A Short(ish) Autobiographical Piece

A true short piece on a childhood.

I was always close to my father. Closer to him than my mother in fact, as he was the one who looked after me when my mother went to work. By no means was he soft (he was the stricter of the two parents) but he was the most fun. He did so many things for me in those seven years, most of which I suspect other people wouldn't remember.

He taught me many things. I still remember the day I learned to whistle. It was an autumn morning and I was sitting on his sofa in the living room, before nursery in the afternoon. He walked in through the door between the living room and the hall, moments after walking out and telling me on the way, 'You need to make the hole between your lips smaller.' This was the only advice he ever gave on how I should whistle. He had stopped in the doorway just watching me silently as I attempted to whistle. I remember pausing, sensing him watching, then wetting and pursing my lips again. I remember hearing the short, simple whistle that followed; looking to my father to seek approval with young eyes and receiving the smile and nod I craved from my rock in this world.

Other things I remember him doing with me include:

  • teaching me how to use a potter's wheel
  • making masks from balloons and paper mache
  • making collages and patterns with sweet wrappers every time we finished a tin of Roses
  • flipping pancakes in a white apron and a chef's hat and attempting to teach me to flip them (when I couldn't/wouldn't he flipped another that got stuck on the roof and we both had to swear not to tell my mother)
  • eating cheese on toast, half watching him play a word game, half watching an episode of Pokemon, listening to him telling me never to eat chocolate straight after cheese on toast, otherwise I'd get a headache
  • building motorised model cars
  • taking me to Southport on a summer weekend for the fair and him helping set up my own table for my handmade cards on the stall
  • teaching me to ride a bike in the back alley and not letting go of the seat when I was scared
  • building a swing with me from scratch using a beam of wood,the back rest of an old office chair and some thick blue rope

This might touch, or go some of the way to explaining why it was such a shock when I woke up one morning and he was no longer there.

I had turned seven a few months before and my new baby brother was around three or four months old. It was night time and the usual trick of hiding behind my father on his sofa had worked that night in allowing me to stay up and watch television for a while longer than a child should. Once I decided I was tired enough for actual sleep, I sat up and reminded my mother and father I was there and that they should say goodnight before I left for the promise of security and dreams. As always, I started with my mother. She was tired and often asleep on her sofa after having my younger brother. I hugged and kissed her goodnight, then my father followed suit. As I was walking up the stairs it occurred to me in my sleep sodden state that I hadn't told my parents I loved them. Twisting on the stairs, I called out. 'I love you.' I could already hear my mother in a light sleep, but my father's reply of, 'I love you too,' was unmistakable. So, happy for the night and too tired to do anything else, I trudged upstairs to bed and to the safe embrace of sleep.

I awoke once in the night to the sound of wretching in the bathroom. I remember carefully rising from bed and creeping out of my room and onto the landing. Peering around the corner, I looked towards the bathroom door. It was slightly ajar and the light was on. It was then I realised that it was still dark outside. Finally, the wretching stopped and as the occupant of the bathroom left, I hastily went back to my room, tucked myself into bed and pretended to be asleep. Footsteps made their way towards my room, the owner opening my door and peering around. Smiling sadly, the silhouette of my father disappeared, shutting the door behind him. This left me to get back to actual sleep.

It was the 1st April and cold outside. I woke up unusually early - around half past six - and instantly knew there was something wrong. The atmosphere was thick and tense. I could sense something bad, but I had no idea what sort of scale the tragedy was on.

I sleepily got out of bed, padded across my room, opened the door and stood on the landing at the top of our stairs. Looking down the hall, I heard my mother's unnaturally strained voice before I saw her. She walked out of the living room into the hall and into view. In her hand she grasped a phone and her voice was high and wavering as she spoke. All the colour had drained from her, not just out of her face, out of her entirely. Suddenly she seemed to have aged overnight. I heard what she was saying, but it was like another language. None of the information was sinking in. What I heard was: 'I can't wake my husband up.'

