Sometime in 2019. There is a wooden owl for company and the spot is decorated by all the rocks I brought home from mountain hikes.
Last of the last. Carol was like no other. I miss the brains, the knowledge, the humour, the infuriating, the trivial, the obsessions, the boring, the passion, the loving. Carol used to say that she loved me even when she was asleep and now I know that is true.
There is no closure, it does not end. It dims a bit and then grabs your heart and twists when you least expect.
Now everyone dreams of love lasting and true Oh but you and I know what this world can do So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see And I’ll wait for you, and if I should fall behind wait for me
I’ve fallen out with quite a few people this year. Probably because my bullshit and negativity tolerances are low. I hate fallouts. They upset me. One person told me I didn’t have a monopoly on grief. I hadn’t actually thought that I had such a thing. I choose to write about it and she chose to read what I wrote. But the impact of that one sentence has been that I stopped writing. That makes me cross and it’s been about 4 months without any prose writing until now.
I did start doing a bit of lyric writing. I get some tunes in my head but I haven’t captured them and it’s too early yet for me to work out how to get the tunes onto the guitar. I’m still too shy to put my lyrics out anywhere. At least I’m enjoying a bit of creativity.
To monopolise grief a bit more. I’ve joined a queer bereavement group online. It’s very supportive and loving. It took me over 2 years to find it thus demonstrating a woeful lack of facilities world wide. There are still places and events I find hard to revisit but in this group there is no judgement and we laugh and cry and listen. I can talk about things that some of my friends and family would probably not understand. It feels like I’ve come home.
Music is still a very big thing. Wish I’d started learning to play guitar a bit sooner but it’s the one thing I really look forward to every day. I got quite a long way with free online video lessons from Justin Guitar but I’m now having a weekly lesson in Hebden with an actual teacher not online. I have tunes in my head nearly all the time. Even when I go to the loo in the middle of the night! Sometimes that’s a bit annoying and it’s nice to have a little break from it however I don’t have any control over it.
I managed to be infatuated with Natalie Maines for 9 months. I listened to everything The Chicks recorded, read everything that’s been written about them, played their music over and over day after day after day, made a not insubstantial website about the band. At last my obsession is abating and I’m almost back to boring old normality. I quite liked being in love with my hero. I still really like her a big lot. And I did all that, it sustained me through lockdowns, through loneliness, through boredom, without any input from the object of my desire other than the videos and recordings.
If I can do that with someone who has no idea that I even exist, well apart from when she liked a comment I made on one of her Instagram posts, then god help me if I feel that way towards someone I actually meet. And god help them too. The last time I was so crazy was for Carol in 1993.
My latest rave is Sheryl Crow, I knew her some of her early records but hadn’t listened in much depth. I love her music and there are some great lyrics but I don’t fancy her the same way as I do Natalie, not such a mad obsession. These lines are from Crash and Burn:
Well, it’s laughter that comes up when I cry for you And my heart may break again before it learns And I might be stupid enough to want to fall again ‘Cause I’ve gotten used to the crash and burn
I might be stupid enough to want to fall again. Bruce said “I lost everything I loved or feared”. Love has been the best years of my life, the pain has been/still is the worst hell on earth. I’m having a bit of a life now, much smaller thanks to Covid and very different from any expectations I had. But unless Natalie Maines comes walking by…..
My friend Liz did a list of the good and bad stuff that’s happened to her in 2020 and the good by far outweighed the bad. She said she wanted to see other people’s lists so here is mine.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Global pandemic, millions dead, millions sick.
Went to the far top of Norway in January and saw my old friends Inger and Steve in Bodø. We were at uni together in the late 70s, we hadn’t met up for about 20 years!
Contemptible never ending series of cock ups and mismanagement from our despicable, uncaring government made up of self serving greedy bastards.
Made some new friends including new online friends.
My friend lost both her parents within days of each other to Covid.
Went to the Alpes Maritimes to be loved by my friends in February. Great walks.
