Friday, 3 June 2011

Mark Twain's Susy

I dream a lot, and vividly as I imagine many people do when life is particularly turbulent.  Some of my dreams seem so brilliantly conceived that I write down the details excitedly for story ideas.  Most of course turn out to be a lot of nonsense.  Sometimes my dreams don't have the pretensions of glittering new fiction but are symbolic, at least to me.  Last night I had one of those.

I was in a high street bank, queuing up at the counter to withdraw some money when a robber burst in. I lay on the filthy floor with the other customers as he emptied the safe, but as he was leaving the thief bent his head close to my ear on the floor.

"I've got all your money," he said. "Cheer up though.  You'll be able to make a claim for those clothes you've got dirty. How much did you pay for your T-shirt?"

I looked down at my T-shirt, and remembered paying £8 for it.

"There you go then.  That's £8 you just got, thanks to me."  And he left.

When Juliette died, any coherence or articulacy I had, snapped. I needed to express what I felt but there were no words. In desperation, I read books that might draw down my emotions. I think I believed that finding words to define the feelings would limit the power they had over me.

This was a paragraph I stumbled on from a letter written by Mark Twain, whose daughter Susy had just died after a short illness.

"I did not know that she could go away. I did not know that she could go away and take our lives with her, yet leave our dull bodies behind. And I did not know what she was. To me she was but a treasure in a bank, the amount known, to be counted on. I did not know it could be taken away. And now it is too late. They tell me my treasure is not there, has vanished away in the night, the bank is broken, my fortune is gone, I am a pauper. How am I to comprehend this? How am I to survive? Why am I robbed, and who is benefited?"

His confusion, almost child-like, mirrored mine.  With Juliette gone I needed to know, if she wasn't with me then who did have her? Why did we not fully know the treasure we'd had until in an instant, it was gone?

I think the bank robber in my dream was Death, and his words were the ones I've used to myself over the past few years - that when the loss is so huge surely there must be some gain, somewhere?  Isn't that the way the universe works?  So I've told myself I must be "a better person," more empathetic and conscious of what is important in life and that losing Juliette is what gave me the courage to write.

But I'll never hold her again. With rose-tinted spectacles off, my gain feels like that £8 on a cheap T-shirt.

7 comments:

  1. Beautifully written. I think it's brave of you to be able to read things that help you in times of crisis. I tend to bury my head in the sand for a long time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You give so much to others, Geves, You treasured Juliette, you understood her true worth and I know she would admire your courage. Keep writing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a touching post. I think it will always be that way, we never really know what we have until its gone. Even now having experienced these losses, I may treasure my other daughter a little more but you never know their true beauty until they are no longer here.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've looked for sense in Catherine's death - but I haven't found any. I think we are all diminished by her lost. I remember thinking - if she'd just been ill - if I had sat at her bedside in intensive care, then I might have had it as a wake up call. Perhaps I could have thrown my job in - perhaps we could have been happier - richer for the experience. But living without her just seems senseless x

    ReplyDelete
  5. Susan, I know that feeling, only I suppose I don't really. When Juliette died I had other children I couldn't let down. x

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jenny, I think there's a cruel truth in what you say. I was looking at your new pictures of Megan today.. what a beautiful little girl she is. x

    ReplyDelete
  7. "..new" as in I hadn't seen them before.

    ReplyDelete