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Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m not saying that for felicitation purposes. I’m saying it because it will be my first birthday without Erika.

In a way, I’m almost dreading it. Wanting a message or a poke from her and knowing I’m never going to get one. Again.

Woman’s Hour had an article this week on bereavement, focussing on when a friend dies. And how it feels different from when a relative dies. It really does.

When you click with someone, when you choose them as part of your family, the pain from them not being there is searing. It is different to the pain I felt when my Grandparents died (well, three of them anyway, the fourth and last one that died can simply go forth and multiply).

As I got closer to Saturday; all week my thoughts kept returning to Erika. I hope wherever she is, she flicks me the bird, shoves against me in the mosh pit of life, or comes to visit me in my dreams and knows that I love her.

1-366

One of my twenty for 2020 is to blog everyday. Hence the title of this blog post, I’m going to count down, or up, as we go through the year. I got into bed last night on New Years’ Day, and thought “Damnit”, so you’re gonna get two today…

We’ve spent the past week and a bit on the Mornington Peninsula. I was looking online to see if I could book the Air BnB that we used at the beginning of 2019, but I couldn’t get the dates to match up with the Christmas shut-down at work (more on that later). The next morning, R rang me and said she and her family were off to Fiji for a month, did we want to use her house?

Ten minutes away from the cousins.

Yes please.

So we packed up, including the cat, and drove down. We then drove back again, minus the cat, to go to the Boxing Day test, Archie and I left at lunch, then headed back to the Peninsula. Cat very happy to see us and we’ve been here ever since.

As normal, we’ve not done everything we’ve planned to, but we’ve done other things. The jigsaw is mostly done, but we’re struggling with the sky, so many blues! The beach has been hit a couple of times, but we’ve relaxed, unwound and spent quality time together, which is what we needed.

Yesterday we drove to Sorrento and got the ferry over to Queenscliffe. We mooched through the town, walked up to Helen’s chair and spent some time reflecting on both Hubs’ mum and Erika.

Six months ago she passed, it still feels like she should be on the end of a call or a message.

Ian and I have spoken nearly every week since then, for which I’m grateful. One of the things I want to do this year is to share what I’m feeling, when I’m struggling, more often. I don’t reach out to people often enough. I seem to know when people need to talk to me, and expect that intuition from others. Doh.

I’ve not finished my Twenty for 2020 list off completely, mainly because as the year unfolds, I want to have room for actions and additions.

This year will be the year I stop drinking though. The past few months of funk has seen me drink more than nights than not, not quite to oblivion, but on the edge of it.

One thing I wanted to do by the beach was to press pause and reset on what I wanted. I feel a long walk by the beach is in my future today. I need to sit and let stuff come to surface.

[Point to note, if the blog posts are numbered, they will be free-form and unedited. If there is anything specific I want to talk about (rant over), I’ll put a title up ok?]

I’ve just cleared my beach visit with Hubs, when I’ve finished my coffee I’ll head off.

The job I started six months ago closes the office down, which I wasn’t that happy about when I first heard about it. I had to go into a negative balance to take a week off work to head over to the UK for Erika’s funeral. I’d just about accrued a week back again, to have to use it for the shut-down. I’ve got no buffer for any appointments, catastrophes or life in general. For the first time in my life, I will be purchasing an additional two weeks leave so I don’t have to worry about having enough time for stuff to happen.

Because stuff happens.

History is just one damned thing after another.

Winston Churchill

Ain’t that the truth.

Other stuff I’ve done over the week is review who I follow on social media, what podcasts I listen to and am umming and ahing over what books to read over the coming year. I did so well with my reading in 2018, I wanted to hit 2019 with reading 100 books. One thing I learnt last year, when I’m depressed or overwhelmed, I now can’t read. I stuff my head into my phone and ignore the world that way. Mind you, I have been known to just read and re-read Mapp and Lucia to avoid life too.

(See what I mean about I need to let whatever needs to come up, come up?)

Listening to the Daily Stoic podcast Ryan Holiday suggested that instead of trying to hit a number of books, why not try to delve deep. To not read widely, but to read deeply, to come to know the authors as though I’d lived with them.

Reading of many books is distraction.

