When you're standing on the crossroads
That you cannot comprehend
Just remember that death is not the end
And all your dreams have vanished
And you don't know what's up the bend
Just remember that death is not the end
Not the end, not the end - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Death Is Not The End
If life were perfect then we would all be immortal and the word “death” would not exist as part of our vocabulary. As it is, we are all mortal and death is an everyday occurrence somewhere in this world. We all know it is going to happen, sometimes we can even anticipate it, but that doesn’t make it easier to deal with when it does happen. The pain that those left behind have to carry is always brutal and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. There are however some deaths that just shouldn’t happen; some more unjust than others; some that are just untimely and more painful than others. I suppose it’s all subjective anyway, because grief is just painful, however old or young you may be.
My first encounter with death is the one that changed my whole life.
I haven’t seen Daddy for a while. He’s been away somewhere, maybe driving that punk band around, or living in some special place that I can’t go to. I often dream about him just coming back into my life, picking me up and swinging me around and taking me out in his hearse to go for a long drive to the seaside. Last time I saw him he had a beautiful Mohican haircut, and was wearing his signature cherry red Doc Martens and drainpipe jeans. We listened to Tim Buckley in the car and then sang along to The Clash. We went to see Nana and then out to some of his friends’ house in that little village between where I was born and where I now live. There were quite a few people there and a few kids, so we all played in the front garden until late at night. It’s nice to be around children who have parents like mine, children who don’t think it’s strange that my parents like to have parties, smoke a lot, drink a lot and always have music on. Parents who dress in jeans and boots and long flowery dresses. Parents who have long conversations about politics and war and Maggie Thatcher, who we should all apparently hate because it’s her fault that we are in such dire straits in this country. Parents who let us stay home from school to go on fun outings away from home, and who always let us read in bed, even when we should be asleep. I sometimes feel like I am the odd one out at school and some children think I am a little strange. Not many children my age have divorced parents and a new stepfather or mother. That’s why I feel so close to my new friend Emma, as her parents recently split up too, and we talk about it together. I think most of the other children in my class just think I am shy and quiet, and I sometimes feel that they don’t want to play with me because their parents told them not to. Don’t really mind though, I have Emma and my sister and my books and my bike.
Mummy left Daddy when she had had enough of the life she was living with him. One day he was shouting at her and hurting her so we ran next door. Then Mummy came to tell us she was leaving and would be back to pick us up in a few days. Grandad came to get us and I cried when we left Daddy, but Daddy told me it would be all right and that we would see him soon. He didn’t lie, but I haven’t seen him for a long time now. I miss him, even if sometimes I worry about his anger. He seems to be angry at the world some days, but most of the time he is in a wonderful mood, talking about poetry and books I should read, listening to me tell him about school, about my new friends, about the books I am reading and the stories I am writing. When I told him that I liked to draw butterflies and I was doing a butterfly project at school he took us to the butterfly park. All those colourful, beautiful and delicate creatures flying above me and landing on my hands. I wish I could have stayed there forever, with him and the butterflies. A few months ago we had jacket potatoes near the park in our town, and then played for hours by the stream, chasing squirrels and feeding the ducks. I want to do that again soon. I also have three more stories to read to him, stories about magical beings and flying to foreign countries overnight like a bird. Daddy always loves me to read to him, and always buys me a new exercise book so that I can write more stories for him. I didn’t really like the end of that day though, when we had to go to a smoky house up a big hill. I didn’t really like the people there; they were all sitting around talking about things that made my Daddy angry. That was the last time I saw or heard from him. Nana said that he sent all his love the other day when I spoke to her, so I know he is somewhere around, but I just want to see him.
