Wednesday, 24 February 2021

A Child in a Yellow Blanket Gripped by a Nun. Snapshot in Time.

I went to Temple Hill Catholic Adoption Home to visit my baby every day for the week after he was born.  We left the hospital separately. It was 1979 and I was not married and babies were adopted from that place. If I did not let the adoption go ahead I would become an unmarried mother.

There were two long bus trips across the city to reach the place. The bus fare had to be carefully budgeted for. I remember, I will always remember until my last day, the nuns there.  One of the indelible memories. The pale closed faces of them, as though they rarely saw daylight, when they brought my baby out to be viewed, tightly wrapped in the yellow blanket I had bought for him. The brief time they allowed me hold him, the detached tone they used in refusing to let me feed him, one time I asked. I will always remember that. At that time I was detached from myself. I see that now. The intense, one-on-one and no other, bond forming between my baby and me in the hospital, the tearing apart when I handed him over to them,  headed back to the suburb where I had found work as a nanny, all that intensity had deserted me.  I had handed him over and gone back to the only refuge I had,  raw with loss.   I had only a flickering hope that there would be help for me there to keep him. By the time I got back there everything, what had to be done, seemed immense. To prepare a place of him, to stand my ground, to recover in my body from the birth. Immense.  I was, simply, burned out. 


I used to be thinking, on those bus journeys, that I ought to be feeling something. Recalling over and over  the day when I had left the hospital, had handed him over, the agony and the wrongness of it. The crying jag that had lasted into the evening when I got back, a neighbour handing me one of her valium in the end, so that I crashed.  I had fallen through the floor of loss and it had emptied me.  I was numb.


I told myself then that, no matter what, no matter my numbness, no matter the nun's contempt when I had said I was keeping him, no matter the shame at having nothing for him, no matter the illegitimacy of keeping him, no matter, no matter, I would bring him home. This time would pass, this emptiness would fill, and he would be home with me.

                                                                                11

Everything about being pregnant in Ireland in 1978, for me at least, from the time I was sure that I was, was about managing it for myself. To prevent everything being taken from me (was how it felt). The loss of autonomy, of self control. I wanted to do the best thing, whatever that was, for the baby. I wanted to do the right thing for myself. I did not want to be interfered with. I did not want to be controlled. That prospect was a horror to me.

I was a little adrift back then. I had left school, passed the Leaving Cert more or less, with no sense of what could come next.  Also, and increasingly, I was having panic attacks, some very grey days too. It wasn't like there was a name for those days, back then. Though people had them just the same, and doctors knew about them.  But you had no words then for anxiety, depression. You were given none. I remember going to a doctor at that time, on my own (there was no-one you could tell or take) and being asked casually whether I had been studying too hard. That was all he asked. He gave me a prescription which I was too terrified to take. He gave me no understanding about what was happening to me. No answers to what I needed to know. I mean, whether I was mad or not, whether I was broken as I feared. Or whether he knew the answer to that. Or if you could become addicted to the Ativan he gave me. If you could get even more lost in the hell you were in. He gave me nothing. 

Life went on. Anxiety didn't, entirely, define it. I read my books, went drinking with my friends, helped out at home with the younger children, got a job as a kitchen porter. I went, uncertainly, to random interviews. And, as it turned out, got pregnant. 

Missed periods were the only way of knowing, at that time. And so I didn't know for sure until I was three months on and a doctor confirmed it to me. He asked me, casually enough, if I felt it moving yet. I assured him that I did not. Horrified at the reality of it, confirmed at last, unable to imagine a child's presence in me. There were no scan pictures then, no peeking ahead for the sex. 

The doctor seem to be oblivious to my situation. 

I was not oblivious. To any aspect of it. A girl, I was 19 years old, did not have anything in those days, not in my world. A job until you married. Or after you married, maybe, if you had a professional job. A job that paid you properly, that was. A job worth having. Otherwise, and far more likely,  you had a little job, a part time job to keep you going. Your best ambition was to get out of home, achieve a little independence for yourself. A slice of life if you were able. To live in a city, Dublin maybe, where you could breathe. To support a child on your own was not an option in that world. House sharing with other girls, breaking even, was all you expected until maybe you married. 

And then there was your shame, your sense of aberrancy, working away at you on the subliminal level, judging. You did not need your parents, the priest, to judge you. You judged yourself. 

And yet, it seemed the very job of having to manage this gave me a sense of purpose. I got a job as a childminder in Dublin, (getting myself to Dublin after all). I found the phone number of the Catholic Adoption Society in the Dublin phone phone book at the post Office, arranged an appointment ahead of time,  packed my bags and left.  Told my sisters before I left. We made a pact of silence outside the sister circle, they gave me what support they could mange within. It was the best that we, all of us, could do.


In the ensuing months of pregnancy life was good. As it turned out. The couple I worked for would not let me stay alone in my room in the evening, when I attempted it, insisting that I live with them as part of their family. They were engaging, kind, and in time started to feel like my tribe. At the six month mark, when I told them about the pregnancy, there was no change in their attitude towards me. That I could detect. Other women I had gotten to know there all expressed a kindly sort of interest, a benevolent kind of curiosity.


It, the baby, would be adopted I told them, told myself, with confidence. I had this. I was in charge of it. There was still some panic, still the grey days, but less than I had experienced before. As though the competence I felt in me about managing this, diminished the other, unnameable, afflicting fears that had dogged my days back home. 

The day came for my meeting with the Catholic Adoption Society. A tense bus trip into town,  to the massive Georgian building where they were, the solitary wait to be called into a room there, the two nuns facing me over a heavy oak table, had the air of a summonsing. Even though, I reminded myself, I had made the appointment. They pulled out forms from a drawer, asked questions, ticked off boxes, about myself, my family circumstances,  our financial and social position back home. It was very smooth, very professional, and they were asking the questions.  I was answering obediently enough until I hesitated at the box stipulating that the adoptive parents should be Catholic. They were incredulous. Insisting that I would say yes, that I could only allow adoption to a catholic couple. 

The tone of incredulity, the message in it, hardened my will to assert myself in this. I had thought about it before I came there. I had bought into the narrative that the decent, moral thing to do was to allow an adoption, but also that this was my choice, and that the best people would not necessarily be Catholic. The child did not have to raised as a Catholic at all. His life need not be controlled in that way, prescribed as mine had been.  As catholics required.  I suppose I thought that life should be different fo him or her, the child.  Life should be broader, more expansive. I felt this on an instinctive level. His life would be better. He would not be hobbled by the elements shadowing mine. Otherwise what was the point?

