Today is the pinnacle. I knew it was coming; I could feel it happening. That loss of control as I drifted further out at sea as the month of June progresses, my oars lost in the swell and waves weeks ago.
I am aware of how that sounds but it really is the best way to describe how I feel. You know that feeling when you’re having a bath and you start to drift off? Everything becomes just a little fuzzy, as you lean your head on the tiles and allow yourself to stay one level above sleep. Sounds become muffled, the water starts to cool down and, before you know it, you are in a semi-hypnotic state. Then you snap abruptly back to life, sitting bolt upright and sloshing water on the bathroom floor, wondering what time it is, trying to work out how long you’ve been sitting in a lukewarm bath.
Well, that’s how I feel in June. I imagine myself like a character from an illustrated children’s book, floating on water-coloured pages, a woman sailing the high seas in a bathtub and a shower cap, loofah in hand, anticipation of a happy ending on the next page (I don’t wear a shower cap in the bath, but I do in the illustrated version of my life…)
It wasn’t like this at first. At first I braced myself for the obvious things. But June has become one unexpected wave after another, from the little capillaries to the insurmountable amplitude of the breakers. I decided that this year would be different; that I didn’t believe that a month could be forever ruined because of events in the past. But that’s the thing. I intentionally don’t map dates on a calendar, don’t have a countdown. But they seem to find me. Things start to feel off; things start to get more difficult than usual; I start to feel on edge; distracted; clumsy; emotional. And then I’ll realise, as I start to bob up and down on the waves, cursing myself for pretending to be a gondolier and losing my oar in the process, that it is June 9th.
June 9th 2009. The day life changed forever. Not the day my dad died, but the day that signifies the change for me more than the day 20 days later when we said goodbye. June 9th was the first time I heard the word: “Cancer”. Cancer? No. Gallstones. My dad has gallstones, not cancer. His GP said so. But no gallstones, only secondary cancer of the liver. A week of indecision; of mixed reports; of changing diagnosis. It was always cancer, but it wasn’t always going to kill him. So, for 15 days, we absorbed, we waited, we cancelled 60th birthday plans for my mum, we held each other’s breath and I held my newborn son.
Then came the final decision on June 24th: “Weeks”. Weeks? No, not weeks. You must be mistaken – he was away golfing for the weekend 3 weeks ago. He is only 59, tee-total and non-smoker. Not weeks? .
Not weeks. 5 days. 5 days after he was given ‘weeks’, he died.
But June 9th. That creeps up on me and I find myself all at sea, sobbing in the bath about my failed attempts at gondoliering (pretty sure that’s not a real verb), about the sprigs of hair that I haven’t tucked into my shower cap (well, you know how my hair goes when it gets damp); about the direction the waves are taking me, about the loss of control. About the loss.
And today, when I made my escape quickly from a social encounter because, for some reason, the tears came fast and quite unexpectedly, uncontrollable and insurmountable waves of emotion, I realised that I cannot control June. Not yet. There is a reason why it is getting worse each year but that also means at some point it will get better, right? I just haven’t circumnavigated the globe in my paddle-less bathtub yet. I relive those 20 days emotionally every year, until the end of the month, building in instability until there is a sense of peace at the end of the month.
June has unfinished business with me. I always remember listening to people talking about people who had lost people and thinking “that was years ago” but years don’t change the loss. Loss, regardless of time, is loss.
I know people probably get fed up with me talking about my dad. People die every day, I know this. But my dad didn’t die every day. That ony happened once. But one day can change a lifetime, as it did for us. So I’m really grateful for the people who throw me an oar every now and then; for the people who say “Ho there gondolier, will you take us where you are going, we can share the journey”; for the people who have taught me to surf; For the people who allow me to be self-indulgent and help me through June because they just know – sometimes before I do – that it’s just that time.
Then July will bring me back to shore with a jolt and a slosh, with an oar in one hand and a loofah in the other, ready to take on life once more on dry land.