Seneca

I’m going to get twelve books from Book Club, but I’m going to have a think about what ten-fifteen other books I want to read this year, to deep read; not skim over to get to a number. What am I trying to prove?

Well, that’s the story of my life right there. Proving my worth to others. Instead of being happy with who and what I am.

On that note, I’m off to the beach.

October Thoughts

I started this year full of hope and dreams. Excited about my surgery – planning to recuperate, recover and smash out a half marathon as a goal to keep me motivated. I wanted to read 100 books this year too.

I guess you had other plans for me.

Like learning patience, compassion, kindness. To myself and others.

I got back to work after my surgery, just in time to leave for a new role. I stood in front of colleagues with a prepared speech highlighting the friends I’d made through working with a buffet of people; but Erika had just gone into hospital and already, her prognosis was slipping. The only way I got through that speech was to mention her in passing. Because if I shared just how important she was to me, I’d never get through it. A few short weeks later, I’d have to go into more detail about the depth of our friendship, standing beside her casket. Aged P and Wiz holding my hands.

Since then, Erika and I have had a couple of chats. She shows up mostly through music, poking me to remind me she’s there on the radio. But drifting off one night late last week, I asked for her forgiveness for not being there for her when she was at her lowest. I said that I hoped that by looking after Ian, she’d be able to forgive me for not realising how low she was. A few days later, Imagine Dragons On Top Of The World played in Coles; this was the song that was playing as I boarded the plane in Melbourne to fly back to the UK. Followed by Roxette, The Look which seems to be the claxon call for Ian and I that Erika is playing around with the radio ago.

You can read what you want into anything. But if my phone has been linked to the car and I’ve been playing a podcast, if I’ve swiped up and closed off the app music will start to play, on random. There have been times I’ve reversed out the driveway and collapsed into giggles, other times I’ve had to hurriedly press ‘next’ lest I start weeping. If I carry on listening to music; all the while it’s apparently on random, unless I get the message and acknowledge it, another song from the same artist or album comes on until I do.

Like Barbra Streisand’s album Guilty Too. That album was my soundtrack to recovery from separation. I’d play it in Mon Bears’ spare room as I decluttered my life; bags of possession going down the stairs and off to charity. On Thursday last week, I’d skip one song from the album then another one would come on. In the end, I just gave up and listened to the whole album from start to finish. When that was finished, I put it back on random for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to pop up with By The Way.  

By the way, I tried to say
I’d be there, waiting for …

Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Loud and clear darling girl. Loud and clear.

Since I had the flu, I’ve had to stop. Rest. Go to bed early. Recuperate. My reading has increased, head in my phone decreased. Won’t be many more memes coming on my timelines as I’ve left Imgur behind me. In the past few weeks I’ve read two books, one in two sittings. Slowly I’m inching back to myself. Coming full circle to reading, exercising and eating better.

Recognising no matter if it is gluten free, if I have too many carbs, my IBS will flare up and I’ll be ‘noisy’ she said enigmatically.

Recognising if I have alcohol, the wave of self-loathing that follows is not worth the numbing of whatever I was trying to avoid. Eight days sober and counting. I’m sleeping better, my skin is less flushed, I feel lighter in myself too. I’ve still got to work through whatever I’m avoiding, but I’m not scared of what that will be now.

I am more scared of me drinking.

I know that even though I’m not going to read 100 books this year, or complete the half marathon. I’ve done much more, something intangible.

I’ve learnt to love myself, forgive myself for some foibles and mistakes and be accepting of what I can’t change.

Going Viral

I had an odd week last week. Hubs had to stay home to look after me one day, which unless I’d had surgery, was unheard of before now. Archie came in to kiss me goodnight, surveyed the state of me, then kissed me on my head. The next morning he appeared beside my bed and decided that I still wasn’t well as, ‘You’re so pale Mama.’ Hubs took me to the doctor, I got told to carry on as I was and just ride it out. I carried on with the paracetamol, fluids and bed rest.

I basically did nothing for three and a half days, went back to work on Friday; managed an hour then came home again.

