We Were Swans

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Guilt

Yesterday was Ellen’s birthday. Or rather, it should have been. In another life, we’d have been in the garden. A garden I still remember though I suppose someone else owns it now. It would be mid-August. Shrieking kids would have been abandoned into our care by parents that had left with that sidelong glance that tells you that today is going to be a long day. The summer sun would be beating down and tables heaped with enough E numbers and fizzy drinks to power a small planet, would soon be reduced to a sticky mess. Kids know how to plunder. Some would be sick. We wouldn’t have enough sunblock and the occasional wasp would cause havoc. Yep, she would have been smack in the middle of it all. The birthday girl, Ellen. I get the same memory, year after year. It just doesn’t end. It’s now 2014. Ellen would have been nine.

So, there weren’t going to be any more birthdays, no Halloween action, no tracking Santa with Norad. It’s these memories, and others, the places we’d been, hearing a child’s voice, seeing a stray, solitary child’s glove in the dirt and the fact that these things catch me when I least expect it and just won’t let me go that has me here, now, talking you through my suicide. I remember that glove quite clearly, the day it was bought and why. We were shopping, the three of us. The cold weather was beginning to creep in and as Ellen was out of her pushchair, it was time to get her something warm to wear. Commercially placed at a child’s eye level, they looked like ladybirds. Red wool sporting tiny felt wings with black spots and gentle eyes near the fingertips. As the retailer had intended, she’d seen them and fell in love. Ellen wasn’t a shouter. There were never any tantrums but if she saw something she desperately wanted, she turned those eyes on you. Cornflower blue, irresistibly wide, innocent and appealing they were her most potent weapon. Wearing them straight from the cashier, she meandered around the store, her hands aloft, weaving, making ‘ladybird’ noises. They were the last thing Sacha had put on her before leaving the house that morning. One of them had led to where her body lay. When I’m done, just before I’m done, I hope I still have the wit to fire this off to the tabloids. There’s been enough media interest in this family to ensure that at least one of them goes to print with it. I don’t care if it’s compassion, courage or some macabre voyeurism that prompts the editor but for the record, my suicide has a dual purpose. One, as already stated, to finally put an end to my misery. I’m stating the obvious there. You don’t contemplate ending it all if you’re full of the joys of spring. The other, to highlight the fact that those little bastards got out last October. 20 years they said. They’ve done five. At 18, their lives can begin again. But I want their faces out there. Find them. Get to know them, recognise them in the street, give them no peace. There are people among us who should not be among us. These two qualify. By ending my suffering, I truly hope that theirs will soon be just beginning. It’s up to you to see that it does. I’m unemployed and probably unemployable. The airline stood by me as long as it could. But they had their limits and I’d breached them long ago. They called it a medical release. I didn’t argue. The money had run out about the same time as my self-respect. I have no purpose, no substance. It’s time for me to go. I have booze, I have pills and I have an overwhelming sense of failure. An inadequacy stemming from my inability to protect my own. Too late, I realise that what once seemed so everyday, meant everything to me and that life without my wife and child makes oblivion a less painful path to tread than tomorrow. I’m not going to bore you with a life history. I know that your interest lies elsewhere. Most of you are already aware of the tragedy that was my family. Simply accept this. Despite our recent divorce, I love my wife, Sacha. She was my life until guilt decreed otherwise. My daughter, Ellen, has gone. I can think of no other reason to be excused from the burden of carrying on. To those of you that still have what I once took less care of than I should, your child or children, that simple statement, that single act of omission, of distraction, of inattention or frustration in the moment says everything and you either pity or rage at the fool that writes this. You have everything you need, whether you realise it or not. Anyone reading this who has yet to experience the simple and yet so complicated joy that is parenthood, may never understand. This message is intended for the final group, those that have this thing, this inexpressible responsibility and simply accept it rather than treasure it, those with children and are complacent or naïve enough to believe that they can be left unattended. For when the realisation that you once had these things and suddenly finds them gone hits home, simply follow these step by step instructions and meet me somewhere between Hell and Damnation.

The difficult part is having the means. The prospect of stepping in front of a train appals me. It would have involved traumatising the driver and more courage than I possess. The knife held less appeal. That would have involved pain that may well have lasted. I know the pain of the knife. One night, when drunk and insane with vodka and grief I cut myself. Face, arms… I have had enough of pain. I don’t like heights. Drowning would have been uncomfortable. Paracetamol, though readily available in quantity, is notoriously unreliable. If found too soon, but too late, it leads inevitably to a slow, pitiful demise involving a massive deterioration of the internal organs, the science of which escapes me. No, to me, a singular coward, the only way was to get hold of some effective but painless means. That requires planning.

