I rubbed my eyes. Mother said I shouldn’t, that I’d contract germs, but I couldn’t help it. There’s books all around me; stories of my childhood and antiques of Balzac, photo albums and schoolbooks. My first night back from the hospital.
Water ran through the pipes, and though it was almost May, the house was freezing, or at least I was. Dr. Sewell said it was because I hardly ate, and if I added some more red meat to my diet, I’d feel better. I put on my blue robe, courtesy of Marks & Spencer, a favourite.
No matter how Dr. Sewell tried to distract me with talk of food or sunshine, my wounds were very new. A hard year and nothing more, I’d get over it, move away and make new friends, my life here would be nothing more than a distant memory. Cool. If only life was like that movie with Kate Winslet where she’s got blue hair and you can pay doctors to make you forget people? The sunshine of something.
I had a profound appreciation for my bed, for my pillows, for the quiet, for everything that was mine. In contrast, my dire hospital bed seemed gross. Sharing a room with four old women, being forced to take a dozen blood tests every day as a result of your own stupidity, the tube that was stuck down my throat, the activated carbon, the pain and the blood that was everywhere. The vomiting. The older women talking all through the nights, watching movies about Jesus. The pain I felt, and the doctors that examined me. The sheer embarrassment of doctors removing all of your clothes in front of dozens of people. People starring.
Father would leave the following day for yet another business trip.
“So soon? You’re hardly back from the last one…” I wanted to say, I need you, I know I’ve let you down but I need you. A true ally, he was. He understood, he was just never around. He didn’t see me as the villain of this story, he wouldn’t judge me. He saw me as I was, his innocent young daughter, lethally romantic and profoundly silly. Not this depressed mess, with the unwashed, shoulder-length hair and the Doctor Who shirt from Hot Topic. Not the girl who’d die for love. The girl who had to live for every kind of love love, most of all the love she got from her parents.
“I have to go, my love. But I’ll be back before you know I’m gone, it’s just for a couple of days”.
The night before he left we spent hours and hours bingewatching TV series we both enjoyed, and before I went to bed, he tucked me in and performed my usual lullaby: only this time, he brought out his violin. A fine instrument he purchased when I was very small, and he’d only play for me when I, or he, was sad. The Johannes Kohr K500 as he said to me then, tuned perfectly. Whenever I’d sing along, he’d tell me when I was out of tune: he was blessed with perfect pitch. He played for me and kissed the tears that were falling down my face. He was gone long before I awoke the following day.
On the next day, my mother and therapist announced that they had made the decision for me to stop my university studies in English Literature, for a little while. I wished they wouldn’t, as that made me feel even more useless. If I had essays to write and work to do, I’d throw myself into my work and wouldn’t think of my heart so much. Nothing cures melancholy quite like work, but then anxiety takes the reins and you fall off your chariot. And my heart, my thoroughly broken heart. It’s as though my love was told by some superior force to use the exact wording that would hurt the most. It’s as though nothing was real. And my torn-apart heart was the artwork I’d produced through all this.
I came to peace with their decisions, and threw myself fully into knitting. I’d just started my first scarf for Father, when the phone rang. Mother picked it up, and soon enough, we were driving to the police station. The company was looking for Father. He never turned up to his destination, wouldn’t respond to calls or emails, he had vanished.
I was, of course, questioned. They asked me about my hospitalization.
A lady, lean and angular, asked the questions. “You made a suicide attempt eleven days ago, correct?”. I gulped.
“And you were at the public hospital for four days?”
“What triggered your suicide attempt?”
She said those words as though they were dirty, as though I was dirty, as though everything I touched turned to dirt.
“That is…” I hesitated. “Not something I’d like to share”.
“Fine. When did you last see your Father?”
“Four days ago”.
“What was your last interaction?”
I didn’t like her attitude. She was judging me. She saw a hormonal, daft little girl, with zero brains.
“We talked, in my room…”
“What did you say?”
It was hard to think of, when your father’s missing. But I remembered his words quite clearly, in that dimly lit, warm room. He said, “my little girl… your cheeks will glow again soon, you’ll see. This is nothing. You’ve always had a heart of gold, don’t let bad things turn it towards darkness… you belong in the light.” and I cried and he stroked my hair and I fell asleep. He wished me goodnight and left. I liked it when he stroked my hair, it made me feel small again.
“Did he ever mention details about his travels to you?” asked the slender, blonde officer.
I thought very hard. “Not really… only that he was always really busy whenever he had to make those trips, he had to write and write and write, he’d hide off in his office and come out just to say goodbye, usually”.
“And how often did he travel?” The annoying lady lifted her dark blonde eyebrows. She hated me to the core, wanted me dead, she wouldn’t let me walk out of the room.
“Um, can I have a glass of water… please?”. A younger, male officer rushed out of the room and came back moments later and handed me a water bottle. “Thank you” I smiled, unconsciously, for the first time in a while. It’s the small victories that build confidence and self-worth, said Doctor Sewell. I felt pride, despite the horrible things my mind would jump to about my father’s whereabouts.
“How often did he make those trips?”
Her small, inquisitive eyes looked through my flesh.
“Um, er, maybe every three weeks? During summertime it would be a bit more sparse, maybe once a month or even more than that…”
“Did he ever tell you why he’d go?”
“Um, no, I always just assumed he had to go, and he once told me to never ask questions, so…”
“How did he feel about your suicide attempt?”
“He was supportive of my recovery…”
“Surely he must’ve been hurt. Ashamed even. Your daughter committing an unforgivable sin…” her words lingered. I was furious, fuming, my eyes no longer shying away.
“That’s all. Thank you, miss.”
Even as I walked out, I could feel her dry gaze on my back. I couldn’t bear to be judged so, not by someone like that. Tomorrow is promised to no one and perhaps that no one was my father. My mind, as usual, jumped to conclusions, that he left because of me. That’s what the blonde police officer suggested, that he was embarrassed by me, that he abandoned us because he couldn’t live with the shame of having a daughter like this. I jumped from one heartbreak to another, but living both similtaneously as though I’m walking on a path of burning coal.
Dad told me once that in order to walk over hot stones and fire, you have to make sure your feet are wet right before you step over; the moisture will protect your feet and thus, you will not burn. But how could I find the time to moisturize my feet when my own father is gone. When my heart is gone. With those two out of the picture, I would cease to be myself, and turn into a girl of the unknown, with white lips and black eyes.
Mother was, surprisingly, already done. I thought she’d be talking for hours, that they wouldn’t let her go; maybe I was in there for hours, too. I never understood the concept of time as well as others seemed to, things that took my mother a few minutes would take me an hour. She’d call me scatter-brained and get on with her life.
I suddenly thought, I wish I could be like literature’s Byronic heroes rather than the shy girls I seem to emulate. To manipulate someone as Rochester does to Jane Eyre, to glue someone’s heart to mine as well as Heathcliffe does to Cathy. However, some of us are ordinary.
There were no leads, and months passed. Watching the days fly by was like seeing a calender rip its own pages and throw them away, it surprised me. It was quick. But my loan got approved and I could transfer my credits to Rutland. I was born there, and I hope I die there. More than that, I knew that this final year of university would be useless. I wouldn’t learn anything I didn’t already know. I could just focus on work and change all I know, and that would help.