I stuck to my guns on that at least. Of course I have no idea whether they respected my choice, whether they ticked that box. They moved on to the next question smoothly enough. They assured me at the end that I was doing the right thing. I remember feeling very small on the way home. 

I mostly felt that the child in me, it's welfare, was paramount and that my aberrancy, carelessness was atoned in putting the baby first, I can see in retrospect that that view of things was detached, logical, and apart from the growing reality of the child. I can see that it could have been described as a sort of conforming acquiescence dressed up as logic.  Expiation for my sins, at work. A loving sense of the child, my son as it turned out, formed in my mind and my heart as the months passed. He grew, started moving independently, made his presence felt. It became an interaction, a dance with two. 

At six months I sat before a Community Welfare Officer after a long wait in a longer queue, wanting to get in and out again, as soon as he would release me. (at that point I was applying for welfare payments as my agreed employment period had passed and, while I continued on with the family much as before, we had agreed I would do this) He asked me all the questions I expected. And then he asked me why I was giving up my child.

Just that, and the whole edifice of my plan, the projected adoption, became makeshift, a house of cards and a possibility only. I answered quite as directly that I couldn't afford to keep a child. I did not realise until I said it that it was that simple. I could not afford to keep him. The Welfare Officer wouldn't have it, went on to describe the kind of social welfare supports available now, the allowances and rent subsistence I could look for.  It would be hard, he told me, but it could be done. You did not have to give your baby up. You had a choice.

I mulled it over, agonised, played with this idea of having a choice for the rest of the pregnancy. Should I? Could I? Would they let me? And that was the head stuff. In the heart a web of connections grew between the child and myself. I suppose a problem with this see sawing was that I wasn't able to do any actual planning, preparing for a child I would bring home with me. Other than the adoption planning I mean. I couldn't sit with the decision to keep him with me.  I did not feel empowered sufficiently, entitled. I did not feel capable. 

It only needed the birth, all 24 hours of it, the emergence of the baby into the world, his firm little body, his head of long dark hair, the vision of him tucked in one arm as I had a cup of tea afterward...yes it took that, to confirm what I already felt. I would not, should not, could not, give him up.

The Dublin neighbours rallied around.  Someone had heard of a woman wanting to let a room in her house, there were baby clothes, all the baby stuff, aplenty on that estate and they gathered it up for me. I would have a place to live for now. A way of taking care of a child. 

The Community Welfare Officer was right, it was hard. Very hard. A series of dark unheated flats, in one case mice infested ( I was grateful to find it),  the bleak queuing for welfare payments, isolation, and an ever present threat of homelessness. Ever present money worries. The worsening of my panic attacks, my grey days shading to black. But then, one red letter day, I stumbled on a book called Self Help for your Nerves. A book of revelations about what ailed me. I began a slow trip back from fear to wellness. The relief of what the writer, Claire Weekes, had to say in that book! A ripple expanding to heal, to transform my ocean of torment and ignorance. And the child thrived. He inspired and motivated me to battle and batter my way into University, a Profession afterward. I was determined to find legitimacy in the world for him, and for myself. As I recovered and thrived people were prepared to give me ground. There were always the helpful ones to extend a hand (there were always the others).

The tide was on the turn in time for Unmarried Mothers. The status of illegitimacy was abolished as a legal status in 1983. I joined a group called Cherish at that time. We were activists, making the personal political. Illegitimacy as a legal status was to be abolished, maintenance payments from fathers enforced in law for the first time. I vividly recall the long and impassioned arguments at meetings about that, the fear that these changes might mean that a man could claim access, custody even, could take control. Particularly if they had to pay. Because they had to pay. No one wanted that. The experience of patriarchal control had been too powerful, too damaging for most of us. The battle for agency, to keep your child, to live as you choose, too hard fought for.  Our view of men forever coloured by their behaviour up to that time. Many of us had experienced a blank wall of rejection and denial when the fathers (who would not be fathers) were told about our pregnancies. Accounts abounded about this, about men bringing their mates to court in maintenance applications to say they'd all slept with you. Yes.

DNA testing put paid to that kind of denial a few years later.

My son is a father himself these days. He is successful in the world, a very good father, a good person and what more can any of us hope for in our children. I know that that might have been the story anyway, if he had been adopted. But that was the story when I kept him. And I never doubted the decision. In time our bond was restored and the damage of that final interview with the nun, after he was born, healed. The  memory of it never leaves me. 


                                                                               111


She is ensconced in another tall ceilinged room, barricaded behind another oak table in a room in the hospital, when I am again summonsed on that last morning. Not smiling now. No-one is smiling now. I walk in stiffly, injured form the birth. 

(In those days there were humiliating enemas beforehand, administered when you went in, along with rough shaving, so that your first hours in the delivery rooms were spent dashing to and from the toilets in your dressing gown, your stomach cramping alternatively from birth contractions and bowel contortions.  I am there still,  crying in humiliation, rinsing my dressing gown out at the sink when I don't quite make the toilet bowl as another mother bangs on the door. At the other end of the delivery, vaginal cutting was the order of the day. There were many stitches following your average birth. In between, your  crying, howling, or any other eruptions of pain were firmly hushed, were not encouraged, as part of your birth experience.  Your plan made not for you)

The thing I say to her, straight away and as I walk in, is that I am keeping the child. I know that this, that she, is the rock I'll likely perish on. I have to come in strong and certain. At first she doesn't seem to hear me, does not respond. She does not look at me. There are more forms, her pen busy ticking, underlining. "And how could you mange that!" she says at last, still looking down.                                                                    I I tell her how I could manage that, stumbling over my words, delivered to her bent head. She looks at me finally, tells me how inadequate, how lacking my child's life will be, how selfish my choice. I am afraid that that is true but I hang in there anyway,                                                                                             "You'll surely put the child first.  It's all arranged. We have very good people for him" she says.                                        "You can surely see it's the right thing to do".                                                                                                                                            And I can see the good people,  decent, married, comfortably off,  people who deserve a child, unlike myself. I decide to keep it simple, accepting that there is no way I'm going to feel good or valid about this.             "I'm keeping my baby' I say to all her objections and persuasions after that. She asks me where I am going to take him, what I have to offer him. I tell her that I am going back to get a place sorted, that there are some people who will help me. She stares at that. 