Friends getting sick with Covid.
Went to the Lake District for my birthday a bit before lockdown started. There was a shortage of paracetamol in Ambleside but stacks of loo paper in Booths in Windermere.
Friends sick with other awful illnesses.
Grew veg for the first time properly in the garden. Hit and miss but it was nice eating my produce.
Had to remove this one as don’t want to be sued.
The blue tits nested in the box they demanded I put up. The babies fledged and I hope the jay didn’t get any of them. The only time I saw the jay was when the babies were about to leave the box.
Some bouts of depression.
Walked a lot and then some more. Did more exercise.
Not done the travels I planned. I was about to “set wing to wing”.
Started to like myself again, enjoying living on my own in my lovely house with a great view. I’m very lucky. I have routines and like looking after myself.
Nearly lost the plot waiting for results of 2 tests for cancer (negative).
Because of IBS, had a better diet and lost some weight.
Last time I had a hug was on March 15th, it was a good one with Cath.
Pre lockdown visit from Ian, who I’ve known since childhood, was a real tonic.
Not had any overnight visitors.
I got my guest bedroom all set up to receive overnighters. One day they will be able to come.
Had to cancel short break in January 2021 to Wales. This was so that I would not be at home for 2nd anniversary of Carol’s death. Was going to meet up with my cousins. It is what it is.
Saw my very good friends Liz and Tracey and my cousins Sophy and Jo. Video calls and phone calls with old friends. The love and support of friends and family has been central to this year and to keeping me sane. You know who you are and I love you.
Had to cancel other trips in October as well.
My house and garden are much improved thanks to work done by contractors and by me.
I know my neighbours a little bit more.
Had a memory lane holiday in Cornwall and a short walking break in North Yorkshire, all a bit Covid weird but good to get out and meet people.
Continued to enjoy occasional blog post writing, helps me to work through things. Each post is crafted over several days, weeks sometimes. Some lovely feedback about my posts.
It will very soon be just 2 years since Carol died. I am coping, not seeing lots of people is ok, it’s allowed me time for reflection. I miss the 2 loves of my life more than words can say, every single day.
Continued to enjoy taking photos. Having the time to take photos makes a huge difference.
Music has come back into my life in a big big big way. Playing it, singing it, dancing to it. Starting to learn to play the guitar (this will take a while which is good because it looks like being confined to barracks is going to go on for some time yet).
Bruce at 71 is sexier than ever and singing in what he calls his current voice which is not the same but ok in a new way. He put out an album, Letter to You which is really good and he sang along with fellow New Jersey songwriter, Jack Antonoff on brilliant Bleachers’ track chinatown. Happy music. Bruce has been doing a regular DJ slot and plays some epic tracks. Listen to it direct from the US not the watered down BBC version.
Natalie, oh Natalie. I was in love with Natalie back when the Dixie Chicks first released Wide Open Spaces in 1998. I remember seeing the videos and had the CDs. Then she and sisters Martie and Emily were vilified and threatened with being shot because Natalie had the balls to criticise Bush on the eve of war in 2003. And she did it in London which incensed the good ol’ bad ol’ boys even more. At the beginning of 2020 a new album and a tour were coming and my interest was getting perked up again. Gaslighter eventually got released a bit later than planned. It’s an excellent album produced by Jack Antonoff. Do not mess with those chicks! I love this track which is a love song to Natalie’s boys Young Man. When Natalie sings her voice inspires very intense emotions in me, both on her own and in the harmonies with Martie and Emily and with other singers. In my view, Natalie’s also very hot but that’s actually second to what her voice does to me.
Natalie posted an impassioned entreaty on Instagram re staying at home to which I responded equally passionately. She liked my comment and made my day! She manages her own account and doesn’t post very often so extra exciting!
I came out as trans. Not done anything about it but not planning to do more than live my life as the boy I am, breasts and all. The breasts have annoyed me for years but no way am I having surgery.