Not today

Picture credit: The wonderful C.Cassandra, Hubs got me her KickStarter package for my birthday last year. http://www.cassandracalin.com/comics-nottoday.html

I did watch the new season of Queer Eye, as I’d been saving it up for when I felt rotten and I’m so glad I did. It was beautiful. If I could sprinkle as much love and consideration through the world as the Fab Five, I’ll be a happy woman.

And on my last day in bed I realised that if I changed my VPN location, I unlocked the different programs on the Netflix. To say I was filthy about not realising this before now would be an understatement. I could have watched the US The Office from start to finish by now. Oh well.

All in all, not much to report. Although the funny thing we’ve noticed in our group chat about Erika, is our lows are synced. We all seem to struggle on the same day or night. HellCat said today that the chat is a nice place to hang out because we can all say what we feel and not worry about being told to ‘Get over it’.

I’m in the middle of it, I don’t want to get over it or get used to it yet. I spend my entire life trying not to feel emotions (Helloooo alcohol!) I want to honour Erika and ride this out properly by feeling it and being with it. Which is why when I got upset watching Arch play in the pool after his swimming lesson, I let the tears fall. I said to Hubs that I was worried that I hadn’t done enough and that I was missing her. Classic grief guilt, no more no less. My face after wiping the salty tears away on a towel is not so forgiving, I’m red raw :/

But I’m proud of it. In a funny, awful, sad, muddled way. Proud that I said to Hubs, “This hurts. This is why it hurts. I’m being visited by emotions and I’m gonna sit here with them”. As I was also wearing my Woman’s March t-shirt at the time, it was on top in the drawer, no other reason – it probably also looked a bit odd. #UnsatisfiedCommunistScumbagFeministGoblin

Erika’s lisp and gentle mouth always sounded and looked incongruous when dropping the F-Bomb. But I know she’s doing the sign of the horns with one hand, flipping us the bird with the other and cheering us on as we wobble on our paths.

It’s the best any of us can do really.

Yesterday was not a good day

Despite having all my hardware removed, I’ve still got my ovaries in, so hormones – those pesky little critters are still rampantly waging war on my moods. Combine that with a very late night the night before, I didn’t get home until midnight, I was cactus yesterday.

I could have easily stayed in bed and hidden away from the world, instead I hid in my phone and stuffed up my mood even further. When will I learn?

I’ve decided to not look at facebook for a couple of days. I’m not looking at twitter at the moment – sheer red rage at the orange twat-waffle and NRA lobbyists mostly.

My mood has not been helped by leaving a set of hand-over notes that were ignored by the person covering my role while I was away. Instead of having meeting papers in one place for me (brought forward folder) and one place for BossLady, (her daily pack); I found papers, agendas, things to sign and approve, OHS walks – anything and everything, all over the desk and shelves behind me.

When an autographed approval comes back to me, I scan it, save the PDF with the same naming convention in our files, stamp the hard copy with today’s date, update my spreadsheet and send the PDF on it’s way electronically. I then put the hard-copy into my pending tray to file each Friday afternoon when my brain is fried and all I can do is filing and clean my desk.

Never under-estimate the amount of people who want hard-copy bits of paperwork, as well as the same scanned bits of paperwork.

me

I had six days out the office, and its taken me nearly two weeks to find (what I’m hoping is now) everything, which is pretty impressive. Talk about a sense of humour failure. But more importantly, it also made me feel anxious and flustered because before I left the building, if I was asked for anything, I could put my hands on it straight away. Maddening.

This week I’ve been so tired, I looked up ‘How long does jet lag last for?’ It ain’t jet lag, pure and simple. I am an emotionally stuffed piñata. Hubs and I had such a good time away over the weekend, real-life in the week is hard to get back into. I am so far off my normal rhythm, it ain’t funny.

In an effort to combat this, I signed up for a 30 day Pilates challenge at my gym. You can only book into the classes 2 hours before they’re run; so far on day four, I’m yet to get a spot in one.

I can’t get comfy on my chair at work.

My back hurts.

I’m grumpy.

I miss Erika, spending so long thinking about our shenanigans has made me realise that despite the friends I’ve made over here – sometimes you need people around you knew you from before. Before divorce, before breakdown, before Hubs, before Archie. People who know you from days of yore and see you at your core.

