This evening I am off to the wilds of Chester, with my best friend Pei. We’ve been bezzies ever since she peered into my cot when I was a newborn and she was 10 months old, but these days we live in different cities with our respective partners, so we don’t see each other every weekend as we used to, without fail. In 2006 we started a tradition which I hope will continue until death do us part: the annual bei & pei minibreak. Hysteria has been mounting over this trip all week, to the point where I now actually feel sick with excitement. We text each other several times a day with typed screams, eg AAARRRRRR! or EEEEEK! or similar. I’ve prepared some “Credit Crunch Cocktails” for the train journey to Chester- a thermos of ice, a couple of glasses, a bottle of gin and one of tonic. Excited doesn’t even cover it. There will be silliness, oh, there will be silliness. And lots of smooshy friend-love.
I was on my way to work this morning, attempting to apply mascara as the bus lurched over speed bumps and around corners. I felt good: see above re minibreak hysteria; the sun was shining and I had put on a favourite sundress; my hair was behaving itself; I’d just spoken to my sister A who has sorted out a bit of a life crisis, and is off to be a bridesmaid for her little godson’s mum this weekend to boot; I was kind of on fire at work yesterday and predicted a stress-free Friday with maybe a pat on the back for my troubleshooting yesterday; and what’s more, I had so far managed the tricky bus/mascara combo, without smearing black marks onto my cheeks or poking myself in the eye.
Without warning, something reminded me of my little sister H, who died four years ago. Could have been the sun glinting on the window, could have been the Abba song running through my head; could have been the fact we were passing by her school. I think of her hundreds of times a day, so this was not unusual. But sometimes it’s more than a sad pang or a happy memory. Sometimes it guts me. My mascara wand paused half-way to my eye as five words, clear as anything, ripped through my insides: “Oh, my sister, my heart”. I pictured her walking into the school gates, her long, thin legs and shy personality lending her a deer-like gait. I saw her smile, big and bright, and her dark hair. Her face in my mind’s eye- almost, but never quite, close enough to touch.
Five minutes later I swiped my way into work and made my way to my desk to e-mail an excited screech- 40pt Arial and bright green- to my best friend. It may seem shallow, that I can crash from undending grief to giggly excitement, in a matter of moments. I sometimes fear that I seem flippant, laughing and dancing and planning and living as I do. It’s not how I imagined I’d be- I thought I’d be ruined.
But four years since our beloved girl died, that’s the reality. I’m normal (though that’s debatable), my life is normal. If you didn’t know me, you wouldn’t see that I’ve been broken and pieced back together again. You wouldn’t see the cracks where it’s been done clumsily, and the holes where I’m still trying to make the pieces fit; wouldn’t know that once shattered, a person is never quite the whole they once were.
But that’s how it should be, and that’s how it is for those left behind: a life of light and shade.