Saturday, 16 February 2013

Downstream
















Friday.

A free day; unusually, no extra shifts to squeeze in before my normal 5pm start.

The sun is out. I pack a book in my bag, and the stale bread from the ends of the loaf - I am off to the park to feed the ducks then have lunch and a coffee in the pleasant cafe overlooking the lake.

I get a text.

'Please can you call into work as soon as you can. Helen needs to have a chat about something. Thanks Sue'.

Helen's the boss, Sue's the deputy. My blood runs cold.

Lily, is my immediate reaction.

No, it can't be that, I reason. I must be in trouble for something. What have I done? What haven't I done? I've been shooting my mouth off recently - maybe it's that. Or maybe Helen just wants to run  through something I need to do next week. Unlikely, but.

Please, please, let it be that.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lily. Daft as a brush, but harmless. The last time I saw her, we'd shared an afternoon shift. She'd been complaining in her usual ineffectual way about the usual stuff - nebulous money worries; unresolved work issues; vague fears for the future.

She'd had problems in her previous department. Hadn't got on with the boss, a no-nonsense shoot-from-the-lip type. There were accusations of bullying. Lil was off sick for months with stress.

"Nobody does anything," she'd said. "Even my union rep got fed up with me. It's so unfair."

The first time you heard Lily's tales of woe, you were horrified. Such mistreatment! What nasty people.

The next time, you remained concerned. Yes, you told me that already - has there been progress then? No? Oh crap, poor you, that sucks.

The time after that, and the times after that, you started to wonder to what extent she was creating her own misery. No point constantly dredging up this old stuff, Lil, what's done is done. You're here now, in this new workplace, and supportive people are bending over backwards to help you settle in. Forget that other stuff, girl, it's history. Put it behind you and move on.

But wah wah wah went her mouth, over the same old ground, round and round in circles, getting nowhere, and finally you stopped listening, and then you'd smirk when someone called her Silly Lily behind her back.

Just before Christmas, she went off sick again. Hospitalised. Diabetes; severe and unexpected.

Still off sick in January. Then February. We heard from Helen she was in and out of hospital, wasn't coping well with the new insulin regime, and that her family were refusing to get involved.

Concerned, I sent Lily a get well soon card. For all her faults (and she made a terrible cup of tea) her heart was in the right place. She was genuine. She was kind. She was just, well, adrift.

The truth was, in Lily I recognised something of myself. Myself in my twenties, when I was totally clueless. I used to carry around such reproach and devastation that the world wasn't doing what I wanted it to. But in those days I failed to realise I had choices, and I had no idea what I wanted.

To pass the time while waiting for someone to rescue me, I clutched at straws, which always broke. I couldn't understand why there were no rescuers; why everything was against me. It was so unfair.

Fortunately, one day (after life had kicked me comprehensively up the arse) I realised that, if I wanted things to even slightly go my way, I'd need to provide some input, take some responsibility, be the change I wanted to see, and all that. Nobody else was sailing this ship but me - it was a thunderbolt moment.

I also saw in Lily myself last summer, when I was laid low by grief. Not eating, not sleeping, not going out, not seeing anyone. I'd felt utterly alone.

In those dark days, suicide stopped being a word and became an option. Only an option, mind - I was still a very, very long way away from selecting death over living - but still there, floating at the edges of my dulled, miserable brain, cooing softly to me, making itself known. Here if you need me, it whispered.

Its presence was terrifying. I acknowledged it, then got on with the business of simply getting through each day. Eventually, around Christmastime, I emerged safe and well on the other side.

Lily and me, then, we had a bit in common. Both single women in our forties. Both living alone, no kids, scraping by on a part-time wage. One just out of a debilitating depression, one well into it.

But Lily and me: polar attitudes. Positive and negative. Before and after. Then and now.

I knew how scared and alone and betrayed she'd be feeling. I think I felt that if I could get through feeling scared and alone and betrayed, she could too.

She texted to say thanks very much for the card, that she was feeling very down at the moment.

I texted back. It was difficult. What do you say? I barely knew her.

