Of Love and Death – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 2

book 1

Like any new parent I didn’t sleep more than a few hours in the following months and years. Sila learned to crawl and babble and use a spoon. Then small sentences and walking. Then the art of destruction, scrawling on walls and spilling juices on anything and everything. And all the while her Daddy watched over her with proud caring that only the most loving parents can understand. Life hung by the love I shared with Sila. All the solitude was banished by her little heart. All the doubt in my worth that whispered to me each day was sung over by her laughter. All the pain of Ola’s death was soothed by Sila’s love. It was she who saved me.

Other parents would stop and admire Sila in her buggy on the street. She was pretty and happy and she made everyone that saw her smile. And as she grew she became wild but mannerly. I worked from home and spent every minute of the day with her. Eating together was especially enjoyable, watching her learn by the day, improving and playing and, as always, laughing. Each day was a precious blessing that I counted with a vast gratitude until day by week by month I became happy with my life. I missed Ola with a deafening need but Sila was such an abundant source of love that I was again able to laugh.

For years each night when I sat alone before bed I would feel the strained pull of longing sink into me and attempt to cleave me in two. But every time, without fail, being Sila’s father would bring me back to myself and I would see my pain for what it was. I would know and feel in myself the highest truth; Ola was gone and it was up to me to ensure Sila’s future. I treasured every memory I had of my wife and even committed many of them to paper for Sila to read when got older. It was so tempting to wallow in the past but with the strength of fatherhood in me I was able to pull back each time. I never stopped loving Ola but I began to accept that she was gone forever.

The first day of preschool came in a flash. She looked too grown up, like a little lady with her hair tied up and her little bag over her shoulders. She didn’t look back when I dropped her off and it cut me so deep, even though I knew it was a good sign. As she ran into the school I watched with pride, her little feet bouncing as she skipped. But when I turned and walked back to my car something in me burst and a flood of warm angst poured out. Ola had missed that important moment, like so many others, and then and there the guilt of being the one to get to enjoy seeing our little girl grow up gushed from me. I still would have traded places with Ola in a heartbeat if I could have. I still wanted Sila to have her mother. I still loved my wife so much and yet, I had become used to being alone. And that too made me feel more and more guilt. I sat there, alone in my car outside the school, sobbing out my heart. I felt sick, torn and wrong in so many ways. And then a tap came on my window.

“Are you ok? I’ve been knocking for the last five minutes.”

I coughed like a baby and glanced to my side to see a pair of hands resting on my car door next to the wing mirror. It took me a moment but I composed myself then rolled down the window and looked up into a pair of eyes that were filled with caring.

“Pardon me?”

“I said are you ok?”

“Who? Me?”

“Ha! Yes, You, mister. I’m Winifred, but you can call me Winnie. Are you sure you’re ok? You don’t look ok.”

“What? Sorry… I’ll be fine I’m just… something.”

“Ok. I’m buying you a coffee. You’re in no fit state to drive. What’s your name, Mister?”

“What? Ok. I’m ok.”

“Right. Hop out and follow me.”

That was how I met Winnie. It was just in her nature to be kind. In her early forties she was a couple of years older than I was and she worked as the principle of the school next to the preschool that Sila attended. I hadn’t made a new friend in years but it was easy to talk to Winnie. She was just one of those people. We drank coffee in the teachers’ lounge as each of the teachers who had been drinking tea and coffee filed out in one and twos to teach their classes. And when we were alone she leaned in and put her hand on my forearm and so gently asked, “What is it that had you so upset? Do you want to talk about it?”

“I don’t. But I probably should.”

“Ok, Mister. Where do we start?”

“Oh Jesus, we’re gonna be here hours. I was married, you see. My little girl started next door today. I was upset because I wanted my wife to get to see Sila skip off the school on her first day. Then I got thinking about all the other important moments that Ola’s missed and will miss. And how Sila is missing out on having her mother in her life. It’s a lot to bear. I get by ok but sometimes it just comes crashing down on top of me.”

“She must have been an amazing woman.”

“She was, Winnie. Really. A true light in a world of confusion. I miss her. And I miss her for Sila.”

“Sila is lucky to have you. I never knew my parents and I can tell you that I always wondered. I still do. That you care so much is just beautiful.”

“I don’t know. I can’t do enough, you see. I can’t replace Ola.”

“No. But you never could and what you give, the love you have for Sila and for Ola will show your little girl how special she is and how special her mother was.”

“They’ll never get to meet each other.”

“I know.”

“It’s not fair on Sila.”

“Or you, or Ola.”

“I know and I can’t do anything about it.”

“I know.”

She squeezed my arm and we were silent then for a long time. Winnie didn’t move but sat with me in silence. I didn’t look up but I could feel her watching me, watching over me even, as if she knew my pain. Then a bell rang and some teachers returned after their classes to make coffee and smoke cigarettes. Still my new friend didn’t move. We ignored the world together in a sweet solace until the lounge emptied again and I gathered myself. I thanked Winnie and she walked me to back my car without saying anything. As I drove away I looked in the mirror and saw Winnie standing there watching me leave. She didn’t move. She just stood there and watched until I was out of sight. It was odd, but I felt a sense of comfort in that gentle moment.

The guilt had been eased and I felt again the pride that I had felt when Sila skip into school, only it was not followed by sorrow and self-pity. That rest of that day is a blur. I worked and collected Sila and she told me about her first day over and over again. But when I put her to bed I sat down alone with my thoughts and my mind wandered. At that point I hadn’t taken out the boxes of photos from when Ola was still alive in over a year. I had forced myself to pack away all of the keepsakes we had collected together. I packed her clothes in cases in the attic, afraid to discard them or donate them, thinking in part that Sila might one day want them. And in part not wanting to let go of them because they reminded me so much of her; a tangible link to when Ola so still alive. I had packed it all away, everything that been our life together. But that night I took out the box marked “Photos” and poured myself a glass of whiskey.

I liked the burning sensation in my throat and thought it fitting at the time as I rubbed a film of dust off the lid with my palm and centred the box on the table in front of me. I couldn’t remember the moment that I put it away or what exactly I had put there, so there was a sense of curiosity as well as trepidation. I took another slug from my glass and lifted the lid, then grabbed a handful of pictures and leaned back in my armchair. Some were awful. Ola never photographed well, a sure sign of beauty. Some were goofy, posed with stupid faces and costumes. But all of them, one after the other, were different. Perhaps time having changed had hardened me. Perhaps I had become less caring, God knows some days I was filled with anger. But I wasn’t as torn by the images anymore. I remember consciously feeling as if by not being as upset anymore I was betraying the most beautiful person I ever knew, but my heart told me that it was ok, that I couldn’t live the rest of my life angry, that I had to be healthy for Sila and for my myself. I pulled out a photo of Ola and me and a friend of ours wearing fake moustaches and for the first time since Ola had died I laughed from the deepest part of my soul. Some the pictures reminded me of times when we would lock out the world and pretend that we were the last people two alive on earth. They were such stupid and fun days.

The whiskey smoothened and the memories came with ease. By the time I was halfway down the bottle the box was empty so I tidied up myself and the photos and keepsakes and went to bed a different man. I never thought of Winnie that night but looking back now I know that it was her kindness that enabled me to at last to break through the anguish that I had let haunt me all those years. It was a tender peace, not volatile or hollow, but soft. I knew in myself that I had mourned the woman I had loved. I had lived a life of enormous joy while she was with me and she had given me a gift more powerful and important than anything I could have ever imagined. From then on my suffering walked alone. I carried the greatest of memoires in my private self, but I was no longer holding myself prisoner.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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