Coven

Give me a couple of days to get out my funk, I’ll be ok. Until then, we’re all off again this weekend (we have a house-sitter), we’ll have a good car conversation on our drive up, I’m going for a run, we’re going to hang out with Hanno, drive the wee man’s RC car and watch an Am-Dram panto #HesBehindYou

I read this on Instagram from Andrew Johnson:

Imagine if we treated each new dawn of each new day with the same reverence and joy as we do each new year.

Angie Lynn

Tomorrow we start again. I just need to get through today. As I keep saying to Ian, sometimes you can’t get through more than a minute at a time. But anyone can do anything for a minute.

For Erika

Before I start, a bit of housekeeping: if there are any people with children here, let them be noisy – don’t shush them and take them out. I can wait and work around you. That being said, I am likely to swear a little bit and I will cry, you will also have to work around me. If anyone wants to come and stand beside me while I do this, thank you. Lastly, this looks long, but it is only really spaced out, so I can read it through my tears.

When Ian asked me if I wanted to speak today; he said I could send my words to Jane who would then read it out for me. But if Erika taught me anything; it was to get up and get on with it, even when you didn’t want to. Just keep going. 

For many of you, the past few weeks would have been a blur. I’m all over the place, I’m only here from Melbourne for a week. I don’t know my arse from my elbow, although I know it is Tuesday but only because I’m here in a dress talking to you. I started a new job the week before Erika died; I’m still in that learning new processes, period of confusion and breaking in a new boss limbo. We’ve also only just got Archie back to school after his two weeks winter holidays. Add the fact it is bitterly cold in Melbourne at the moment, is not helping my confusion on this beautiful day.

None of that matters though, because I simply cannot fathom I am never going to see Erika again; that she won’t get to meet Archie; that I can’t post Princess Bride quotes on Facebook while I’m watching the movie, that she’ll like every single one of them and volley them back at me; or that whenever I see a rabbit, kitten or Metallica video, I can no longer share it with her.

In fact, it’s inconceivable.

But I don’t want to stand here and rattle on about how awful it is, as every one of us is feeling that, the Man in Black reminded us that ‘Life is Pain Highness, and anyone who says differently is selling you something.’

‘Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.’ That quote is from Glennon Doyle Melton. 

Most of the poems on bereavement I found, are awful and not Erika. Death is nothing at all? Bull shit. Death is everything. I know it is only technically the opposite of birth; but it also the full stop at the end of a sentence in a paragraph that many of us were still writing. That quote was me. 

We celebrate births, then dither about what to say when someone dies. What I want to try to do today is celebrate Erika, to try and share with you how daft we were together, how much she shaped and helped my life over the past fifteen or so years.

We met in the early 2000s at a clothing company based in Andover, specialising in selling clothes to grumpy old women who would complain, vociferously, about anything and everything. Helen and I sat opposite each other in customer service; Erika was in an office next door. Before I go any further, can we also acknowledge that Helen’s beloved Dad passed away a couple of weeks ago, his funeral is on Thursday, let’s all give our love to her and her family too?

James Meade clothing was all hideous print blouses, high waist trousers and mostly polyester. If you walked too quickly through the warehouse, you could set it on fire. 

Customers would phone up and complain about buying a hideous print blouse, for it to be on sale after they’d brought it. They wanted their money back. Their parcel hadn’t arrived. They wanted their money back. The colour in the catalogue of this blouse was red, you sent me scarlet. They wanted their money back. 

A never ending stream of vitriol and bile which was not helped by calls being held in a queue for us to answer. If you answer a call and put people on hold to tell them their call is in a queue, it costs them money. The customers would only hear a phone ringing and ringing and ringing; they didn’t understand, or care, that we were all flat-chat on calls until we got to answer theirs. They wanted their money back.

Erika was away when I started, I bustled into the lunch room one day and saw her sitting there. I told her she looked like she needed a hug. So I gave her a hug. She then told me that she’d just got back to work after burying her Dad and she needed that hug. I probably gave her another one just to make sure.

We had an archaic vending machine in that lunch room, where you’d put your money in and hope you’d get what you asked for. One day I asked for Maltesers, but they got stuck. I went to find the key to open it, in the meantime, Helen had also asked for Maltesers and, of course, got two packets for the price of one. Helen just thought ‘Result!’ and promptly shared them out. I got back to the lunch room and shrieked ‘You Bitch-Troll-From-Hell!’ to much hilarity and the name stuck. I was re-christened Maddie-lion and Erika was Furriner.

