Naked and standing on one foot


There have been times in my life when i have laboured under the illusion that events should fall evenly into place, at the right times and as neatly as possible; i no longer believe this to be the case.

After all, who writes the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should not’s’?  Who’s framework, or world-view, is being followed and by whom?  WHY ‘should’ anything go according to anyone’s ‘plans’, especially since most of us can often NOT adhere to any sense of order or ‘rightness’, yet expect this from the rest of us.

My mother had been battling cancer for five years; they talk of surviving cancer, but they fail to speak of the quality of that survival.  The reality is that, after diagnosis, there is often a serious operation to remove whatever has developed up until the symptoms have become apparent; in my mother’s case this operation was a hysterectomy, with the possibility of a colostomy bag since the cancer may have spread from her ovaries to her bowel.  Couple this with chemotherapy; the poisoning of everything in the body, in the hope of poisoning the cancer, and the quality of a person’s life diminishes greatly.

The one thing she DID NOT want, was a colostomy.  She said she could  bear anything else, but not that.

As it happened, they did not need to cut any of her bowel away during the hysterectomy and had managed to relay this to her in theatre; after she came out of surgery i went to see her in the high dependency unit, not expecting her to be conscious, but she was aware enough to say two words…”no bag”…and then go back to sleep.  I stroked her hair and left through the double doors.

After her operation, she immediately started chemotherapy treatment, which resulted in her losing all of her hair.  She pretended that this did not bother her, but ANY woman would be upset by the loss of their hair: hair defines people, especially women.  I was able to help her by shaving her head when nothing remained but random tufts, gently rubbing the foam in and gliding the razor from brow to nape whilst we talked about this and that.

I did this for four more years and watched her become paler and more uncomfortable.  The discomfort then gave way to pain, which was constant and chaotic.  It would strike her randomly and in different areas of her body; occasionally she would cry out and then look embarrassed, as if there was someone she might be offending; not me, i can assure you, i only wished to swap places with her and make it ok, but couldn’t.

One day, i decided that i had had enough.  I know this is an incredibly selfish thought process, but don’t judge me until you’ve experienced it; it was just unbearable and i couldn’t stand it for a moment longer.

So, after seven and a half years of continued sobriety, i prescribed myself one bag of heroin; twenty-four hours off from this relentless torture, which prevented me from sleeping and mocked me constantly for my inability to protect my mother from the kind of pain which can change someone’s personality, rendering them unrecognisable and grotesque.

The problem is, twenty-four hours is NEVER twenty-four hours: it starts that way with promises to self about being sensible etc. but when it comes down to it, the worlds’ most powerful painkiller does EXACTLY what it says on the tin, so why would anyone want to return to the kind of pain that changes breathing patterns?…not me that’s for sure, and after seventy-two hours, i was in up to my knees, with not a prayer of getting out of there alive.

Oh yeah…and i started smoking crack again too.

Sitting around a bed waiting for your mother to die is a surreal experience.  I have sat around several other beds in my life, waiting for other people’s mothers and fathers to die, but never my own.

During the two days it took my mother to pass away, after being admitted due to being rendered insensible due to the cancer shutting down her organs one by one, causing the toxins in her system to begin affecting her brain, my small family positioned ourselves around her bed, and talked.

Talking about real things is not something that historically, my family does well; especially my grandmother, but there beside the bed, she began to open up and talk about her life.

She told us a story which will remain with me forever.

Sixty-two years prior, when my mum was just five, my grandmother had called her from the garden for dinner but received no response.  She began to panic and could only think of one place she could be, which was at the house directly opposite, where six siblings lived, whom my mother often played with.  She went over to the house and discovered that none of their children were home either, and could not be located.  The adults formed a search party and began to walk down towards the river.

This happened in Bristol, which is on the border of the counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire, which are fairly rural, and were more-so then.  So the concern wasn’t so much about anyone ‘getting’ the children, but more about natural hazards, such as the river. With this in mind, the adults stepped up their pace and their levels of concern, and marched through the fields in the aforementioned direction.

About halfway there, my grandmother happened to glance to her left, which took her gaze downhill across more fields.  She was able to make out some figures down there and called the other adults over, who then joined her in her astonishment.

Down below were the children next to a waterlogged field.  All but one were sitting in a row on an area of dry ground next to the water.  Their attention was taken up by one of the other children who was standing in the middle of the water, stark naked and ringing her socks out defiantly.  This child was my mother, who it seems, had led the other children ‘pied piper-like’ through the fields to do something slightly more interesting than playing safely in gardens.

My grandmother described her as being ‘elfin-like’ in her nakedness, and standing on one foot.  This image remains with me and always will, for my mother was an extremely mischievous lady, and it seems, always had been.