Daddy has some problems. I know he’s not like other people’s fathers, and I know I am smarter and more perceptive than most children my age. My Daddy is a drug addict. I hear people talking and I listen to what they say, understanding exactly what they are talking about. I know that drugs are dangerous and I know that you can die from them. I know that Mummy left him because of this and because he would get angry whenever he couldn’t afford his drugs, which seemed to get more and more frequent with time. I know that he doesn’t really have a home now, but that he lives with his friends here and there, people who do drugs like him, people who go to punk concerts and who wear a lot of ripped clothes, safety pins and have colourful hair. I love most of his friends; they are all kind and fun and always look after us. Except for that tall, skinny woman called Sally, she has some problems herself, some days she’s lovely and fun, other days she’s always shaking and anxious and snappy. There’s a name for this drug: heroin.
Last year Daddy was touring the country with a punk band. He took us with him up to north, all in the small bus. One of the band members had brought his girlfriend along too and she had an ear-piercing gun, so she pierced my ears for me. It hurt for a second and then just felt a little warm. I felt like a real adult, with little studs in my pink ear lobes. I know that no one at school has their ears pierced, so I can’t wait to show Emma. We watched the band play from the side of the stage and jumped around to the music which was loud, angry and so good. The band signed a copy of the single for us and Daddy made sure we got it back home in one piece… I’ll treasure it forever. I listen to it when I miss him a lot and when I want to dance around my little room with my sister and jump on our beds. It feels liberating. Last week my sister and I dressed up like Daddy and his friends and pretended we were singing along to the band. Then we decided to be an Elvis Presley tribute band, dressed as punks, singing along to Suspicious Minds at the top of our voices and jumping on our beds. Of course it ended with my sister and I fighting about who was going to marry Elvis even though he is dead, and I, as usual, backed down and chose Roy Orbison as my husband instead. There’s not arguing with her, she will always get what she wants in the end. She’s my little sister; I can’t help giving in to her anyway!
I miss Daddy. I was coming home from school on the bus last Wednesday and I thought I saw him walking down the street. I’m quite sure it was him; there really aren’t many people like him walking around High Street. Tall and thin, black spiky hair, black beard. Cherry red Doc Martens and ripped jeans. By the time I had jumped off the bus the man/Daddy had disappeared. I looked around, but nowhere to be seen. I just kept it to myself, no point in telling Mummy or my stepfather, they would have got angry or annoyed with Daddy and it may not even have been him. I just wish I had been able to see his face for a moment longer, I miss him so much. I want to hug him for hours, cuddle up in his arms and listen to his adventures and the new bands he has seen and is touring with. Sometimes I ask Mummy to put the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main St. on, just so that I can dance to Shine a Light and think of Daddy dancing with me.
I haven’t seen my Daddy for a while.
“Why are you picking us up at school today Mummy? Why aren’t you at work?”
“I just wanted to come and get you girls and bring you home today. I have something to tell you when we get back.”
I can feel it happening again. That pit opening up in my stomach; that fear creeping into it. That feeling is becoming more and more familiar, too familiar these days. Let’s just make it home and see what has happened now. Is my stepfather drunk again? Has Daddy disappeared to another country? Is Daddy ill? Is Mummy pregnant again? I wish she would just tell us, as the walk home just got much longer and quieter than usual. It’s not very normal that she has come to pick us up, most of the time my sister and I walk home, or get the bus if we got some bus money of our stepfather in the morning (if he was awake and not dead drunk in bed).
“Your Daddy is not with us anymore. He died yesterday. I’m so sorry darlings; I never wanted to have to tell you this.”
Mummy broke down in tears as soon as she told us. I went cold inside and then just started crying hysterically. I don’t believe this has happened.
Daddy’s gone. I already missed him when he was alive, and now he’s just gone. Just like that. I’ll never see him again. NEVER. AGAIN.
Did he overdose? Did he have an accident? What happened? No one seems to mention anything, it’s all foggy and cloudy and all I can hear are whispers.