Sexuality, no change there then, as Carol would say, “so long as they’re breathing”. Pansexual despite all the kitchenware jokes.
Looking forward to wearing more hats and showing off my legs in 2021. Peace and love.
Soon after Carol died I wrote of feeling that I’d been cast adrift. I thought of myself on a raft in an ocean of tears with no sight of land and exposed to all the vicissitudes of weather. I later watched Sarah Outen’s film Home of pretty much exactly that, except she was in an enclosed vessel but some of her rollercoaster of emotions as she fought for her life rowing across the Pacific during a dreadful storm reflected where I was emotionally during the first year. She survived and so did I.
That first year I cocooned myself in a protective bubble, not out of choice, it was just how it was. In a daze, I went through the motions of walking and talking. Sometimes people told me things and I couldn’t remember them a moment later. I’m so sorry if that was you. When I encountered new people the first thing I told them was that Carol had died. Mostly they were fine about this and mostly very kind. One or two recoiled from the impact. But I made a new friend, well I call her a friend, we only conversed for a matter of minutes after I’d blurted out my widowhood. Sarah was widowed 3 weeks before me. We became Facebook friends and I’ve learnt from her as we watch each other sometimes stumbling and reaching for a handle to grab hold of as we work out our new lives. Her man Tony was also a renegade, a wild and beautiful man. During that first year I’d done a few ritualistic scatterings of ashes, making meaning by going to places that Carol loved. There are ashes at Dove Stones reservoir (not in the res itself) alongside those of her very good friends Joyce and Liz, mother and daughter; Esthwaite Water, which we both loved; in the mountains at Llanymawddwy; near Dunstanburgh Castle, and in the new top garden of my home.
2020 arrived. I passed the first anniversary of Carol’s death somewhere on a boat off the coast of Norway. I do still tell people that Carol has died but it’s not the first thing and it’s not every single person I meet. As this year moved to Spring, I started to feel as if I was ready to pop my head up and enjoy the sun on my body. I felt excitement and a readiness to throw myself back into living instead of enduring. Well that was crap timing! As we veered towards Lockdown 1.0 I had a fair bit of self pity around the restrictions as well as panic. I surprised myself by finding that it was possible to survive that as well. I have been extremely careful. There is only me to look after me, at least physically. Mentally my friends and family have been fantastic. I did it without putting on loads of weight or turning into an alcoholic. I’m actually very lucky to be on my own and have not been forced to work at home cooped up with a partner or indeed any other person. Some friends are spending all day working online and are living with the same person all the time and it’s not necessarily that easy. Some have entered into difficult life phases by becoming carers and I know how achingly grinding that is. I have a lovely house and garden with a great view and I’m on the edge of a pleasant village with mostly pleasant neighbours.
I had a nice summer, took a couple of holidays, saw some friends and family, in our new restricted, contactless ways. I went a bit manic for a month or so, felt really high, euphoric even. Thankfully it wasn’t followed by a deep low. I’ve had some short periods of depression but now am much more levelled out and for the most part feel pretty good.
As we approached Lockdown 2.0 I began to put more effort into exercising and started doing weight training. As part of looking after my bones, I joined the gym last July and had been doing that 3x a week religiously. Then nothing at all since March except for walking. I now do a short fast walk most mornings followed by a 10 minute all body workout with Kelly on YouTube. I’ve started to lose a bit of poundage which makes me feel quite perky.
As part of letting go or my death cleaning 2.0, I’ve been looking at objects that I’ve carried around with me all my life and reevaluating them. Some of them are not surviving the cut. I took my wedding ring off and this does not mean that I’ve stopped loving Carol but I’m not married to a dead person. It was the right time for me to do that. It also does not mean that I’m available although I might be. Taking the ring off was a relief, a freeing up. It’s a chunky ring and is now round my neck on a chunky chain most of the time. I’ve got back into sorting out the house. All the work needing contractors ended up in November, it all should have happened months earlier. I’ve got new bedroom cupboards and have painted the room. I’ve got a better patio and 2 new sets of steps to my garden areas. The ceiling in my sitting room has finally been fixed after 8 months of looking at a piece of cardboard! There’s still quite a big schedule of redecorating which initially I was planning to pay someone to do but I really like having something to do and it’s given me some routine. I think Carol would be pleased with the house improvements.