There is only one way to get hold of a prescription drug. Though you may be suicidal, you need to be able to convince the Doctor that you aren’t. You have to assume that they are on the lookout for the warning signs and find a way to sidestep their training. For me, that was to admit having considered the option of suicide, but to be convincing enough when saying that you believed you had a future. It really isn’t that difficult. When contemplating killing yourself, you attempt to deny its necessity by reminding yourself of reasons to live. When talking to the Doctor, simply trot out those reasons with sincerity. The real trick is finding the balance. It worked for me. The hard part is finding the courage, being able to deny that you might have a future if only you can get through today and tomorrow. The survival instinct is strong and you need a desperate lack of hope to overcome it.Timing was never an issue. The anniversary was never anything but as low as I could get. But as for actually doing it? All I ever had to do was get the answers to a few simple questions. ’Have you really thought this through? Are you absolutely certain that this is what you want? Is Ellen coming back?’ When the answers are, Yes, Yes and No, everything you put into motion all those dreadfully long, hard months ago, falls into place. You have sufficient alcohol to hand to ensure that come what may, you’ll be so out of it that you won’t care what you stuff into your mouth. All you have to do is get the pills to hand and start drinking. What makes me different is that having done all that, I’m now telling you about it as I drink. The first bottle of red is almost finished, I estimate that given my increasing ability to absorb alcohol another 4 or 5 bottles will be needed before I’m ready. To be on the safe side I actually have 9. Overkill.

I should tell you it’s a Saturday and I stopped writing about 10pm. I think I’m struggling with actually getting on with the job. I’d staggered to the pub, perhaps hoping to find something to cling to, no matter how tenuous. I guess I didn’t give it much of a chance because I’m home writing again and it’s only 10.35pm, or at least I think it is. My watch face is kinda hard to read right now. Blurred.Perhaps I wasn’t looking for any desperate straws to cling to, simply trying to deny the way this is going to end. Anyway, here I am again, after a couple of vodkas, back into the red wine again. As I write, I have music on the stereo. I don’t want to affect the artist’s sales as I have too much affinity with the lyrics so his name will go with me. One day the disc will be carelessly ejected, but not tonight. Not by me. You all have your own musical trigger, a message carried in a song that breaks your heart so insert that into the player and listen as you read. I stopped smoking a week ago. Tonight, I bought some cigars as giving up seemed like a plan for the future, and kinda pointless. The ashtray I threw away when I quit. I am now using an open window. I exist in a small bedroom, one offered to me by a friend. A friend who remembered enough of the old Tom Hood to take a chance on a peaceful co-existence. I’m sorry, John. I suppose it’ll be you who finds this mess.

I’m heavily into the third bottle now and life is taking on a glow. I know this feeling though, these last years of intemperance have taught me that tomorrow does come and irrespective of how rosy life seemed through the bottom of a glass the night before, the pain comes back with the daylight. The tablets are on top of the TV. I can see them now and am beginning to regard them as a last supper. I have put the CD on continuous play, a track that makes me weep. Cathartic? It doesn’t make me feel any better but I do so enjoy the wallow. I’m looking at my phone too. I do fret about the battery. It’s permanently on and never leaves my side. ’She might phone you see.’ She doesn’t. ’But she might.’

Four bottles down and 5 to go. Still lucid but the fingers are slower. I’ll have to hit the spellcheck before I close. The music is playing and I’ve opened the pills. Only 7, but good strong ones. To help me sleep. ’Thank you, Doctor. Of course I won’t.’ Fuck the phone. She’s probably asleep anyway. I’ve taken the tablets.

The reporter from the Mail checked first, to be sure that I’d done it. We had a relationship, of sorts. One which developed in the aftermath of the murder and continued sporadically these past years. He’d warn me of stuff likely or due, to be printed. What The Twins were up to. Ask for insight from me on developments, opinions, release dates. I never gave it but knew he had to ask. He came to the hospital. I was sullen. Defeated. Uncommunicative. It seems though, that drunk as I was, his was the only address I’d emailed so this story wasn’t going to be told. I suppose I should be thankful. Self-pity I’m a cracker at. Being the object of it sat less well. He was my only visitor. Sacha never came though in truth, I’d hoped she would. I did hear that she’d thought about it, but that was as far as it went. Since Ellen’s murder and before the divorce, we’d tried so hard not to blame each other. Silent months spent in front of the TV, neither having the courage to begin a conversation that we both knew would end with Ellen and tears. Over time, the silence became commonplace and comfortable, then unbearable. For God’s sake, what could we say. ‘Why did you let go of her hand? Why weren’t you here?’ It was all about blame and blamelessness. We had a responsibility to our child and had jointly failed. Now Ellen was dead and all we had left were questions unanswered in the silence. I’d had complete faith and belief in our relationship, in us as a forever entity, never for a moment imagining anything capable of breaking us up but inevitably, like anything that finds itself unable to evolve following a seismic event, our relationship began to wither and die. Now, it was extinct.

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