FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY

When I wrote this a while ago I wondered what I would ever do with it. I’m hoping you won’t mind it living here. This blog started as a lark but has quickly become very important to me. Thanks to everyone for your comments and thank you to those who have recommended Gratuitous Socks to their friends.

John L

Copulating Foxes

by John Lenahan

Of all of the sounds of nature, copulating foxes is the strangest and possibly the most unpleasant – especially if you don’t know what it is. The first time I heard it I was sure someone was torturing an infant. I even scratched through the thorn filled wild-land behind my house to make sure that was not the case. Now that I know what the noise is I still find it disturbing and otherworldly.

***

Eight weeks before she died I came home and found Caroline upset about an argument she’d had with our son.

“I yelled at Finbar today,” she told me.

“What happened?”

“He asked me a question. When I didn’t answer it right away he asked me again and I yelled at him. I told him to shut up. The thing is – I knew the answer.”

“Why didn’t you just tell him?”

“I couldn’t say the word,” she said with panic in her eyes.

Just as I had been doing for seven years, I told her not to worry, that she was being over sensitive. Ever since she discovered she had a tumour in her head, every headache, every forgotten word, every Freudian slip made her question her health. I was her voice of reason. I assured her that I was watching her closely and that her headache was just a headache and that the reason she had forgotten something was because we all forget things sometimes – but behind my calm words alarm bells rang. Finbar had asked her where his Nikes were. The word she couldn’t come up with was ‘car’.

I went off to my garage/writing room to do a bit of proofreading. I didn’t want to think about what this meant. I wanted to believe what I had just told her – that it was just the kind of thing that happens to everyone – but deep down I knew it wasn’t. This was the beginning of the end. We were out of treatment options. This was the symptom that indicated that the tumour was growing and there was nothing for me to do but watch her die.

I forced myself back to proofing the pages of my novel – a fantasy based on Irish mythology. At the same moment that my eyes passed over the word ‘Banshee,’ a mythical Irish ghost that is found screaming on the roofs of houses the night before a death, I heard once again the eerie sound of the foxes, just underneath the window.

I stood up, banged on the glass and yelled, “Go away – not… not yet.”

The noise stopped and I never heard it again.

***

She hadn’t spoken in four days and had not opened her eyes for two. The raspy laboured deep breathing, what the hospice nurse called Cheyne-Stokes breathing started at about nine pm. By ten her respiratory rate had doubled and her heart rate was 170. She looked exactly as if she had just run a marathon and collapsed on the bed trying to catch her breath. I would have wagered all I owned that she would not make it to midnight. I would have lost. Sally and Jane and I sat with her, held her hand, and mopped her brow. In her ear I whispered that she could let go, that Finbar and I would be OK, I told her she could rest. Sally and Jane and I talked and cried and laughed, there was much more laugher than tears, if the truth be known – we were prepared for this. I had been preparing for this for more than seven years.

The heavy soporific breathing became her last rhythm of a life. It carried on for five more hours lulling me into a hypnotic state – never asleep but often not fully awake. The room became a sacred place, the event a timeless one. Being there was a privilege not unlike a birth.

My mind wandered into memory: some important, some trivial. The first time I saw her – so much hair! My high school algebra teacher Brother Bealman, who when I told him I didn’t know we had to do the homework shouted at me, “Lenahan there are only two things you have to do in this life – be born and die!” Our first electric kiss under the portico in Covent Garden. The Beatles song that goes “She said, I know what it’s like to be dead.” Making love on a deserted Caribbean beach called Crocus Bay where the luminous algae magically left our footprints glowing in the sand and we laughingly decided that if we conceived a son, we would call him Crocus. The birth of our son called – Finbar. The image of a beautiful 40 year old woman standing atop The Mogion Rim in Arizona, three miles away from where we thought our gold mine lay – alive, excited to be on an adventure, with no dark cloud on the horizon. The sight of…

Her breathing periodically stumbled and sometimes stopped for as long as a minute but then would return to cadence. When that happened we would all three sit bolt upright like meerkats at the cry of a hawk and unconsciously hold our own breath – until she breathed again.

A gasp at three am was like no other. It was followed by two more that would be her last. Her eyes, that had been closed for two days, shot open. I am certain she was present at the moment of her death. Her name was Caroline Oxford she was 47 years old. She was my wife.

In the movies, sex and fistfights are nothing like real life, and so it is with death. When I passed my hand over Caroline’s eyes to close them they merely popped open again. I massaged her eyelids closed and woke my son. This was going to be hard but not as hard as a week before when I had told him that his mother would soon die.

There were no tears from Finbar – the tears would come later. I told him he could touch her- he did – but I could see he really didn’t want to. He was the first to realise that this body wasn’t his mother, it was just the shell that she once travelled in. What truly was his mother was elsewhere. I walked him back to his room and held him until he slept. I even managed to sleep a few minutes myself – for the first time in years I didn’t have to worry about Caroline.

It was still four hours before dawn when I put on a coat and walked over to Martin and Bethan’s house. Just outside the door I saw him – I knew I would. The fox didn’t immediately run away, he stood his ground and looked me in the eye.

“Now,” I said to him, “you can make as much noise as you want.”

