We’ve never held hands before. Not willingly. For the wedding photographs, of course, when a father is meant to hold his daughter’s hand: Father of the Bride and all that. But even during my childhood the only time I remember feeling your broad, warm hand was if I stepped too near the edge of a pavement and there were cars on the road. And in those instances it was fleeting: a grab, a squeeze, a tug, and then a swift let-go.
We were none of us tactile in our family. My brother and I became so after we moved into the same shared house in our twenties and came to realise that neither of us were actually the terrible disappointment you and mum had brought us up to believe. I remember once, towards the drunken end of one of our many house parties, I made an ill-judged dive at a window in order to open it and fell heavily against the radiator, bashing my head on it. As I’d surfaced (I managed to open the window), I’d suddenly felt two things: a steady stream of something warm running from my eyebrow to my lips, followed by my brother’s strong arm hauling me up from my scuppered position, manoeuvring me through the melee and into the bathroom where he daubed my cut skin with soaked toilet tissue. I can’t remember a time before—or after, come to that—when I’ve felt more cared for and looked after; loved, even.
I think it was the spontaneity of the whole thing. The immediate, knee-jerk reaction of scooping me up and whisking me to safety; the way lionesses do with their cubs. Natural.
When mum was lying in her hospital bed dying of the brain tumour she’d been growing (unbeknown to her. And us) for the past two or three years, I never had the urge to reach out and hold her hand. It would have been false. Of course I knew it might be the last time I’d get the opportunity but I think a part of me didn’t want her to leave this earth with any kind of misrepresentation of our relationship. Because you don’t suddenly start holding hands with someone you’ve never known just because they might be taking their last breath, do you? That’d be hypocritical. I’d grown up with hyper-criticism, so I wasn’t about to proclaim my previously undeclared love for a woman who’d never told me I mattered just because I’d been carved from her body a few decades before.
They’ve said you might still be able to hear voices; music, some sounds anyway, through the deep state of sleep you’re in. I didn’t manage to get here before the drugs took their effect and swept away your ability to keep your eyes open, your brain focused, your speech lucid. They’ve said to watch the heart monitor for signs of recognition and I’m used to searching for signs like these; you could say I’ve got a degree in hyper-awareness. That’s why I only ever slept ‘like a cat’; I think my brain was worried that if it relaxed too much then it might miss the moment somebody said something nice about me. Of course an increase in heart rhythm could also indicate a particularly energetic dream and not be caused my presence at all. Machines can only reveal so much.
I don’t mind, though. I think I always knew you were the more loving of the two. When it was just you and me (like those times I’d sit with you at the table making Airfix models of my own because that was what I noticed you liked doing) and something would make us laugh, or we’d make a comment and there’d be a spark. I don’t remember specifics, but I do remember the way your golden hazel eyes would light up, the glint of them, the laughter lines spreading from their corners like antennae, and I’d feel so connected. Like I actually belonged.
Did you know that once I was utterly convinced I was adopted? I used to watch so many (too many, you used to say) films and read books that’d put “ideas in my head” (you really meant “silly notions”). Well, along with those notions, they also helped me feel less alone; stories of lost children, abandoned children, children who weren’t given love, and somehow or another, before long, were finally noticed, recognised for who they were and wrapped in the love they’d always deserved. Those stories gave me hope. I never told you that. Perhaps I never needed to.
They’ve said you’re doing well to have lasted as long as you have; that when your major organs are shutting down, there isn’t always time for family to get here in time to say goodbye. I’d like to think you held on for me; that even though last night you virtually ordered me not to drive all this way to visit you because you hadn’t wanted me to see you in this condition, that in the end my heart overruled my promise. I knew I needed to hold your warm, broad hand one more time.
Written for the January 17th https://creativewritingink.co.uk/resources/writing-prompts/ competition.