Now, addiction doesn’t provide you with a gentle nudge, saying something like “any chance of you nipping out and feeding me, some time in the next forty-eight hours”, it gets hold of you by the hair and shakes you about for a bit, before demanding “get me something NOW you cunt, or i’ll make you so ill you will wish you had never been born!”.  So, sitting in my mum’s room, with the doctor having previously stated that the end of life process could take several days, and my nerve endings beginning to jangle and sweat beginning to pour off me, i decided to phone some twat, who i  didn’t like in the slightest, and ask him to bring me what i needed in order to remain somewhat present at a time when i should not only have been present, but should have been a source of support and comfort.  This, sadly, was not the case.

My grandmother, my wonderful ex-partner and a close friend of the family decided to go home and get some rest somewhere around seven-thirty in the evening, which saw me immediately send a text to set the wheels in motion for me to meet the guy outside in about twenty minutes.

I saw the visitor’s to the exit, which was on the other side of the hospital, and then waited.

It was right on the stroke of eight-o-clock, as i sat in his car, that i received a text from my ex-partner, who in turn had received a phone call from the nurse in charge, asking everyone to return to the ward as a matter of urgency.

I had just finished smoking a pipe full of crack when i received the text from her. I seem to remember quietly saying,

“i think my mum has just passed away” to the dealer, which was followed by an awkward silence, eventually broken by him asking,

“can i borrow your lighter, and could you put a bit more on this pipe for me, seeing as i came here so quickly”.

Also, he had run out of heroin about an hour beforehand, which meant i had nothing to help me come down, as i darted out of the car and walked off in the direction of the hospital.

As i walked through the double doors back on to the ward, the nursing staff, as one, all strode towards me with purpose.  As they approached me, they wanted to know what i knew, which was nothing, but i guessed everything.  Once it became apparent that i was prepared for what awaited me, they allowed me into my mother’s room.

My head was pounding with the after effects of the crack i had just smoked and the fear and paranoia, which is a characteristic of using this particular drug, and which heroin helps neutralise, was beginning to take hold.

I walked in to see my step-father crying by the bed, which contained my mum who was sitting in the same position she had been in when i left her, with her mouth open, but no longer making the rattling, wheezing sound she had been doing earlier.

The room was quiet and i knew my mother was no longer there.

The nurse came in and asked if it was ok if she opened the window, which apparently they do in all situations such as these.  I guessed why, and then wished i hadn’t.

In life, there are times when the ‘solution’ to a problem causes ‘problems’ much more severe than the original problem.  In my case, i have to live with the knowledge that the temporary solution i sought through self-medication, had created images and feelings so unbelievably horrific and painful, and with which i must live, until i eventually cease.

At which point, i may get the opportunity to say i’m so terribly sorry.

After about forty-five minutes, my grandmother decided that it was undignified for my mother to have her mouth open and tried to gently shut it.  She was unsuccessful, so my mum’s mouth remained open, along with her eyes, which were opaque and contained no spark.

I sat at the end of her bed looking at her and noticed her feet were exposed.  I covered them, as i knew she hated being cold and then thought about the fridge they would eventually place her in.

Finally, i cried.

I cried for myself, for i was scared and lonely and wanted my mum.

I cried for her, for, no matter how flawed, she had fought my corner and loved me unconditionally.

And, i cried for all of us, because what will become of us?

My mother held my family together, and since her passing, my step-father no longer speaks to me and my grandmother has clearly seen more than she wished of this lifetime.

I have since then, received treatment for my addiction, which is scant consolation as i sit here tonight, writing this, trying to find my way

in the dark.

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10 Responses to “Naked and standing on one foot”

  1. Thank you for writing about that night and being so honest. I don’t think I’ve ever shared everything that happened that night with anyone, so it feels freeing. Beautifuly written x

  2. There is little I can add to that other than saying that your writing is exceptional…..and that….as i believe they say about writers….you have found your voice.

  3. I’m always surprised when I pay visits back to this page as I have walked a similar path.

  4. Julie Nowell Says:

    Devastatingly harrowing and beautiful in it’s humanity.

  5. Thank you for this.

  6. bob mello Says:

    honesty or something like it, the very best i’ve read

  7. michael w Says:

    i can read your pain very honest

  8. My oh my ….my friend…..this really really moved me….I looked after both my folks before they died….Oh & as for the “shoulds”….i was told that the word “should” is in the dictionary between “shit” & “syphilis”….!!!! Big Bear Hug….bj

  9. Tiddles Says:

    You were right. Tiddles x

  10. Thank you for sharing Tim. Lifes scary and your brave and you’ve got through it all , im so pleased, You’ve been missed. x

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