(A short version of this post appeared on my Facebook Autism Page on May 7th 2014)
The route to/from my Mom’s house takes us through an area of town called Selly Oak. There, right next to the university, is a pub/bar called the Gun Barrels.
I say pub – it’s on it’s way to being an ex-pub, because the university sold the land it stands on.
Now, the pub is closed, fenced off and slowly being dismantled to make way for a state-of-the-art swimming facility. I have a lot of great memories of being in that pub from when I was at Uni.
I also have one not-so-great memory.
12 years ago today, I was drinking there with a group of friends. I’d had a text from my Mom a little earlier in the afternoon to ask if I was around that day, as her and Doug were passing through. While I was in the pub, another text pinged through from her
“I’m on my way, I’ll be with you very soon, I love you. Love Mom xx”
Seemingly innocent, but I KNEW. Something wasn’t right.
I was totally right. Mom and Doug arrived at the pub to tell me that my Dad had died suddenly at home. A massive heart attack. He’d hadn’t been ill. On the contrary, he’d been out for the evening, and was still wearing his “going out” clothes when the police found him.
When Mom gave me the news, I cried uncontrollably, but only for 5 minutes. Then the tears just dried up. I couldn’t cry anymore, not until the funeral. I still wonder why that happened, whether it was a defensive reaction on the part of my brain, I just don’t know.
12 years ago today.
It’s strange, but I can’t recall properly now what his face looked like, or what his voice sounded like. I can remember the way he walked – powerful, fast, striding ahead. I can remember the way he smelled – the oily smells from the engineering plant he worked at. The smell of lager, crisps and cigarette smoke when he’d been to the pub. I also recall the smells of the food he used to make – stews, spiced food, Christmas cake drenched in brandy…Smell has always had powerful evocative qualities for me. When I smell those smells now, they transport me instantly back to my childhood, and I can feel Dad standing next to me.
I remember his forearms. Muscular, freckled, thick with sandy-blond hair that was both coarse and almost invisible at the same time. I remember the strength of his hugs, so tight they could most cut off my breathing, even as an adult. When I was a child, that hug was the safest place I could imagine. I would go still in his arms, I would feel calm because there was nothing in the world that could get inside that and hurt me.
But I still struggle to remember his face. Memory is an odd thing.
Every now and then, if I’ve thought a lot about him for a few days, I have the same dream:
I’m in the kitchen (not my kitchen, but a kitchen), and my Dad walks in. We talk, we cook. We go to the garden and look after the chickens. I don’t know why there are chickens, whenever had chickens as we were growing up, and I’ve never owned any since. That’s dreams for you. Dad and me just flit between the kitchen and the garden. Talking….
Then I wake up. I can never remember what we talked about, I just have this overwhelming sense of peace. Like I’ve been able to catch up with him, talk things over, dump my anxieties someplace safe.
12 years ago.
I wonder what he’d have made of my writing, my life choices, of Hubs (who he never met), of the children?
I wonder how he would have coped with Melon being autistic, I wonder if he’d have understood?
Would I have scrutinised him for signs of autism, the way I do myself and the rest of the family, now that I’ve accepted the genetic inheritance theory of autism?
Does Melon have that same feeling of security when she asks us for her “big hug”, and gets it?
Either way, he’ll happy this week in the ever-after. His football (soccer) team Birmingham City avoided relegation to a lower league this weekend, by a pretty slim margin.
My Dad’s favourite beer was Marstons Pedigree. I’ll be raising a glass of it to him this evening, like I do every 7th May.
For the 12th time.