She says that they, the nuns, will take him till I've managed that.                                                                                 "A week, at most, I say.                                                                                                                                       "Oh, we will see," she says.                                                                                                                                         It's all in the tone, what she thinks of me. It seems to me, as I walk out of that room, that her will, her righteousness, will previal no matter what I try to put in place now. But I have her measure and the measure of my own vulnerability, my weakness,  in this, and somehow I will do it. I will keep him. I will not give him up.

I go back to my Dublin refuge, and he to their holding centre. I start the work of bringing him home.    




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Saturday, 24 October 2020

Shroud Waving Days.


                                                                  Look away look away

People talk about death these days as though it was a threat, a promise, a consequence of, a punishment for. A badly made bargain. Better house arrest than a coffin, better absolute isolation than turn, turn again  helpless, on an ICU bed.                                                                                                                          Better beggary, lining up for hand outs allowed to you, than ending.                                                             Better breathing back your own food smells, subverting breath's need to exhale through your sweaty, your  slipping down mask, hours into your masked working everyday,                                                               Better that... than chancing infection.                                                                                                         Better not looking in somebody's face, than suffer the small dislocation, the instant impression  of facelessness?  Subliminal strangeness.                                                                                                    Better not stare at the jaws outlined by the face cloth, all massive, receding,  unsmiling bone, than slip a notch more on the rope from all that was decent and normal.


                                                               Close down your poor ears 

Better not hear the dissenters, deniers, contrarians, they being, all being, far rightists, covidiots, something like that.                                                                                                                                                    Better not hear; for a thing once heard is hard to un-hear as you're walking the line. When you're marching in tandem, line dancing,  warmed at the hearth of inclusion. Better not hear  (I can't hear you) else a coffin awaits you.  

                                                  and no need to think about Science is Science...

Better not think: or aspire to know better than Nephet, or doctors or science, least people will die.  You will make people die.                                                                                                                               Better not read, or consider,  the terrible story being told,                                                                        Better not question...what's told to you... eyes straying over the contrary articles, videos, doctors dissenting the light of hysteria, resolve in their eyes. Factually fake stuff awaiting to trap the unwary, seduce the too careless down paths of heretical,  just isn't possible, alternate facts... that way waits a shroud.


                                                          oh why would you speak!

Better not speak: give a voice to a doubt,  a stray thought, a discrepancy,  ah would you upset and  perplex  the dear people, your family, the  neighbours, all stumbling though Measures, down shop isles, strung out along paths, county roads as they mumble through masks, use their words, about pulling together, and when will it end...                                                                                                                                                          Better far better admire all the face masks, the blue ones,  the flowers masks, pretty masks, black masks, the ones in the gutter, the ones cradling chins, slipping down below noses, impeding the eye-line. 

Don't speak! least you send a dear heart to the coffin, you murder the vulnerable, hasten the end of all things. 

                                                        most secret and shameful pleasures

Better not see though you saw, oh you did, the young, partying just down the road, the neighbours, out laughing in groups on the green, the call of the seagulls, the screams of delight from your kids on the beech back in August, your women friends chilling and laughing together in somebody's garden last week, how the coppery leaves fly out spinning in front you walking these days in the fields,  those times thinking nothing, of covid, or dying, or measures,  that dream of your throat stretched open and screaming, your breath given back to the universe, hands holding hands in a circle of randomers, lit by the moon. 


                                                       Better not better not better not better.... 

hear daily the death rates, infection rates,  something called R rates,... You will see you will hear you will speak. You will play your part and you will do your bit, you will ...come together in this marvellous collaborative WILL to eradicate Virus.  Infection,  disease.  And all death. 



Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Staycation. Kiss a human. Bury a Friend.

So I and some other exhausted members of the extended Fam did a Flight Into the West before Kildare County locked down (though not entirely). For a staycation (native hol) in August. I, having taken three days in Cork in July with Beauty and the Boy, was having a second staycation ( holiday at home) to be truthful. Three nights in Galway, Spiddal, was bought and paid for, to top us up to a week away from Our House.  Our cave and our prison, where we'd all spent more time than we'd ever foreseen or asked for.  Five strange months. Co-exisiting.  Sheltering in Place.  Within walls we'd left behind a year before.


I mean, hey, it wasn't so bad? Not for us.  We were adults all.  We knew how to ignore each other when it was required, come together when it was needed.  It was, I mean,  bonding? Over Netflix, online yoga, knitting (ah yes), messing about in the back garden.  Books. Coffee brewing, and shooting the breeze about the crazy pandemic tornado, howling past Our House, swirling around our boundary line. Out there, at bay. But still, and anyway, time and living in this manner takes its toll  We were getting a little reluctant to leave the house at all, in the end.  In a way. We were obsessing, overthinking things we had to learn to leave alone...

...will I die, will I soon, intubated and drugged, will I scream, inside will I scream? will I....have only strangers masked strangers, masked strangers are turning me turning me turning me... and I'm done? will my mother, my father, my children call out for me, dying, call out for us ...stop! all that fuss, all that hope coming in, coming here, now masked strangers who don't know or forget we must pass with our people....and can I or do I exist now? beginning or ending, if no-one contain me...infection I am..

We must behave like everyone we met including ourselves are infected. I am infection. 

 

We were looking at the world from a position of retreat, peering out at a place at the end of a lengthening tunnel....had to get out!


And how my lungs expanded as miles flew,  fields streamed past the car on the motorway. Speeding. Probably.  A little. Being anywhere, away, was exhilarating, kickstarting, strange, scary-strange. Scary? Well, the gutted towns we slowed for, shop fronts boarded up on high streets in towns. in a city, gaping absences on main streets like missing teeth, exposed, down an out, were disturbing.   Edgy waiters washing down your seat your table,  before you crossed the threshold, dis-infecting your seat your table after you had eaten, was that, scary. Chilling even. The sense of dystopia was there and everywhere.   Like you're getting back to normal, not. Never.  You're on the road to nowhere, or somewhere not mapped (maybe in horror movies?).