My grief is not there all the time, well it is but often I can put it to the back, sometimes it gnaws away at me. So the last week I have cried a lot, mostly listening to music but it’s not all the time and I’m learning to understand and control my emotions. I’m ok, despite sodding Covid, despite being on my own most of the time. Since childhood I’ve enjoyed my own company. I do miss people and I miss physical contact. I miss Carol and Chris taking the piss out of me for being a dork. The other day I looked at an old photo in a book, of a man and a woman together. It said the woman was 5’7″ tall but she only came up to in between his elbow and shoulder. Therefore he would be roughly 6’7″ if not taller. Then I realised she was sitting down and I could hear Chris and Carol laughing at me.
I’m enjoying finding myself again. I’ve taken up new pursuits, albeit online. I’m singing, dancing, learning an instrument. I want to throw myself at the world. But there’s a pandemic. So yes I will take the vaccine as soon as I possibly can. I want a ticket to freedom. I want to drive, to walk the west coast of the Americas, to do the New Jersey Springsteen tour, to swim in the ocean, drink tequila as the sun goes down. I want connection. I want music. I’m so glad music has returned, it’s like a drug that takes me inside and outside myself. I wake up with tunes in my head. Feel like I’m in love, in lust. And it’s all ok. Letting go and starting to live. “It took a while to understand The beauty of just letting go“
This song, written by Patty Griffin, was on The Chicks’ second album, Fly. Patty Griffin is an astute singer songwriter and The Chicks have recorded and performed several of her songs. It’s about a failed relationship, however some of the sentiments work for me.
Ain’t no talkin’ to this man Ain’t no pretty other side Ain’t no way to understand the stupid words of pride It would take an acrobat and I already tried all that I’m gonna let him fly, mmm
Things can move at such a pace The second hand just waved goodbye You know the light has left his face But you can’t recall just where or why So there was really nothing to it I just went and cut right through it I said I’m gonna let him fly Oh yeah
There’s no mercy in a live wire No rest at all in freedom Choices we are given It’s no choice at all The proof is in the fire You touch before it moves away, yeah But you must always know How long to stay and when to go
And there ain’t no talkin’ to this man He’s been trying to tell me so It took a while to understand The beauty of just letting go Cause it would take an acrobat n’ I already tried all that I’m gonna let him fly, fly whoa I’m gonna let him fly, fly I’m gonna let him fly, fly
You missed some things this year: I cruised the coast of Norway, hiked in the south of France and the Lake District and then we started having a pandemic. I was so lucky to get those trips in. The whole world turned. Lockdown and a shiny new vocabulary. A never ending list of ill thought out fuck ups from the government. My Big Plan for this year was to follow Bruce and The Chicks on tour all round the world, well the US, Canada and Europe. I grew vegetables. Quizzes, endless quizzes. Video chats. Walking, walking, walking. Hand washing, cleaning, anti bac, masks and open windows. I fell back in love with Natalie Maines. I fell back into music, this house is rocking. I’m trying to find out which foods are giving me bowel problems, it’s a slow process and a dull diet while I do this, 2 months already. The good news is I don’t have bowel or ovarian cancer. I didn’t sleep for 2 weeks waiting to find out. My go to anxiety response. I rediscovered my libido, it is only permitted to travel in my imagination. We had our 12th wedding anniversary. I celebrated that one on my own because of you being dead, and Covid restrictions. Bruce put out a brilliant new album. You didn’t show up for your 60th birthday either. I’m exercising at last. We got locked down again. I got Phil to make and fit really nice cupboard doors in my bedroom. The Americans voted Trump out and I cried with relief. This long long year is not yet over.