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24 Responses to “FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY”

  1. Terry Says:

    John, thank you so much for sharing this with everyone who might read it today. I can see Caroline delighted in the boys’ dance show, in the smoke and martini we had at Tangerine, in a walk around the lake. Her (and your and Finbar’s) bravery and reconciliation to the disease is inspiring to me, God I do miss her but I feel so privileged to have known and loved her too….

  2. johnlenahan Says:

    Hey Terry

    Yea

  3. David Warner Says:

    John
    A beautiful remembrance . I heard “Sweet Caroline” on the radio just the other day – and that’s the first I’ve heard that song in a long time – and it made me think immediately of Caroline, who was truly one of the sweetest people I have ever known.

  4. chris Says:

    i love you both

  5. Mark Britton Says:

    John

    As you may remember our son Myles was born eight days before Caroline’s death.
    Each year, whilst Barbara and I are packing a present, baking the cake or stringing up the words ‘Happy Birthday’, one of us will mention Caroline.
    Love to you and Finbar.

  6. subgear Says:

    Caroline was, indeed, the sweetest. I miss her, and I miss how being in her company was surpassing joy, no matter what the activity — taking a walk, making a salad, or waiting for the teakettle to boil.

  7. DJ Kirkby Says:

    Reading this post left me with a sense that I had just watched a beautiful sunset.

  8. Scott Pack Says:

    John. This is a remarkable piece of writing and I have linked to it from my blog. Quite humbled by it actually.

  9. SJP Says:

    Beautiful.

  10. damian mcnicholl Says:

    Came to your moving entry via Scott Pack and linked to it, too.
    Very real, very beautiful

  11. Nik Says:

    Yes. Beautiful and humbling.

    With very best wishes,

    Nik.

    PS And I linked to it too. I hope you don’t mind. (Tell me if you do!)

  12. Jilly Says:

    This piece of writing touched me deeply and your cadence with words has truly impressed me. I wish you and your familt well for 2008 and thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

  13. The winner of the best comment of the week. « John Lenahan’s Year of Gratuitous Socks Says:

    […] of the week. The winner of the best comment of the week comes from DJ Kirkby for his reply to Four Years Ago Today where he wrote, “Reading this post left me with a sense that I had just watched a beautiful […]

  14. The Power of the Pack « John Lenahan’s Year of Gratuitous Socks Says:

    […] and about being a human being (of which he also excels.) After he posted very nicely about my piece Four Years Ago Today, my reader stats quadrupled. One of his readers came to my show and posted this on Scott’s […]

  15. Mads Says:

    I came to this a little late, but I’m so glad I found it. Caroline was wonderful and reading this made me remember that.

  16. Theresa Giffard Says:

    Dear John
    I knew Caroline years ago in the days of Alternative Arts ( my company Circus Bumbelini used to do a lot of work for them). I heard you on radio 4 and hearing you say you were widowed made me wonder what had happened. I am so very sorry. I am also widowed, don’t know if you remember Tim ( The Heliosphere) but he died 2 years ago of skin cancer aged 46 leaving me and our three kids. So many young wonderful people with so much of their lives before them
    Anyway you probably dont even remember me but just wanted to say hello
    Love Theresa

  17. Jane Smith Says:

    That’s a gorgeous piece of writing, and a wonderful story. Thank you for putting it up here.

  18. I wrote Shadowmagic just to see if I could. « John Lenahan’s Year of Gratuitous Socks Says:

    […] of her death on my blog http://www.gratuitoussocks.com.  There you will find a piece called ‘Four Years Ago Today‘.  It was one of the most difficult things I have ever penned and I’m quite proud of […]

  19. Matt Duggan Says:

    This is incredibly beautiful and an amazing tribute. Thank you for posting it.

  20. Five Years Ago Today « John Lenahan’s Year of Gratuitous Socks Says:

    […] a reason and – Time heals all wounds – is high on the all time best cliché list for a reason.  Caroline died five years ago today.  The eye welling, throat tightening memories that used to commonly hit hard and fast are now so […]

  21. Ian Brodie Says:

    John. thsi tribute makes me ache for your loss. Thank you for finding the courage to put this into writing.

  22. pstricia martinelli Says:

    Dear John, do you remember me, Patricia from covent garden days ,mad days. I really dont know how to begin, all i can feel is what you have written. Jeremy took his last breath 2 months ago in the arms of myself and my daughter. I was unaware of what had happened to Caroline, I had great respect for her and her gentle spirit. Jeremy had a brain tumour too, again what you have written touches me deeply. Patricia x I live in Ireland, Jeremy was Irish

  23. patricia martinelli Says:

    I forgot to mention, Jeremy was my husband , a cultured beautiful painter. A peaceful person and quiet. He managed 2years. Like yourself we knew what was to come and each day was and is precious. Bella our daughter was petrified of any mention regarding Banshees, Keep them away from the gates! I am still very raw I hope one day I will put into words the timeless days we spent, thank you for writing your time, I hope one day we bump into each other . Patricia

  24. Maddie Vallis Says:

    John. Thanks for sharing it. Amber thought that had helped her. This is sucha a deep story and it makes me fell like crying and gasping. Thanks againX

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