I pushed her away.
I did what I thought was the best thing to do but I also did something that I can’t quite understand. How I could say those things to her? How I could be so cruel? It’s like it wasn’t even me in that hospital bed.
It was the personification of fear.
And now she’s gone and this loss is overshadowing all others at the moment. It’s something I feel with every passing second of the day, the fact that I hurt the woman I loved, the fact that I did this to myself, that I made myself bleed to prevent future bleeding that may never have happened to begin with.
“You’re heartbroken and yet you can fix it,” she says sternly, stopping in front of me. “Have ye contacted her at all this week? Have ye called her or sent a text or an email or one of them messages?”
I swallow down my shame. “No.”
She suddenly whacks me on the arm with the spoon. “Then this is what you get for that!”
“Ow!” I cry out, my arm stinging where she got me, throwing my hands up to protect myself like I’m being fucking jumped or something. “Stop that! I’m not well.”
“Yea, you’re not well,” she says, holding the spoon up. “You’re not well in the head because you’re a bloody eejit. Now why don’t you start thinking about your next steps because a girl like Valerie isn’t going to wait forever. She’s as precious as a gemstone she is and loves you with all her world.”
“Look, Nan,” I say to her. “I want to talk about this but you have to put the spoon down. Grandmothers shouldn’t terrorize their grandchildren.”
“Of course they should!” she says, waving the spoon at me. “It’s called tough love, boy, and someone has to give it. Valerie isn’t here now to take care of ye so it’s up to me. This is what you wanted, isn’t it?”
I give her a look. I see what she’s doing.
And she’s right.
This is apparently what I wanted.
But it’s not what I wanted at all.
“Now,” she says, “if you’re done being scared of your old nan and you’re ready to listen to me, then sit down.”
I sigh and sit down on the bed, wishing I could go back to sleep, back in that dark, dreamless space where there’s no pain in my body or pain in my heart. I’ve lost so much at once that sleeping brings the only peace I have.
“Padraig, I love ye but you fecked up royally and now you have to fix it.”
I look down at my hands. “I don’t think I can fix it,” I say quietly. “And maybe it shouldn’t even be fixed. Maybe I did the right thing.”
“Bullshit!” she says, smacking me across the thigh with the spoon. “What do you mean the right thing? You sent your love away from ye. You told her to leave ye. You broke it off and you broke her dear heart. Maybe you couldn’t see what was happening and maybe you weren’t all there, but I saw her, boy, and I saw how devastated she was. How is that the right thing, to hurt the ones ye love?”
“You’re the one who got her to leave,” I say, rubbing my thigh.
“Because there was no way I would let her live here with ye when you’re being a total arse like that. Now, Padraig, I get why ye did it. I get that you were scared and you lost so much so fast and you thought if you got closer to Valerie and really let her in, that you would lose her too one day.”
“And that’s true,” I tell her. “Look at what I’ve been through! My mam, my sister who I didn’t even get a chance to know but whom I already loved, my dad. How can I take more of that? The heart isn’t built to cope with that much loss.”
“Yes, it is. I’ve lost a lot too, don’t you forget it. But that should only make you hang onto your loved ones tighter. The heart is made for love and therefore it’s made for loss. And just because you broke it off now to prevent future pain doesn’t mean you’re not suffering now. You are suffering, I see it all over ye, and it’s not going to get any better. Just like your affliction, it’s going to get worse. If you go on without Valerie in your life, you’re going to regret it with every single breath you take.”
“But what if …”
“You’re coming from a place of fear, not faith.”
I shake my head. “I’m coming from a place of reality, how this bloody disease is going to be on me, how hard it will be on anyone in my life. What if she …”
This time she puts down the spoon and places her hand on my arm. “What if you get progressively worse and she leaves you? That’s fear. Even if you get progressively worse, she’ll still be by your side. That’s faith. What if is fear. Even if is faith. Choose the latter my boy.”
She gets up. “Now come on and get dressed, it’s almost time for dinner,” she says.
I snatch the spoon from the bed before she can take it. She can’t be trusted.