But, you know,  the Family was there. Those dear familiars, to meet for meals out, to walk the beech with, and wander through the streets. To drink with, and debrief. Despite that invisible fence hampering essential connection. You know the one. You've learning  not to cross it.  A scared new world. Where you can't have a drink, in a dark warm pub with your people, a mate.  (you can't)  Just drink together and talk, and your talk getting wilder as pints flow, til you're in the zone? If you're Irish, if you're human.

Well I knew where the invisible fence was, and didn't expect to leap the perimeter in  Galway. But walking through a properly cavelike lounge, as we checked into the hotel, I realise it is not empty, as all pub lounges have become. There is the brother in law, gazing philosophically at the far wall, nursing a pint. At 4pm in the day! Hurrah! Turned out there was a way of having one, or a few.  If you were eating, like later, or staying, or something like that. "Come join me" he called like the Host of Drinking, only waiting for us to arrive.

So we joined him and once I got over my fear of the barman snatching the second pint from my hand, or the third, had the most fun I'd had in I mean, five months? A seriously laughing dissection of everything, happening or stalled.  Interrupted, finally,  by dinner when we absolutely had to shift ourselves into the restaurant. How I used to take this,  connecting, for granted. How it is judged by the non-partakers, naysayers,  as valueless, dispensable, not allowed, in these long dark days of panicked pandemic. 

That, my dear readers, was an an actual session?  And then there were communal meals, cooked and served up to you in actual restaurants, while all you had to do was eat, talk and smile (like a good thing).  Compulsivly. Your grown children arranged at the table behind you,  distanced, their chairs shifting closer and closer to the adults to join in the talk. 

My sister,  her daughter and my daughter, eat with me the night before we leave.  Just us, at our socially distanced table, marooned near a window, well served by a not busy waiter. We are all still giddy/happy to be able to do it,  to be in.  All animation, forthcoming and confessional, that night. My sister and I talk of secrets,  family things, happenings, only ever taken for an airing in closed door spaces.  Spilling beans as the wine flowed, the food came and went. The time when someone's mother, on her tenth birth, did  not recognise the child the nurses brought... or so the mother said said.... "Apparently, the nurse said that that was a thing, you know, if your own mother died when you were expecting" my sister says. But the child who was not recognised felt this deeply,  enduringly, for years and years afterward, when a chatty aunt spilled the beans about it.

...and then there was the Uncle Misplaced, a new born babe given to another mother in a nursing home, whose own mother took the stranger baby to her breast, took it home. A fact the lost child never forgave when the mistake was uncovered, the babies replaced. 

....my own memory that may not be a memory, (the chatty aunt again) of hanging upside down from my pram by my pram-straps for an eternity, as I screamed and choked, no one coming, in a field.  Mother having left me in my father's care, the pram parked in a corner of the field he was ploughing, his eye trained on the churning earth. His mind fixed on... ploughing. Evidently. "I didn't remember this, til I was told about..I mean. Then I did?".  I explain. And, (explained)  that I figured it may have given me an interesting and permanently upside down view of life...at the best view of things...

Our daughters listen carefully, silent for a change. As though they are imputing information, receiving key instructions concerning  themselves, for their journey.  And they are, and so it goes.  We pass it on, we rid ourselves of memories that laced, curled about and floored their conception, their making.  One day maybe, they will pass on such stuff to their daughters, to shadow, or illuminate the way. Of course, they will, in telling, medicalise, catgorise  each perfect story, as people do now.  Instead of leaving it perfect, released in it's telling. Illuminating all around it happening in that time.

We left there replete, unequivocally happy and hugging like Americans at the door, tipsy and sure that we'd covered all bases. Like, we said, who knew when we'd do this again? Precarious good times!  Giving urgency, heat,  to the good food we eat, to everything said.  A glorious airing of things needing presence, close contact, the smile in the eyes and the head cocked for listening.  The energy linking, co-mingling your body my body, the only way ever we humans connect.  

                            .........................................................................................................


Visit my site annacoganwriting.com to access my latest book. 



Friday, 31 July 2020

Who sees The Crow. A Suicide.

                                                 

                                                       seeing though a glass darkly

                                                                                                                                                                 A messenger call from the Angel Girl. I remember at the time I was easing off my shoes, the kettle singing in the quiet of my room. The soft whirring ring persisted as I sat thinking about where my bag, the phone was, exactly?  Stupified, I guess after a day in the sun, in the city with her.  A bit reluctant to bestir myself although I did.  "Mum?... Mother? (heightened) and she was straight into it, some unlikely story about a crow attack?

"Yeah, I was like minding my own business? waiting, on my bike, when he, when something hit me hard, on the back of my head... so...so, it was a crow? a big black crow, and he hit me, hard?"

"Oh...um, a... a bird?"

"yeah yeah, a Crow!  I saw him flying back unto the sign above the bins, after.  Sitting there,  staring at me."

"oh...well isn't that kinda strange and..."

"It hurt! It really, really hurt.  He meant it to hurt?  Like I don't mean that he...I mean he probably has a nest or something in the bins, and babies that he has to, he has to,  you know, feed? protect?  He has...he has to... to guard the food. And I was, I was standing in his...like his food source, so he had to..."

"Oh.  Well... anyways (the Angel Girl puts all her felt experiences through a sort of conscientious, analytical wringer of logic and gives you the politically correct fully analysed version on sharing ) are you,  you know, all right?

"I mean he hit me hard.? My head's... still...  So what should I do."

"Oh well, right, (Angel's fears of damage/danger are an undercurrent to her cognitive analysis in these kind of situations. She wants to understand, she wants you to understand, she wants to cry her a river of tears.  But she will not)

"I mean, you know, why not have a little lie down... to get over the...I mean shock, sounds shocking (I know so little about crow attacks really, but it does sound that. And I try) Shocking!"

"Oh well, It's not actually the crow's fault?  if he, I mean, had to protect his territory?  I mean Crow Attacks are becoming common,  I've been looking it up.  (Sternly) ( Had I been, in sympathising, in fact judging the crow?)

"Well, yeah, but still and all we can't have crows going around attacking..."

"Reports of Crows Attacks are increasing, online? Look it up! Cos birds are I mean, they are driven out of their habitats. By humans? Left with no option but to defend, like, their food sources?"

"Right. Good to know know (mea culpa) So hey, kettle's boiled here and I want to make some...I mean make some..."

"So what about my head! Infection! from it's you know, claws?"