Great, my stepfather is drunk again. I’m going to go to bed early and read under the covers, that way I won’t have to deal with this. I never know if he’s going to be happy drunk and order fish and chips and ice cream and make us laugh with funny stories; if he’s going to be depressed drunk and listen to Tom Waits and T.Rex records really loud all night, or if he’s going to be angry drunk and make us listen to him rant for hours on end about how wonderful he is and how he is going to straighten our lives out. I’ll just hide under the covers and try to fall asleep, hoping that he won’t drag us out of our beds in a few hours. If we are as quiet as possible he may forget that we are here and leave us alone.
Whenever he’s drunk you never know which way it is going to go. I am learning to analyse all of the actions, the little gestures, the music, to see which way he is heading off into. He can be fun when he is in a good mood, and he’ll make Mummy laugh. Sometimes they go out together and have a lovely time, Mum gets all dressed up in her pretty dresses and heels and eyeliner. But most times Mummy works around the clock and he writes, cooks, cleans, and drinks. Drink of choice? Vodka. He’s of Polish descent, so no surprises there. Sometimes when I come home from school I will look into his mug to see what he is drinking. If it’s clear I smell it to see if it’s vodka or water. If it’s water I always feel relieved; if it’s vodka I start to brace myself for whatever mood he may happen to be in. The quieter I am, the more likely he will leave me alone. Although, I have noticed recently that that isn’t really working anymore.
Tonight is not one of the easy nights, I can hear him coming up the stairs and telling us to wake up.
“It’s time you girls heard some truths about everything. No better time than now!”
1am. I’m 10 years old. My sister is 8. We have to go to school in the morning. We just lost our father. We miss our Daddy, we miss our Nana and we miss our home in the village. We are coming to terms with death and confusion and new schools and a drunk stepfather and a new little baby brother.
My sister is rubbing her eyes. Mummy is standing in a corner and I can see she has been crying again. He is playing a Tom Waits, probably the one with On The Nickel on it, his favourite depressed drinking record. Despite everything I love that record too. But I just want to be in bed, in my dreams, not down here in the living room, listening to a drunken man rant about me and my sister, how we are wild and have no discipline. I don’t understand why he says that. I am quiet, I help around the house, I look after my sister and brother and I get good marks at school. I have always got excellent reports and my teachers only complain that I am too shy and quiet in class. I got brilliant results on my IQ test and I am never really naughty. We can sometimes be a little loud when we are playing in our bedroom, but we never do it on purpose.
“Your Dad is dead, girls. DEAD. Now you only have me, and you are going to have to accept that. You think he died because of drugs don’t you? Well that’s not how it happened. He killed himself, took his own life. He didn’t CARE anymore. Do you see? Do you understand?? He didn’t care enough about you to sort himself out and get help”.
Thank you. That’s everything a 10 year old girl needed to hear about the father that she misses so much.
I haven’t seen Daddy for a while. I will never see him again. His funeral was a blur, in the little chapel in the little town, along the main street. My Nana had to be helped to her seat. I cried a lot, and all these people kept looking at us with such sad eyes. Two little girls with long, brown hair and huge brown eyes. How can I live with the reality that I will never, ever see my father again? He will never pick me up and twirl me around again. He will never take me to a book shop and let me look around for hours until I have found the one book I really want to read. He will never sing songs to me in the car again, or take us to Nana’s for Christmas and shower us with gifts. He will never take the drawings I make for him and keep them in the back pockets of his jeans again. He will never hug me when I fall down and hurt myself again. And he will never see me grow up into a woman.
All these never agains because of one simple choice he made during one dark day of his life. Did he think about it? Had he been listening to Joy Division on a loop again? Did he think that I wouldn’t need him to be here for me in my life? Not just now, but for the rest of my life? What on earth WAS he thinking? He gave up. In doing so he also gave me up, and the rest of his family. He gave up. I don’t think I will ever understand that choice. The choice that left me with so much confusion and pain.
My first encounter with death. The one that changed my life forever.
To the center of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you
To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you
I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you
In a room without a window in the corner I found truth – Joy Division, Shadowplay