We all took the day off one day to have a Bar-B-Que at my house. We went to the butchers in Ludgershall, then the supermarket, and ended up with enough food to feed the five thousand. Over the day, Helen and I bombarded Erika with British culture, including Bagpuss, and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life which she watched in either bemused horror, or bemused amusement at our hysterics. We’d also all got firmly stuck into cider, which made Helen’s task of making a dress to wear for an upcoming night out more difficult than it needed to be. Feeling slightly shady, she was worried it was a bit too short after she’d got carried away and tried to even the hem up. Sending Erika out to her car to get some fancy shoes to see what the dress looked like with heels on, Helen wiggled into the dress while I refreshed the ciders. Erika tottered back with two shoes. They were both black, but not a pair and both for the left foot.

I am so blessed with my close friends; I call them my coven for all the cackling and mayhem we create. In truth, I have many best friends, those people that when you meet up with them, it is like no time has passed.

Before the age of smartphones, Erika never had her phone on. It was either off all together, or on but on silent at the bottom of her bag, or on but had no charge. To get around this, I would text Ian, then ring him, he’d pass his phone over to her, we’d chat for hours. 

Then my world collapsed. My first husband decided he was leaving me. I can still see this day so clearly, I left my desk at work with my phone and called Erika. Her phone was charged, on, and sitting on her desk when I rang. 

Erika sent Ian to come and get me. Initially I stayed with them for a couple of nights. When I was told I had to move out of the house I had lived in with the ex-husband, she told me I was moving in with them. She wasn’t going to have me living in a council flat on my own. They helped me pack up my stuff, going backwards and forwards to try and collect everything over one weekend.

Amanda who I worked with at Sandhurst was on the phone with her sister Sara one day. Did Amanda know anyone who wanted to work as a PA in the Chairman’s office at Cable&Wireless? Amanda knew of the situation I was in and suggested I would be ok, and that I needed a new opportunity. Mum brought me a suit for the interview as I’d lost so much weight, nothing smart enough I had fitted me any more. When I got the job, I surveyed my wardrobe. I had precisely four outfits to wear to work. Getting worried about my severe lack of clothes; Erika reminded me that as they had dress-down Friday, I would wear jeans. That, when I got paid in a couple of weeks, I could buy a top or two. Now get out there and do it.

Erika and Ian let me stay rent-free while I got my life together again. I’d buy the groceries when we all went to the market, or treat her to John Freida’s Frizz Ease, as she’d never buy it for herself. Other times I’d be home, the front door would open and Ian would say ‘I smell cleaning products’. He’d also have to announce ‘I am coming up the stairs’ after he scared me shitless that many times by apparently just apparating into my bedroom.

Mon Bears took me to France for a weekend away. It had been a long day driving over, I decided to take my contact lenses out in the carpark of Carrefour as my eyes were itchy and dry, I was using disposable ones then. But before I could put one into a tissue to throw it away, it flew off and got stuck on a windscreen. Ian and I have been reminiscing over phone calls and messenger, he reminded me that ‘I had to separate the two of you before you could stop laughing’. 

Erika, Wiz along with the rest of my coven, nursed me back to health, back to life. 

Wiz, Erika and I would have tat competitions. Trying to find the worst thing we could as a holiday souvenir. The only caveat was it couldn’t be an outright souvenir, like a fridge magnet, or shot glass. It took some effort I can tell you to find things. I have a variety of memories from all over England, but my favourite is a tray from Montreal that would maybe hold a tea-cup, but only if empty. Truly useless.

Erika asked for the recipe for my sticky rice, not realising that I’m just hopeless at cooking it. She made a soup for Ian and I from the left over veggies after a roast dinner, whizzed it up, then realised she’d left a bay leaf in – so painstakingly sieved it all out. We’d bake for hours to make scones, biscuits and cakes to raise money or to take to offices for birthdays. Leaving the kitchen in a trail of destruction, and Ian to do all the dishes. One day Erika and Ian were coming over for lunch with Dan and I in Portsmouth. I was on the phone to Erika trying to navigate them in to the car park under our building when they drove past me walking to the store at the end of the block, as I’d just found a huge, surprised grasshopper in the bag of salad. 