"Oh well (robustly) my darling, I daresay you can hold your own against bird germs?  Sure we'd all be dead long ago if it was that easy for...birds. Sure they'd all be at it. (I think the sun had worked on me like cannabis resin here)

A wave of exhaustion then.  I assure her glibly that birds are harmless entirely,  to apply a damp cloth to the affected area, update me tomorrow.
(I heard the underlying note, the pain,  the panic without words,  but I'd kinda run out of road on this one,  to be truthful)

                                                  in fact I'm actually bleeding...

Next evening she comes and sweeping back the hair, shows me her wound.  A bloody cut where Mr Crow has scraped her skull.

 "But...you didn't say he had cut you?" I protest, feeling that I had less than kind.

 "But I didn't know! only felt it. There was no one to look at it, then." she wails "Is it bad!"

Her friends had had a look while drinking in the park I discover  (sprawled under the kindly sheltering trees, toasted by the sun, knocking back cheap wine from Albert Heijn). They had located the wound.  It was in fact a super cool story necking wine, laughing at your war wounds. Anaesthetised to any consequences.

We look at ways of cleaning the cut, discuss infection. I notice her pallor,  her forehead clammy.  She wants to talk, to process.   She describes the blow's force when the crow swooped, behind, how she didn't see it coming, how she was unaware of what it was.  I listen. I see that I haven't understood this properly, if at all. Somewhere between her hurt and her indomitable logic, and my shrinking from her inconvenient need, I failed her here.  Failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. I am more culpable really than the Crow.

                                                     Facebook death notification

Unsettling days, that one and the one that followed. I learn that a very good friend has died by suicide some months before. I learn of this on the day after the crow attack via a FB notification that it is his birthday! Wish him happy birthday! facebook thrills. His page, still up, contains one message, wishing him a happy birthday in heaven. Right.  Heaven. I knew something was up. He had not contacted me at Christmas as he always would. I message the Facebook poster who messages back to tell me that he has died, a few weeks after we, he and I,  last met in fact.

The realisation then that I knew, some instinct told me, he was gone (which I had dismissed), got me to thinking about our last meeting. Recalling the meal, (last supper), our interaction, looking for clues.  Wondering,  not about what I didn't know but rather what I knew and did not acknowledge,  swerving maybe to avoid.

Thinking long hard on this one, wanting to understand if and how I'd failed him on that night, at least.
Thinking about him...

                                                         oh, I remember you
                                                 

He was a good friend, same age. He fought the good fight and was functional in the world, at some cost to himself (I see) ( No, I always knew that)

                                                 you started here, you ended over here

He worked, had worked from when he was 16 years old. His father showed him how to sell things and that's what he did. He sold, bibles at first, really well.  He progressed to Life Insurance.  On the road, touching base with people, persuading, advancing, serving people.  Good at it. So good he got promotions, more and more of it, hours and hours of it.  And then he stopped.  He had to stop.  He  had the health insurance, a pension fund to stop, you might say.  He started a new self help group which  seemed to work, people were sent to him,  OCD sufferers, people tormented with panic.  He began a Masters as a therapist. He hadn't finished that. It was his first experience of third level education. He took it on, puzzling over assignment referencing, memory sticks, continual and unrelenting assessments.

He had distracting demons. He had to travel miles to and from the college, negotiate with college tutors, explain his methods, persist in his self belief.  Sometimes his demons ruled. Mostly he wrestled with them, carried on.  He never would let go.

                                                            you lived for this

He was gregarious, a drinker, who denied himself that solace when unwell. He was a talker,  loving pub talk, connection. He lived to connect, to fellow sufferers, to all the people hobbled by OCD, panic,  to his many and varied friends and acquaintances, to me.   He was passionate, a passionate man.  He lived for his GAA, the matches, the players, the dissections afterwards. And Leonard Cohen. He came with me to see Leonard in Dublin, and to Lisadell where he sang the songs all through that magical night, while ferrying drinks for us, chatting with randomers,  surrendering happily to every good thing.  He came to Seville with me one fine summer, happy as any child with the city, the people, our dinners in the warm evenings, walks in the shadow of the Alhambra, sucking on an ice-pop in the heat of the afternoon.  The warmest, sweetest of companions.

                                                       you suffered, died, for this...

He suffered, always, all his life. In his forties, when I met him, he was a slight, open faced man walking crookedly, from backache. Meetings with him involved an exhaustive search for suitable seating. I, never having suffered that, indulged him (I felt)

In time he told me why he spend so long in toilets.  Washing his hands over and over. Never having suffered that, I listened patiently (I felt)  He went to therapists, messeuses, doctors seeking alleviation, with energy, purpose.  And this is true, he never ever allowed his torments ruin a good night out. Nor did I (allow his torments ruin a...).   He lived, like a marathon runner, keeping on keeping on, pushing through the burn, until one day he was fished out, extracted, from the ocean. A bottle of whiskey in him, having, as he told me later, made up his mind.

He went patiently,  afterward, back to the drawing board.  Starting an actually effective OCD group, applying for his course, and always and ever seeking love, a woman, a life.  His lifelong quest. The road he travelled (never to arrive). I was not she, although it would have suited him and me if I had been. I was his friend and there were times when I relied on him and he on me.

Before our last supper, he had fallen again into a black hole of depression. He didn't see me for a year or so...and that last night, he told me about it.  He had crawled back doggedly from the brink, was planning things again, deciding to stop the meds, to resume his course.  Because, he told me, he was better, yes, he was, and did not want to heed the warnings to hold up, wait up.  All the cautions to take the meds and keep to the shallows in the future, hereinafter.  And I, I told him what he wanted me to, agreed with what he said he wanted to do. Understanding, I thought, his need to live his life, if life was to be worth living.

We eat and drank, talked, listened, happy for that night at least. I'm sure of it.

He was not his suffering?


                                               wanting to live wanting to die

But when he didn't call, or sent his inevitable Xmas card, his new year's text, I knew.  I didn't heed my knowing, didn't actively grieve.  Aware, if it were true, I might not actually be told. Not knowing anyone, really, knowing him. I housed an elusive ghost of loss regardless, and on this year, on his birthday, he managed, I think ( maybe) to let me know his ending. At last.

I recalled that last time we met, re-called and again re-called it.  And I see oh yes I see how sad he was, how depleted, how eager to get past it,  to connect, with food and talk, with me,  I was always good for that, for talk and fanciful forward planning.