“Oh,” she says as she turns around in the doorway. “You haven’t showered in days. You might want to. You stink.”
I drag myself over to the shower and the minute the hot water hits my face, it seems to wash some clarity over me, the fogginess and confusion running down the drain.
My nan’s right. About everything, as she often is. I should have reached out to Valerie this week. The times when I wasn’t sleeping I was thinking of her. I was dreaming of her face, remembering her big, wide smile and infectious laugh, the way it would give me a jolt, like I was always seeing her for the first time. I thought about the way she felt, how soft her skin was on her belly, the raised scars on her leg, all coming together to tell me a story about her, a story I should have kept on listening to.
I miss her.
I miss her with all my heart, even with those broken pieces, the ones too small to see.
I need to do something to make this right.
I’m just not sure I ever can.
When I’m done in the shower, I get properly dressed for the first time all week. I’m already a little fatigued from all the movement but luckily I don’t have to go far for dinner.
Nan and the Major are sitting at the table in front of a large pot of Irish stew, far too much for just the three of us.
“You feeding an army?” I ask as I sit down.
“I’m still not used to having such little company,” Nan says a little sadly.
“I’m glad to see you up and about,” the Major says brightly. “It’s about time.”
“It’s good to be up,” I tell him. “Though it took a few whacks from a spoon to get me here.”
“Whacks from a what?”
“Spoon!” I yell, picking up one and showing it to him.
He looks at Nan. “You hitting people again?”
“He deserved it,” she says. “And so now Padraig, have you had any more thought about what you’re going to do?”
“Do about what?” the Major asks.
“Do about Valerie,” she says loudly.
“Valerie? Is she here?” he looks around.
“No, Major,” I say in a clear and strong voice. “She’s not here. I have to figure out how to bring her back here.”
He nods. “Ah. Well why did you send her away to begin with?”
“Because he’s an eejit,” my grandmother mumbles into her stew.
“Because I’m an eejit,” I repeat. “And I was just so scared after what happened to dad, after what happened to me…I panicked.”
“It’s natural to be afraid, Padraig,” the Major says. “But don’t let it control the way you live. You won’t have much of a life if that’s the case.”
“My life is pretty shite at the moment.”
He chuckles and wags his bushy white brows at me. “No, you have it all wrong, ye do. Life is brilliant. And then it’s awful. Sometimes trivial or boring or mundane. You just have to push through all that bad stuff until its brilliant again. Always hold out for brilliant.” He winks at me.
“Major,” my nan says in shock. “That’s almost poetic. I’m surprised at ye.”
He shrugs. “Nah, it reminds me of one of your mother’s poems on the wall there,” he says to me, digging into his stew.
“She was brilliant too,” Nan says. “Always looking for the bright side in anything, always ready to persevere through the shite. You’re her son, Padraig. Remember that.”
My chest is in knots at the fear that I might be too late. What if I reach out to Valerie and she doesn’t want anything to do with me? What if I broke her heart beyond repair?
No, I tell myself. That’s not how you were raised to think.
No what if.
Even if you broke her heart beyond repair, you’re going to take the time to put it back together again.
The next morning there is a knock at my door. I set my alarm so I could actually be up at a reasonable hour for breakfast and not sleep the day away but I think I hit cancel the moment it went off.
“I’m up,” I say groggily, trying to sit up. My legs were really burning last night but thankfully they’ve stopped with the spasms.
The door opens and my nan sticks her head in. “Padraig?”
“I’m getting up,” I tell her, throwing the covers back. “Don’t hit me.”
“No, stay,” she says to me quietly. It’s the tone of her voice that makes me pause.
“Didn’t I miss breakfast?” I ask her, noticing she’s carrying a piece of paper in her hands.
“It’s okay, I put it aside for ye when you’re ready,” she says coming forward. “I know you need your rest and I must admit, I do feel a bit bad that I’ve gone and whacked ye with the spoon like that.”
I raise my brow. She never feels bad. “What happened to tough love?”
“Perhaps I think you’ve had enough of it,” she says and she holds out the paper for me.
I take it from her. “What is this?”