I moved to Australia in 2008 to be with Dan, Erika gave me a Jasper thumb stone, auspicious for long journeys. Dan and I married in 2009, with Wiz and Erika arriving at the ceremony with wedding tat from the same Clintons range. A truly shitty wedding frame and a cake slice that was so plastic you’d either break it entirely, or fling the cake across the room if you’d attempted to use it. Erika put a wedding album together for us, and even with our official photos, we’ve never needed to put together another one. Then our Archie arrived in 2011, the Jasper stone also came into the theatre when I had to have Archie by emergency c-section. Erika sent a package of love to him, with post-it notes on everything, painstakingly telling me what, why and when she’d found things for us.

Our friendship slipped a little for a couple of years; life got in the way for all of us.

I’ve come back to the UK twice before this trip. Once for my brother’s wedding, again for his 40th. On my last trip here, Mon Bears came and got me from Wiz and Jim’s house, we drove around, not sure where to go and ended up at the seaside. We walked along the prom, eating ice cream. We went to lunch and talked and talked and talked. The bridges that were broken were mended.

I knew I’d be coming back for a funeral at some point, but I never thought the first one would be for Erika. Again, it’s inconceivable.

Ian, being Ian, apologised he had to break the news to me over the phone that Erika had gone. He has been humbled and amazed at the messages he’s received. Ian has told me that people he didn’t even know existed have sent him messages, and he knows they knew Erika because of how they describe her.

From her lary leggings at zumba, to her stamps and crafty buddies, to Charli at the Wakkie Hair company doing her hair, given free reign with colour and cuts. From Erika’s love of the sublime to the ridiculous, including, but not limited to: Harry Potter, heavy metal, rabbits, kittens, sci-fi books, Stargate, Dungeons and Dragons, Red Dwarf, The Hairy Bikers and Nigella, chicken wings and chee-bor-gays, both our fridges groaning with condiments, the airer that she hated me hanging washing on, but she loved me so accepted it; she taught me how to fold a fitted sheet instead of rolling it up into a ball and hoping for the best. Her absolute love of self, the endless selfies, she truly was “This is me”, I’ve so many memories. Such a long receipt of love to show everyone. 

It only remains for me to say, “As you wish”

concentrate… concentrate… I’ve got to concentrate… concentrate… concentrate…

I started crying at work today, then found I couldn’t stop.

It’s a funny thing, when the seal gets broken, all hell breaks loose. I do know where it came from, but holy moly the force of it took me by surprise.

BossLady was mortified she’d upset me. The girls in the office were great; one took me out to get birthday cake for our early afternoon tea; another brought chocolate knowing I wouldn’t be able to eat the cake; another offered me some aromatherapy oils.

My packing is progressing. I added a bikini to the pile over the weekend, much to Hubs surprise. But if there is a chance of sun; it being the UK summer, that chance is small, but if there is a chance. I’m sitting out in it doing SFA.

I ordered two new pairs of jeans yesterday. I often wear black jeans to work and ironing them yesterday morning, I realised they were getting a bit tatty. I also ordered a matching pair in Indigo, which for some reason, I’m inordinately excited about.

Other than that, we’re quiet. I washed my make-up brushes over the weekend, caught up on washing and need to get some groceries tonight. I’d have gone last night, but some eejit decided to go round a roundabout too quick and topple his truck over; which was full of logs, so not exactly light weight. I joined the back of the queue and inched along. It took me over an hour to get home last night.

Poor Archie is in the middle of a growth spurt, we’ve dropped his medication down to 1 tablet a day over the holidays, only down from 1.5 (the .5 at lunch), but he’s eating us out of house and home. This morning he was complaining of a sore back and legs, but they had an off-site trip to a big indoor playground he’d been looking forward to with his holiday program. By the time he got himself going and outside his breakfast, he was feeling better in himself, and decided he’d go and make a decision about what he played on when he got there. I told the educators to call me if he wasn’t coping this afternoon and I’d come and get him. But either way, we’re having an early night tonight.

Thanks for spending my lunch break with me.