I'm here if you ever need a chat or to get out the house, just let me know.

She texted again. Thanks. Really struggling with diabetes. Not sleeping or eating. Family won't help. Have lost will to carry on.

Fuck. Was that a real 'have lost will to carry on', or just a turn of phrase? Now what? I texted again.

Have you seen doctor for depression? In my experience families generally are useless. Counselling really does help. If you need moral support to go places I'll go with you if you want. Always here if you need anything - just call. Please take care of yourself.

Then, nothing.

I showed Helen Lily's texts. Helen said she'd sent flowers, phoned every now and then, just to let her know there were people thinking about her. Kept inviting Lily into work, for a coffee and a friendly chat, to keep her in the loop, to get her out the house more than anything, but Lily kept saying no.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

"I wanted to let you know, we've just found out Lily's gone missing," Helen says. "Police found her car abandoned on Monday up at the Severn Bridge."

The blood in my veins stops. The air in the overheated office stops. Time stops. Everything stops.

"It's not official yet, we found out by accident really, through a friend of a friend."

Make this not be happening.

"I know it's a big ask, but please could you not tell anybody until we know more next week? Sue and I thought you should know straight away because you've been in contact with her. But so far we've not heard anything from the police or the family."

I stare at my hands, because they feel like they're shaking, but in fact they are perfectly still.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

I do not go to the park to feed the ducks and then have lunch and a coffee in the pleasant cafe overlooking the lake. I drift dazed along Albany Road, wanting bustle and distraction.

I think of all the things I should have said, and done.

When I realise I'm walking on the shadowy side of the road, I hastily cross over. Seek out the sun, Weez, always seek out the sun.

I turn up to work at 5pm, and act normal.

After work, I drive to Penarth and stare blankly at the river.

The tide is up, the estuary choppy, and I half expect the relentless waves to deliver Lily's body to me.

I can almost see her there, washed up on the cold dark beach. Pale and small and vulnerable, in a tangled seaweed shroud. What did she wear for her apogee event? She was always so nicely turned out. Did she keep her designer glasses on? Had she bothered to make herself a meal that day? Did she stop to say goodbye to her cat? Was she calm, was she crying? How do you even make yourself walk away from your car let alone climb over a bridge rail and - 

The lump in the back of my throat will not go away.

My thoughts race round and round, but no matter what keep coming back to this:

There but for the grace of God go I.



8 comments:

Timorous Beastie said...

Don't know what to say. Very moving post.

Doris said...

Life eh. Cold. Brutal. We go on. The world goes on. You have to go on.

I once disappeared in my youth. Very effectively for two whole years. We know this is different - it always is. This is Lily's path, not yours.

But yes, there for the grace of God go you, or I, or any number of us.

May Lily find peace whereever she is.

Elaine said...

I have been very worried about you....the long silence. I think to myself, this is not good. Then you emerge with some words that indicate it was indeed not good. I'm glad you are back.
Now I worry about Lily.

pleite said...

Poor Lily. Did you ever hear more?

ALittleBitOfMe said...

I'm sorry for you, and for her. Your writing is so beautiful that even in a sad, tragic story I want to read more. I hope you are okay and having a warm sunny day somewhere. I was so happy to see that you have written again but sad to see the trials you have had.
Take care of you.
xo

Dion Woodfield said...

I sometimes fumble in my wallet and take out the note you wrote me in 2009. I have kept it there. Sometimes I'm not sure if everything is going to be all right but your eternal promise makes me believe.
Thank you and much love xxx

One Fine Weasel said...

Nothing more was heard re Lily. Her job's been filled now and only the brave still talk about her. I still look for her sometimes down at the shore.

Dion - speechless... Have been a bit short on eternal promise recently so seeing this here unexpectedly has blown me away. Moved beyond words - thank you. 'Behind the darkest cloud the sky is always blue'... Will see you again one day yeah? I vote we get pissed on the beach :) Take care my friend, much love back xxx

Anonymous said...

Always cross the road to the sunshine.....xxx