I wonder if I'd asked him, how he actually felt ( he didn't seem to want to go there though he would have gone anywhere I asked him to...) (but if I'd asked, would he have said?)  He and I so busy, busy, there, sailing into the mystic, having raucous craic, while all the while his poor sad child was sitting numbly on the restaurant seat, awaiting him. I see it now, I see myself unwilling to connect to pain, his sorrow. Least it took me too, maybe. (and what good would I have been to him then?)  It took him, anyway.

                                       so don't be bothering me with all that now (I CAN'T?)

I think about that, about gliding over peoples dreadful sorrow, taking them to other places, they eager for it as you yourself, wanting only to be transported.  I think of a girl attacked by crows, who could not say the words 'I'm wounded', whose wound I could not/would not see. I would not look. There, but for fortune....  Sometimes you will not look at suffering humanity, lest they drag you down there with them, or, blindsided, hobble you, so that you cannot haul them out?  A polite refusal to connect with suffering, drowning, begging humanity, the dreadful inability to connect.

The knowledge is heavy in me, when I find the painting in the Van Gogh Museum, The Cornfield. I stand before it drowning in the vibrant corn, his shimmering blues, the colours pinned and pinched to canvas by the crows. So many of them.  Hovering, poised against the deep blue sky to fall on, to devour, the harvest of a life.

(Note to Angel:I do not mean to blame the crows. Also, what doesn't kill you makes you laugh))   



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Saturday, 20 June 2020

Necessary Journeys . A Haircut. Naked people.


                                                                     Necessity.

Last week I set out out on a Necessary Journey, to Amsterdam. Yes, I was needed, but I will not  lie to you dear readers, I was glad glad glad of the necessity.  The sense of being herded, detained in my own home for weeks on end ( home's your castle) by other parties was doing something to my mind's peace...my maybe soul.  Grinning guards at check points when I had to travel, queues cattle-like at supermarkets, I accepted, with its  consequential cortisol spikes, helplessness...(the curve the curve).  The news, the newsfeeds arguing the toss, disputing fatalities.  The helpless old in nursing homes.  Collective Guilt. Mea culpa mea culpa.

I accepted it, all.

And now the oh so reluctant opening up (dance of the seven veils) complete with doom laden warnings to the restless, squeals of refusal from the people thoroughly spooked and BLOODY WELL NEVER COMING OUT AGAIN, PERIOD!

And science as news, as newsfeed, as irrefutable, with its contradicting, blaming, framing messages:

There will there won't be: second waves, antibodies, cures.
There is there isn't: alleviation in hydroxychloroquine, remdesiver, masks.
Locking down, or kind of not, has it hasn't  saved the people, flattened the curve.
But facial Masks are useful, useless, helpful, pointless to prevent your spreading, but not breathing in, a virus...
droplets, droplets travel many metres, wait to ambush, hoover, hang, athough they don't... they may... they are...dissolved... they are too fine for masks to stop them... not, they're not!
Just wear the masks? Yes, wear them anyway. Ok?

Me, I took positions on this virus, like you do. I got behind the immune system coping, the right to prudent autonomy,  that kind of thing.  Behind questioning everything  spinning from the panicked government, irrefutable scientists, news, the newsfeed.  I wasn't scared, or any more than I am always scared of life's incalculable shifts and endings.

But then, days were weeks and weeks were months of lockdown.  Fear comes to you anyway.  Hysteria, a kind of madness flying out from all the shifting narratives, sticks.  Even as you try to hold your ground, sustain your people. The point comes where you can't sustain this flight from normal, or say the words ( flattening curves, in it together, stay safe stay safe) ( you never said the words). You must resume your everyday, or spiral into some basically unhinged.

                                                              A Haircut.

And so I walked from  Centraal Station into the enlightened city of Amsterdam,  blinking at bodily proximities of 1.5 mts, fumbling for masks for trams, and breathing, breathing mouthfuls of lung expanding air. Walking, walking as you do in cities always, taking in the city vistas,  its canals and buildings visible anew in the absence of the tourists.  Only the locals out and shopping, walking, talking in their native tongue, the strong stretched vowels prevailing in the soft warm air.
I listen, soothed, on my way to have my hair cut on my second day.  I had a sense that I would be renewed, made good again in the sanctum of the salon,  the snip snip of the stylist's  scissiors. Accumulations, dead ends from the lockdown falling from me as the stylist layered and washed and combed my Irish hair.

And so it was. I walked back up from Prinsengracht,  crossing the Kalverstraat to Dam Square so  free and fine and easy, light as air.  I felt my head sit lighter on my shoulders,  cleaner, sane.


                                            You pay your money and you take your chances...

Days pass, and we grow accustomed to the freedoms here, the restrictions too that have become the price of freedoms. Coffee in a cafe, dinners out, apologetic waiters limiting numbers, murmured reminders of social distance as we the Grateful Customers smile assent. The people walk together in the public spaces easily, reminded of the virus by shop assistants, waiters wanting so to have you in.  Observe the rules...oh yes, oh yes, but nonetheless entice you...in.   Come in, come in, oh careful does it; this way, do come in.


                                                                  Nudists,

The angel child and I take the train to Zanvoort aan  Zee, on Friday. The Zee the Zee, I say, it's been forever dearest (corralled in midland locked-down Ireland)  since we've been and seen the sea!
It is divine, is all. The sun shines kindly, warms our pallid Irish skin, the breeze blows back our new cut hair, the sand gives gently to bare feet, we walk the shoreline, talk, the two of us, content. We turn at midday, cross the sand for coffee, walking through the people sun bathing. I pay them little mind.
"So um, why are they all, I mean, ah, naked?"
Huh?
The dear girl's face is creased with distaste at a solitary naked man stretched careless on a towel. Full frontal, to be clear. There are a few of these guys, as well as little groups of men and women comfortably naked, unbothered in their skin. We agree we must be on the nudist stretch, and to get our coffee back the way.  And she, the dear girl, asks me as we hasten ( she more disturbed than I) if I would, I mean myself,  be into that, because she most definitely would not.  I say I think I would (among congenial people). I say I think, after the initial awkwardness I'd be ok with it. She definitely wouldn’t be.  I cannot say I blame her really, observing the ever so slightly predatory solitary man. The fleeting facial smirk, the calculating eye. But ah, the little laughing groups!

