Very naively, I assumed that my mind would be blown apart by the fact that Cliff's death was real. Not so.
If anything, it softly crept into my heart, mindset and belief. But once it had snuck through ... with the stealth of an SAS soldier ... (roughly a week after "the firework") it took root. There is no going back to that place where everything is unsure and foggy. I know this intuitively. Beyond any doubt.
I was right to be frightened of accepting his death though.
For this new level brings a deeper and much more powerful grief.
Waves of water have turned into waves of molten heavy lead. Heavy enough to debilitate. Crippling. When I can catch my breath, I always tell him, "this is killing me, baba. Literally." When I cry now, I can't breathe. I make noises that sound unearthly. I literally fall to my knees, or find myself bent over, heaving with the pain of it. It's primal, as it was in the beginning, except this time round, I know it's true. All I can do is feel ... all I can do is embrace the pain, until it passes.
There always seems to be a trade-off in this journey. On reaching this new "level", I have been graced with peace, because I no longer feel that inner turmoil, confusion or wavering between belief and disbelief. I've stopped looking for him, stopped trying to recreate that which cannot be brought back, stopped begging him to return for I have finally, after 20 or 21 months, truly accepted that he cannot.
That he is reduced to ashes.
Those faded translucent water colours have stopped following me. In their place are "action replays" whirring round in my mind, memories, clearer visuals of him - I can pluck these out of the recesses of my mind on a whim. And I do. Often. Not to torture myself but just to remember ... doing so reassures me sometimes even. Not always.
Everything is so much clearer right now. I "get it" ... everything he wanted me to know, understand, feel and learn. And it stuns me. Out of nowhere, involuntarily I remember something he said "in passing" ... and I "get it" ... I finally hear him, comprehend what he said at last. Crystal clear. There are many examples but the most prominent one is about one of my dogs.
Recently I keep hearing his words, "don't ever leave him. He'd be lost without you." Cliff was referring to my deaf dog Fred, and I immediately replied, "why would I ever leave him. I wouldn't," with complete conviction. I can see myself, back then, shaking my head and frowning. Feeling perplexed and wondering WTF he said it for. I remember thinking that it was the most ludicrous statement, left-field, ridiculous and unthinkable. Outrageous even. Perhaps a little insulting. And then I remember Cliff's silent response - his facial leakage, his body language. I vividly recollect sensing that Cliff was intimating that I ... me ... yours truly was being referred to alone. Not we ... us ... and it felt alien and I didn't "get it", I simply thought it was peculiar when he said it. He knew I might find it all a bit much because Fred - believe me - is a special needs dog. He gets separation anxiety, even if I go upstairs without him. If I want to go out at the weekend, I have to get up early and pretend to go to work. If I don't, he will bark incessantly ... up to 6 hours ... till I return, causing my neighbours to complain. He insists on being "velcro-ed" to my leg, prolonging any home chores significantly. If I ignore him too long because of chores, work or even if I am on the phone too long, he will punish me by peeing indoors, sometimes worse. Every time I come on, he spends those 4 days trying to shag Barney, much to Barney's irritation, often culminating in fur flying when the poor thing has had enough. I mean the dog doesn't do anything for those 4 days (unless he's eating or sleeping) other than make this his mission. I have to walk the dogs separately because Fred "walks" on his back legs, barking like a piercing siren, clearly paranoid that every bug, dog, person and car is a physical threat to me. Even shadows. Thankfully he only reacts like this when he's not on his home turf.
I could go on. And on.
I am ashamed to admit that in the past couple of months I have been contemplating taking him to a rescue shelter for dogs. At one very low point in my psyche, I even contemplated having him put down.
And this thought actually emanated from the mind of a girl who adores animals, especially dogs. A girl who would die chasing her dog across the road, without a care for her own safety. The same girl who failed a driving test courtesy of a Great Dane who lolloped in front of her car, resulting in the examiner contemptuously informing her that he could not possibly pass anyone who valued a dog's life above a human's. The same girl who walked 8 miles in the freezing rain to raise money for Orang-Utans, then again for Snow Leopards. The girl who was an ardent Ele-friend. The girl who only selects animal charities to donate to (with the exception of SSLF post Cliff dying). The girl who feeds strays when on luxurious holidays much to the chagrin of resort and restaurant employees.
I could go on. And on.
And now ... I look in his deep brown eyes. The eyes that he looked through fearfully at the world. The same world that taught him that people were cruel. That the very person he loved with unconditional loyalty beat him as a puppy. So badly that the RSPCA rescued him and re-homed him with a family a few miles from here. The family who consequently realized that they didn't have the time, energy or patience to deal with his behavioural problems, and who unwisely decided to resolve the issue by buying a pedigree dog to keep him company ... only to discover that the issue became even worse. The family who sold Fred and Barney to us when we were mourning the loss of our Rottweiler, who died at the age of 9 (which is old for that particular breed). I look at him and see nothing left of the distrusting, flinching, count-his-ribs-by-looking-at-him dog that we brought home. And I remember that he is super-glued to me because I am the only person who has ever loved him. Never beaten him. Always gently woken him when he whimpers in his doggy-nightmares. The noise is PITIFUL and breaks my heart because I'm sure that he is remembering his past in his dreams.
I look at him and see a loving dog who would die protecting me, who literally tries to hug me when I return from work each day. A gentle, kind soul. The same dog who, last Christmas, pressed his body into mine all night long, each night because he sensed I needed him to. The dog who will carefully lick the salty tears from my face. The dog I made an unquestionable commitment to. Anything else, any other scenario never crossed my mind, and never would have before losing Cliff.
And the shame burns me. It feels as though the thoughts were from another "me". In an alternate nasty reality. Not me. Completely against the grain. Absolutely unthinkable. Never.
And I say to Cliff out loud, "you knew, didn't you?" He knew.
This new level of grief, as deep as it goes ... has enabled me to learn and listen to Cliff again properly.
And it's allowed me to look at my deaf dog - with all his idiosyncrasies - through the eyes of the girl who adores him, whatever he does.
I feel like I've got me back again. Broken yet mending. The dog lover. The animal lover. The natural protective instinct that is part of my genetic make-up is functioning again. That add-on is fixed. I'm no longer falling in and out of love with this particular shithead.
Cliff knew that I would struggle when everything went black. That Fred would probably be the proverbial straw. And he mentioned it, "in passing". It made no sense whatsoever at the time. But today ... it's crystal. And I listened and understood this time. I'd have never ever forgiven myself, and I was so close, saved by my husband's voice and words. My beautiful strong husband who knew how I would not have ever really recovered from making a terrible decision through desperation and pain.
He's mine. For life. Whatever.