I don’t remember the date that the consultant told my grandad he had cancer. I remember the date that we realised he probably did have cancer; it was the 30th of November and I answered the phone to his GP just as I was walking out the door to go to a gig. The doctor said there was a shadow on my grandad’s chest x-ray.
I was so shocked that I just blurted it out to him without thinking about trying to do it with some degree of sensitivity. ‘Oh,’ my grandad said.
He was in bed. He’d been in bed a lot recently. He’d lost a lot of weight and he was coughing up blood and struggling to breathe but we were in denial. Probably just a chest infection or something, right?
I think about it a lot still. Nowhere near as much as I used to, but it never slips my mind for long. It’s there every time I walk past the photos of him and my nan that I keep on the kitchen counter. It’s there every year when the same dates roll around again.
I don’t remember the date that he was ‘officially’ diagnosed with cancer because it’s just a blur from the end of November to the end of January when he died. I only remember Christmas Day because I watched paramedics carry him down the stairs at my mum’s house, wrap him in blankets and wheel him out to an ambulance. I remember New Years Eve because the same thing happened and he never came home again. I vaguely remember going to America a few weeks later but I don’t remember the dates. I remember the 22nd of January, holding his hand as he died.
I torture myself with these anniversaries, like some kind of remembrance service of self-flagellation. But what is the point of continually reliving the trauma? How is this helping anything? It’s not keeping his memory alive. It’s not what he would have wanted.
Or is it?
When I look at photos of him, I avoid looking into his eyes. I don’t know what I’ll see there.
I’m the only one doing this. I’m constantly holding my own head under the water. I’m the stones in my pockets weighing me down. I’m the ocean in my lungs.
But do I deserve it? And even if I do, is this really a suitable punishment?
I don’t think this is ever going to go away. I’ve already written this. I’ve felt the same feeling over and over so many times over the last decade that I’ve now become used to its ebbs and flows. I can’t remember what it’s like to not feel like this.
I really don’t mean to keep making myself sad. I don’t mean to make other people sad, either. I feel people pull away from me because every interaction becomes tiring and miserable and I’m not doing it on purpose but somehow I’m incapable of doing whatever it is that needs to be done in order for me to move past this.
They don’t deserve that. I don’t deserve them. I don’t deserve you.
The thing is, I accept this punishment not necessarily for the things that I have done, but for all of the things that I am capable of doing.
I knew he was going to die. I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t cure his cancer. Aside from the four days (was it three or four? – I can’t even remember that) when I was in New Jersey, I spent every minute of every visiting hour by his side. While he was in hospital I fed him, I washed him, I brushed his teeth, I snuck in booze and any other treat he wanted, I held his hand while he cried and I held it until he no longer existed. But I also told the doctors to keep him in hospital when what he really wanted to do was go home. He probably would have died even sooner, but I still should have done it. It would have been hell. I would have had to take him to the toilet, bathe him, clean up all the mess and blood and puke – but I still should have done it.
He was in hospital for a month and my mum visited him three times at the most. But, you see, he would have expected her to do something like telling Basildon hospital to keep him – for me to do it was an incredible betrayal. I went against his wishes because I didn’t think I could cope. And he never knew. I never told him. I let him die knowing that I had put myself before him. How can I forgive myself for that?
I have done some horrible things throughout my lifetime, both before and after this happened. I have ruined lives simply because the opportunity presented itself and I wanted to see what would happen. I knew there was some horrible shit lurking deep down inside me and I wanted to play with it. I wanted to watch other people’s unhappiness from the safety of the darkness where no one would ever find me. I was the shadow on the x-ray. I was the cancer.
I don’t blame anyone who needs to get away from me. Good or bad, I deserve everything that happens to me. Sometimes it feels as though you’re deliberately going out of your way to hurt me but it’s fine. I go out of my way to hurt me sometimes too.
I no longer seek out the darkness. It holds no appeal. It isn’t just an absence of light, it’s an abandonment of hope – and nobody deserves that.