I talk about about my naked dreams over coffee. (We’ve done her dreaming on the walk) Dreams of the recurring kind where you are shoeless, barefoot, sometimes naked, in the public space. Where you are OUT, too late to dress, go back, or find your shoes... your clothes.   Self conscious, feeling foolish, solitary, shamed and naked in a public place. We ponder on it, poke at it,  consider exhibitionism, shame, or boundaries, appropriateness, grounded ness. Thefeartheshame. Recurrence, and what it is that I'm (just) not getting here, why doomed to dream the dream over and over.

We shift to Normal People which she is re-reading after the TV show. It turns out to be, basically, related, we decide.  Connell and Marianne and intimacy in bodies, minds, the heart. Baring body baring heart. The desire for it... fear of it. (And still the public discomfort  about...naked need?)

I wonder later if in fact the dream discomfort’s with vulnerability, openness.  Not leaky boundaries, sagging gates, between public and private, as I had loosely guessed.  Not a dream of jeopardy, abandonment of lock downed, closed off, safety ( we hysterically require)   The feartheshame neurosis.  Not that at all.  I wonder if in fact being naked, honest/open with all others is the last frontier?  Connection, laying bare the body/heart. The feartheshame neurosis.   Being able for it, being willing, to try. 

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Where do you go to (my Lovely).

                                                                   Unmoored

 "So, we'll all break for coffee...ah... will we,"  the hostess says self consciously  "...and we'll all I mean go down to our kitchens now, from wherever you are, in your (chuckle) socks, and, you know, make yourself a cup of coffee, or tea even, make tea, and come back...from wherever you are in the house in your...your PJs"  She chortles at her own insouciance, trials off...
And I'm pushing up from the desk in the box room, the play room that was, shelves still holding children's books, splashy children's paintings. I am disorientated in place and time, yanked from aural connection via tele conference, and in need of strong coffee.
'Wherever you are in the house' 'our kitchens??'  Oh.  The words erase my inner visual of colleagues  in a room around a table, besuited, a secretarial station humming just down the hall.  Like I know I'm in my socks in my boxroom, but they were at work where my mind had placed them. Picture perfect, arranged,  never disturbing me with visual cues or body language. My captive audience. Not.  And I'm shocked into body, pins and needles, real.
I need an infusion of coffee. (not tea).

                                                                    Stunned

I offer that palliative to my younger daughter, passing her room, her open door, where she is a pale silent presence hunched over a desk. She looks up and through me, failing to connect.  She's online at a lecture, the lecturer's voice grown familiar to me over weeks, catching stray words, dutch accents, intoning on physics, micro-macro duality, vectors and whatnot.
She beats a path every day of this lockdown from kitchen to garden to bedroom, listening, writing, staring at a screen.  Connecting for lectures sometimes in the early morning, sometimes in late evening. The Dutch are always ahead of us. Or behind us... They're down with an early start, anyhoo.
"But, so,  I mean... what about dinner... the hoovering... your washing? (spilling untended from the washing machine) I variously ask, forgetting that she is not really here, in my house. She's in a lecture. She's not really there either.

Days she has a stunned look, like a bird smacking hard on a windowpane.  Times she grows wild and rowdy on zoom calls, only wanting to connect, hysterical in the emptiness of virtual presence.
The Garden is taking shape under her restless fingers, strawberries forming, tomatoes, lettuce tips peeping from the raised bed. She grows the vegetables, leaves the flowers, the grass cutting to me.
She is a lover, a hugger, a dancer with dancers, given pacifiers of virtual meets, netflix, lectures online. Tossed back and forth from virtual interior to empty exterior, each and every day.  Sometimes suspended in the transition. Lost.

All night she dreamzs,  creates... astonishing astonished scenarios to locate herself, somehow, in this bizarre and total up -turning of her everyday life.
Dreamzs. She dreamzs, and in her dreaming leaves her lockdown, travels far and wide and seeking.

                                                                   Barbarian

I stand and stare at the kettle thinking this, and remember the other one, the sister.  In virtual college too, bedroom door closed, desk neat, pencils lined, computer placed, content I think you might say.  Her papers submitted in a timely fashion, her grades looking good, at ease with this slowing down of every day tumult, worldly invasions.  At ease at the wheel that lockdown has placed in her appreciative hands. I wonder if Beauty in her tower, Rapunzel and Sleeping were just as OK with it, were humming and upbeat in the cool quiet space created by bricked walls, lockdowns.
She comes down, steps out, slips away periodically to meet her BF, her lovely boyfriend, quarantined
in similar rooms, waiting.

Evenings she comes down from the mountain, sits with us. Knitting, headbands, scarves, a shoulder bag, her needles weaving blues and greens and reds, her eyes fixed on the TV screen as she dissects narrative arcs on box sets, Game of Thrones rehashes, Normal People.  Scherezade distracting us.... 

I wonder how the hell she'll ever go back to clamour, non verbal communications, the great unwashed humanity.  If she ever has to.  I expect she can do it, she's done it before, (if she ever has to...)
I roar, invasive, from the kitchen  "Hey, d'u want a cup of Coffee! Hey?  Hello?... Answer me when I'm talking (shouting) to you!"
I am the Barbarian (at the gates)

                                                                Dreaming

I'm spooning Lavazza into a jug when a phone call comes in, from the boy, in the moment as you might say.
I ask him how he's going, how he's spending his days. He has refused to come home, preferring the pandemic payment, rent assist, long days fishing, long nights talking with mates on his xbox, his snapchat, his facebook page.  Unwilling to give all that up. DOH! Unable to see any down side,  I suppose ...
"yeah, good, yeah, I mean weathers good? I'm, like, fishing, on the river all day... in the evening I yeah, talk to the lads on the xbox?" he offers me.  "Right".
A silence... "So, the days are like melding? one into the next? in a dream, like, a daze?..." he says
slowly.  Hmm.

He is a poet, a baulker, a bird you toss strategically, tenderly, from the nest. As I had done a while back, watching keenly from back here on the nest's rim as he got on top of routine, got into having to  work every single solitary day even summer, got his head around paying for things. Which he managed, pretty well.
Until now. When he doesn't have to manage anything at all. Uncongenial, I mean.
We talk some about his (maybe) Masters, his (kinda of) notion to do an MA in the Autumn. About getting going at it, taking steps, that sort of thing.

I mean I talk, and he (half) listens...



