I am small. Big people surround me, I feel safe.
He holds me. Ever so briefly. I look into his eyes and notice a glint in his eyes. Wet? Sitting on his lap I have to stretch my neck to kiss him on the cheek.
Big sloppy kiss. Make him feel better.
Papa? What’s wrong?
He rubs my back and smiles. The smile isn’t real. I am small. But I feel his hurt.
Big hug for Papa.
He gets up, lifting me into the air.
“It’s okay my little doll” “Papa is okay”
He swings me up – high into the air -and down again.Thump.
Sad eyes, mouth drawn into a grin that I know is not right. I can feel it. I just know.
“I know Papa. I know you’re sad. Will another kiss help?”
“Yes little doll, it will help”
Another sloppy kiss and this time,his smile is real. I feel it.
I am 15.
I am in bed. Mama is out to work, she is doing nightshift. Some nights she doesn’t come home at all. Papa has gone out. I am 15. I am safe.
Loud noises wake me up a while later. Groans.
I run upstairs. Front door, broken glass, blood…Papa staggering…..he collapses.
Blood everywhere. All through the glass…..Papa!….no movement. Scared now.
Shake him…where’s the blood coming from?
He moves. Groans. Tries to stand up.
“Little doll go to bed I’m okay”
He’s not okay.
I feel it.
I help him to the bedroom where he collapses on the bed.
“Go to bed little doll, Papa is okay, just a bit drunk”
Papa doesn’t get drunk.
Can’t be a good girl, can’t listen to him. Have to do what feels right.
Doctor said he would have bled to death had he been left.
I knew he wasn’t okay. Felt it.
Mama and Papa sat me down to tell me they’re divorcing.They show no emotion, no upset. My brother and I are told that for now we need to stay with Mama. That’s okay, we’ll see Papa regularly. I am safe.
His eyes tell me he is okay. Strange. No sadness. They say they are sad, but it isn’t true, at least not from Papa. I feel it. He has a sense of freedom. A strange joy. I feel it.
I am17. Walk into Papa’s flat. Standing by the kitchen sink he is peeling potatoes. Back to me. I feel it. Sadness. “You okay Papa?”
“I’m okay little doll, peeling some potatoes for dinner”
He is not okay. I know it. I feel it.
I touch him on the shoulders.
Wet face. Tears? Papa doesn’t have tears.
I hug him.
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know…I feel it….”
And for the first time, little doll becomes adult woman to her Papa.
For the first time, he lets down all his defenses, lets emotion free.
And as his sobbing subsides, and he tells her his innermost fears, his feelings of helplessness, he shows his true self to his “little doll” for the first time- vulnerable.
I have felt that, known it.
To have him express it, openly and without fear, started this girl’s journey to protection. My journey.
I am 33. My best friend in the truest honest sense, my confidante, my mentor is standing in front of the fridge in my kitchen.
He is going away. We’ll celebrate Christmas in January when he returns.
I have to talk to him about him dying.
I don’t know why. I just feel it.
He does not question this discussion. Since that day when I was 17, he has never once questioned why I talk about some things. Freedom. Say what’s on your mind, no matter how silly it may seem and we’ll have a calm discussion about it.
I tell him I’m frightened that he won’t come back. 33 years old and what I’m saying sounds childish. He does not judge, does not block the topic.
“What worries you most about me not coming back?”
“That I won’t cope. You are my line of sanity Pap”
He calmly tells me that he just recently changed his will. “You’ll be able to cope fine”.
That’s not what I meant. “I’m leaving you the organ to haunt you, I know you hate me playing it” He laughs. Just loves a joke. Oh very funny.
But it’s all real. I feel it.
“I won’t cope emotionally Pap, you’ve always been there”
“You will cope. You’re strong. A chip off the old block”
Pride. Best compliment anyone could give me. Chip off the old block. Just like my Papa.
“Seriously Pap, I’m worried…you know what I mean…I feel it”
“I know. But it’s strange, it should be Sue you’re worried about, she’s the one who shouldn’t be flying”
“It’s you Pap.”
Mouth twists into smile, eyes are sad. I feel it.
“I’ll be there, even when I’m no longer on this earth, if there is a way, I’ll be near you, trust me”
Others gather, block the discussion. Ridiculous depressing and unecessary talk. Block.
But I know. And when he leaves, I can see it in his eyes. He knows.
Tears after he leaves.
One month later the answering machine has a message. Call the hospital in South Africa. Your father is okay, but he was admitted last night. He is better now, just resting and they’ll release him soon. Do not worry. Message came in about 20 minutes ago.
I ring, and I know. I can feel it. Three people and 15 minutes delay. Sue on the phone crying. I already know. I felt it. “He was fine, he was fine. They said we could go back to the hotel. He got up from his bed and just collapsed. He’s gone, they only just told me, he’s gone”
Aneuryism. Unexpected, unpredictable, just one of those things.
Not unexpected to me. I felt it before he left.
And to all those who blocked our last conversation, to all those who think that people should not have the freedom to speak about their feelings, no matter how irrational they may seem to be – perhaps you ought to think twice.
Ten days later we held his funeral. His body brought back from South Africa.
Two services. Long drawn out.
I was a “chip off the old block” those 10 days.
Tough. Calm. Organized.
On the way to the funeral I stopped to buy some miniature roses. To put on the coffin on behalf of my two babies.No one knew.
Many of my friends turned up. That was unexpected.
I returned home alone. Picked up my babies.
The dog, happy to see me, at the back door.
Small yard, just grass and a few bushes.
And an enormous rose bush, with miniature roses.
I did not have a rose bush in my backyard that morning.
It was not newly planted. Grass around the base, weeds, leaves..as though it had started it’s life as a seed in that ground.
I did not have a rose bush in my backyard that morning.
I could feel it. Therefore I knew it.