. Adorning the fireplace mantle with the red and green tinsel garland, the dancing Santa, the Christmas Eeyore, the black singing angels and the lighted Christmas village my boyfriend John surprised me with two years ago.

I hung stockings for me and John and strung fairy lights over the tops of the bookcases; I even hung fairy lights on the palm tree in my bedroom. I found a place to display every Christmas card I received…they’re in the living room, the kitchen and my wee PC closet. In the act of decorating, I hoped to bring Mom’s spirit closer to me….I hoped that from her perch in heaven – reunited with my Dad at last – she would see all the decorations and smile.

This year, my first Christmas without my mother, I have received more cards and presents than I ever have in my life. And I get it: my friends, my work colleagues, knowing that this is going to be hard for me, have showered me with the next best thing to my Mom’s unconditional love: their love.

Thank you everybody, and Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Ma. Love you….say hi to Daddy for me.

96 days

When someone you love dies – especially when your mother dies – you lose yourself. And time stops. And if you’re an immigrant, when you’re the child – who for whatever reason left their family, their homeland, their siblings & friends – the moment of your mother’s death stops at the last moment you saw her, when you she hugged you until your arms went numb, the last time she covered you with her favourite blanket, the last sandwich she made for you, the last time she kissed your cheek after telling you how much she loved you.

When someone you love dies – especially when it’s your mom – you are faced with “firsts”. The first time she has a birthday: my mom passed away three weeks before her 82nd birthday, and the birthday card I bought for her remains on the desk in my home office…if I bin it, it will be admitting something I am still struggling to deal with. Somehow, I managed to get thorough the first birthday of my Mom following her death. I made it through Mother’s Day, too.

A summer baby, I was facing a particularly painful “first”: my first birthday without my mother. And as I live abroad, it means Mommy sent my card and present through the mail. Aware that this birthday would be hard for me, all my birthday cards and presents from my family and friends arrived early this year except for the card from my brother, which arrived on the day. And with each clang of the mail slot, my heart leapt, thinking, “That’ll be from Mommy” before my brain caught up. So in the run-up to my birthday, I was wired – which understandably had my BF and many of my friends worried.

But something amazing happened that day. The morning of my birthday I woke up and I felt light – like a happy balloon floating across the sky. That morning, I awakened to sunshine. All the rooms in my wee flat were awash in sunshine. And I thought, “Mommy.” I knew that was Mommy, giving me a sunny day for my birthday. So I hurriedly showered and dressed and went out into my garden.

And I could feel her. My sisters had told me they’d felt Mommy’s presence since her passing, but I had not; I only saw her in my dreams, so I had been fervently praying to God to let me feel her, too. On my birthday, standing in my garden, I felt her all around me – in the sun on my face, the wind on my bare arms and legs, the flowers gave off my mother’s scent. I felt her inside of me, in my chest and my stomach and my heart, and for the first time since her death, I felt calm. Peaceful. Even happy.

This year my birthday was on a Friday – Saturday and Sunday were hot and sunny days as well. My Mom – perhaps working through or with God – seeing that her child was unhappy, gave me the gift of a beautiful weekend for my birthday. Sunshine as warm as her arms around me.

And it was a good birthday. I sang and danced and pigged out on the special meal my BF had made for me. I remembered my mother without tears, reminded that as her firstborn, the day she had me was one of the proudest moments of her life. I realised that Mommy’s love will never leave me – it and she will always be with me.

That feeling has remained with me, even as I ache for my brother and sisters, who are facing a “first” without me: the first family 4th of July barbecue and attendant celebrations without Mommy present. The 4th is the biggest of the summer celebrations in the US. I can feel their pain, because – even though I live in Scotland – I still celebrate the 4th with my partner.

But not this year. This year, I will get no letter from Mommy with the usual photos of the barbecue – my sister will not share photos of Mommy enjoying the barbecue surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren on Facebook.

Still, Mommy is with me. So although I’m not celebrating the 4th, I am remembering and celebrating the love she dispensed to her children and everyone who was fortunate enough to know her.