                                                             I Will be your Virus.

He tells me how he won't come home, start yet, infect me maybe...maybe? baby!, I think, truly, you've got nothing I've not given you? and maybe I won't call you out on that (just yet) ( I'll wait) (timing's everything) Yeah. 


In the kitchen the Caged Bird has taken over making the coffee, and Beauty has the cups.
I catch them eye rolling as I say goodbye to the Boy, remind him to switch off the Xbox occasionally, eat Good Stuff, wear Sun Block, come Home (occasionally)


                                                                 Enmeshed.




Somehow we've slipped back in time, in years. I have put on the halter of Mammy and they the mantle of adolescence, as though leaving home, growing up, flying solo had never happened at all... has to happen all over again.

Sometimes I slip into my car on my own and drive. For foodstuffs, or medical supplies or, I mean
essential business. The car is my Oyster, my Chariot to Nowhere, my own crazy headspace. My own.

And just when you're thinking you're getting away with it a txt flashes in on your screen which you decide not to read and you read...
"where u? in town? u nvr sed!!!
You stare at the screen.
And another
"We'd hve likd 2 go 2? get out of here 2!!!"
And another
"U nvr sed?"
I am barbarous...keepy...viral... I am.

Sometimes I wish I didn't know so much about them. I wish that they didn't know so much about me either...


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Thursday, 16 April 2020

It’s a Catholic Thing. Holy Week.


                                                        ENDING, DYING, KNOWING.

When I was twelve year old I spent a year in a place of terror and anxiety,  preoccupied, haunted by the prospect of dying. Of death.  Ending. You would die, no matter what.  You could die, at any time. I struggle now to remember what it was exactly that took me to the edge of that abyss, what thought, what feeling got you there.   Where you could not look away to manage the all consuming fear.  It was the not knowing when, maybe.  It was letting the knowing in, perhaps.  Yeah. The facing of the fact. It was the horror of not being, of annihilation.

                                                   CATHOLICS AND ALL THAT JAZZ

I stumbled on for another year, and for another after that. Looking back now, it seems a bit like depression, a touch like panic, obsession, all the labels.  But. Things, perspectives, were adjusting in me. Ground slowly gained.  Some spirit of survival whispered.  Something.  Oh not Catholicism, all that jazz.  That turned out to irrelevant to what ailed me, the spectre dogging my waking footsteps, tormenting dreamtime, nights.


                                                 

                                                    IF YOU WOULD ONLY LET ME IN 

I can recall my thirteen year old self, can see her clearly walking, back and forth and back again before the gates of our local Monastery, hesitant about going in there and asking them.  On one muggy Sunday when I really couldn't stand it anymore. I did not go in.  I did not know how. I figured they'd have nothing.  None of them,  monks or parents, family or priests.  Adults, being being only a source of pressure and reproach at my irritability, my preoccupation, distraction.  Judging my increasing withdrawal, anomie amplifying my fears of madness now, in the dark terrors of nighttime, beset by the sense of being stalked by something  inevitable, incalculable.

But things were shifting somehow... anyhow.  The more I could hold the idea of ending in my mind, could look at it full on, the better I became at imagining a life, and getting on with things and having things, of doing things, even if and even though the truth was always ending, dying, death... the part of me that could look at that, bear that, becoming a ledge to crawl back onto.


                                                   SO, HOLY WEEK REDEEMED THEM

And so for a few years, I was buzzed and frantic with doing, racing against time, getting things for myself,  having life.  But learned, you learn in time, to slow down, to visit the quiet place where death is, and I am, and life waits.  And being Catholic was not entirely useless as it turned out.  They do Holy Week.

I mean Christmas for a child was all sweaty excitement, anticipation, a giddy high, but Easter, Holy Week, was hiatus, timeout, a quiet space.  Scary, yeah but safe enough, familiar enough, contained in ceremony and in time.  You'd get your Easter holidays, run free and happyish on the farm all the lightening lengthening day ( except when your Mother caught you, put you to work at something needed) and in the evenings you'd go to church.

Memories were filed and stored, places to visit.  Ah there you are, your Sunday Coat, your polished shoes, squashed happy in the family car, a sibling on your knee your mother fussing.  You'd go, all go, all had to for,  Palm Sunday,  Confession Tuesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday.  Confession, praying, kneeling, penitent,  copying adults who knew.  Snickering, yawning,  poking a sister, saying the words of the prayers, tickling the baby, maybe.  Sacred and boring, thrilling and mystery, all in  one. It was all consuming and everything slowing and stopping, for Christ dying nailed to his cross.  Crucifiction.  Stations. The Stations of the Cross.


                                                                     FORSAKEN 

Ah, Stations of the Cross. Our shuffling procession past shadowy pictures of Christ's flayed and splattered agony. See there he staggers under the cross, there falls, he falls, first, second and third time,  he falls, he is pierced in his side.  'My God my God' he cries, 'why? hast thou forsaken me..."  When I was eleven years old I related.

Easter Sunday, after the chocolate eggs, the chicken dinner, was anticlimax. Resurrection, Christ strolling from his tomb was just another thing they all believed, it didn't resonate. I always hated Sundays anyway. The slow winding down of hours, gateway into Monday and the workaday week.


                                               LOOKING THOUGH YOUR FINGERS FIRST

Every year has Christmas, Easter, Summer, School, and here in Ireland, Holy Week. Still hanging on, a relic of the past, and this year roaring back to meaning in Lockdown.  We are given,  whether we wanted it or not, space, where all things stop. We are obliged to look.  See here the beast is caged or over there becalmed, at the heart of darkness.  Obliged to feel the tenderest, darkest,  terrors lurking at the hearts deepest core.  We have to look. To hold.


                                               IF GOD CANT HAVE YOU DEVIL  MUST 

If Covid 19 keeps you up at night, impels your run like blazes to your holiday home, or fuels your rage at random cheaters,  consider this.  It's ending, death, that stalks you,  really.  Death, and this your opportunity to face, embrace and take it in.  Don't blame, don't run, or close your inner borders tight.  Embrace the darkness.  In this thoroughly modern Holy Week.


"And I will show you something  
different from either  
Your shadow at morning striding 
behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to  
meet you
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

(T.S. Elliot. The Waste Land)

Do share my post from your social media page or by any other means, dear readers. And comment if the spirit moves you!  Anna.