After that, my memory is jumbled and fragmented. The next thing I remember is standing by the door in my pjs next to my mother in the cold morning wind, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. I remember shivering and looking at my mother, knowing she would break down.

The next fragment I remember is sitting to the left of my four month old brother's car seat amusing him, making him laugh and distracting him while the strange people we didn't know coated in a green so fluorescent it hurt your eyes ran into  the house with strange equipment that looked like it could belong to the Mafia. At the time there seemed to be hundreds of strange people, but there can't have been more than three or four paramedics. My mother sat to the right of the baby seat, trembling, wide eyed as she saw the same things I did.

I sat there, looking at my brother thinking, 'You are so lucky and yet so tragically unlucky at the same time. In one way, I wish I could trade places with you, but in another I would much rather not. You will sit there for hours, blissfully unaware of the true horror unfolding before you. Then again, you will grow up and live your entire life without a father. You will have no recollection or memories of him, will have no idea of his personality or how you would have got on. The only think other than family actually linking the two of you is now a photo, and even at that, one that was taken by mistake.'

I remember the police coming into the house, making my mother a cup of tea and trying to calm her down. As far as I can remember, although I was distraught, I barely twitched through the whole ordeal. Inside I was bawling, but on the outside I was calm and collected - extraordinary for a seven year old. Even then, as a seven year old girl, I knew if I didn't mature then and do something to hold the family together, it would never even vaguely be the same.

Familiarity was all I wanted right then. I submersed myself in books and English, following the example of my father and filling in on reading as much as he did every day so that, even though it wasn't the same, it was something I could grasp onto that was nearly the same as before. Only years later did I find the English game he used to play and I would help when I could (in case you're wondering, it's called 'Bookworm').

The scattered memories I have of the following week are fragmented like the first part. There was a point during the week between my father's death and his funeral where I was wandering aimlessly around the house when my mother called me over to the computer in the living room to ask for my help with designing the gravestone.

As for the funeral itself, again I can only recall fragments. I can remember standing on the pavement next to our front garden and seeing my half sister as she put another set of flowers onto the ever growing pile on the bed of soil beneath them. It was then I took an interest in the small details - partly because I felt the need to look and partly because I didn't wish to talk to anyone else there. All the shades and the contrast between each flower's colour, the handwriting on the notes and what they said. I read all of the notes, each one of them either family or friends of my father. I knew some people there, but I was more aware of the mass I didn't know.

Although I know we must have driven in the funeral procession to get to the church and graveyard where my father was buried, I can't remember. The next thing I do remember was sitting near the close friends of my father at the funeral, handing out tissues and not crying myself. I recall watching the coffin going past the row I was sitting on at the end and having to resist the urge to reach out and have one final connection with him.

After that, I can only remember being sent to stand with the other younger members of the family as the coffin was lowered into the ground. I remember the feeling that I must watch to finish the act and finally be done with any grief, but with a blank face, I couldn't bring myself to watch. Somehow, it was as though something, or someone, was stopping me.

The first time we visited his grace after the funeral was either Father's Day of his birthday, I don't remember. I do remember sitting in the front seat of the car, watching the powerful rain smash against everything in sight and being told to go and find the grave in the rain while my mother stayed in the car with my younger brother. In my hands I had a card I had made for him and I had used an old plastic sandwich bag to put it into to protect it from the rain. Begrudgingly, I went into the rain to find it. I did find it eventually, but it took me around half an hour to do so.The thing that shocked me most was that all the graves looked pretty much the same. This stripped some of the personal front of the graveyard for me. I had gone the whole of my short life thinking everyone was individual, unique and special and right before my eyes that child-like belief melted as though reacting to the rain.

I'm not sure how to end this chapter of my life. There are so many more memories I could go into, but won't. At least, not now. I suppose everything has an end, even the simplest of things like a chapter. I guess I learned that the hard way eight years ago.

The End

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