David Diebold: Selection boxes? It's not even Hallowe'en
I CAN’T even remember what I’ve just come in for as I find myself stalking the long, overstuffed and garishly lit aisle of my local convenience store, but when I see a display of Christmas chocolate selection boxes in the middle of the aisle, I stop dead.
The colourful vista of vintage Santas on the boxes, crooked arms and legs frozen in a sort of teddy-bear march, each winking like an embarrassing uncle on a wedding dance floor, suddenly turns my stomach.
I’ve no idea why at the time, but I can barely look at it.
Okay, so it’s way too early to be reminded of Christmas — the shop hasn’t even put so much as a Hallowe’en mask up yet — but it’s not that.
Something else, something intangible for the time being, makes me turn heel and take that infuriatingly jolly image, scrunch it up and pound it with my fist deep into a corner of my mind’s basement among the rows of padlocked doors there.
I’m sure I’m not the only guy who does this, who has a place in his head to bury stuff that bothers him. I suppose it’s the psychological equivalent of clearing up by kicking things under the couch. Out of sight, but not entirely out of mind. A mulching machine would probably have been a better idea. Or a computer desktop where I could drag the things I don’t want to deal with to the trash. But I guess I’m old-school, so a padlocked door way down in the dark will have to do.
I shrug to the shopkeeper on the way out, wagging my finger at my own head, universal sign language for ‘Don’t mind me, I’m just not with it’ or something like that, and then my day goes on rather like the day before this, and the day before that, days in which, largely, winking Santas do not factor.
It’s the middle of the night when I shudder awake from a pointless sleep, from some dream I can’t quite remember, throat hitching like I’m trying to force tears, and then I lie there in the dark, unable to gather my clouded thoughts, tired and confused.
The digital clock, glowing nearby, marks the ages between minutes before I succumb to the strange, sickening toothache of sadness that’s haunting me and I slowly drift off again.
The next time I wake up, it’s with a feeling of panic. It’s still dark and less than an hour has crawled by on that hateful clock. All I can think is, I should telephone my mother.
What’s the hour in the States? I fuzzily try to calculate the difference. Five hours, or is it six?
It takes an infeasible, long time for me to remember that my mother is dead.
I scrunch up my eyes, trying to remember, searching, rattling doors. When did she die? Last year. No, THIS year. Why can’t I remember? What the hell is wrong with me? Why this? Why now? I turn over and over in the bed, muttering in the frustration of half sleep.
In my head, there’s an image I can’t shake off, recalled from the previous dream, when I woke up choking on a sob.
The image is of my mother lying in a coffin, her body surrounded by a string of little white Christmas lights.
It’s a bizarre image, but vivid and unshakable, and I lie there trying to figure it out.
My mother loved the seasons and marked them as promptly as a Hallmark card stand. She had a little fake fir tree that hung on the wall in her sitting room and right now, it would be decorated with autumn leaves, in a week or so little plastic Hallowe’en pumpkins, then festive red ribbons.
I realise, lying there in the dark, that I haven’t allowed myself to think of my mother very much since the day I took the call from where she was dying.
I was surrounded by impatient strangers at that moment and had to put my hand to the earpiece to hear her say goodbye.
My mind simply couldn’t process what had just happened, it was all so out of context and when the phone went dead, I spent a long moment clearing my throat and swallowing hard before having to return to business.
Grief was kicked under the couch, soon to be hastily boxed and labelled for the basement, ‘Do Not Return’.
As things went, there was no big funeral to go to, no chance to meet one last time in my mother’s memory and share our stories.
One minute she was there, the next minute she wasn’t. The whole, soft-hearted, Lily-of-the-Valley-scented presence of her, however physically far away, just ceased. The cruel ages between minutes turned to hours, days and weeks, and then months went by.
In all this time, I’ve somehow managed to keep myself so distracted that I’ve sort of fooled myself in to forgetting all the stuff that I kicked down the steps into the dark, until something as simple as an unseasonable Santa, winking from the top of a garish display, managed to rattle a few chains.
I’d like to say as I lay there in the middle of the night, that somewhere in my stupid head a door creaked open and I was finally able to let something I’d been dreading flood over me.
But men can be strange about things like grief, and loss, and pain, and mine is still stuffed away down there somewhere, all wrapped up with a red ribbon and waiting for Santa.
See, the first Christmas without my mother being in the world is going to be a difficult one, I know this now. But hey — it’s way too early for this man to be thinking about any of that.
Sure it’s not even Hallowe’en yet.