Last year, though drug-riddled and ill, still she wanted to please me. She saw a vintage sewing machine – my favourite make – in the window of a charity shop. She thought of me, and asked to see the manager, who told her she could put down a deposit. The manager knew it was for me – we go way back to schooldays, when we used to spend our weekends together, sitting on five-bar gates, swinging our legs, flaunting our budding sexuality, watching cars go by, and getting into scrapes with unsuitable dates, using each other as an excuse for escape. But that’s another story.
When I next saw Laura, she asked me if I would like a sewing machine, and I gruffly said that all I wanted for my birthday was for her to be clean.
She bought the machine anyway. It weighed a ton, but she carried it back to my flat, and I was grateful. It was beautiful, and worked like a dream. I thanked her, gave her a hug and told her I loved her, but I couldn’t resist smiling sadly, and saying, “Maybe I’ll get that other gift next year.”
I turned 62 yesterday. She gave me a book and a lovely card, hand-made by her, but most important of all, she delivered the miraculous gift I had been longing for.
Laura is clean.
Laura was a child of spirit, born into a world of flesh, and she didn’t adapt in the way that most of us do. She spent her childhood confused and unhappy, but she was brave. She tried to fit into a world that understood her no more than she understood it. She was beaten down, time after time. The day came when she couldn’t take another beating, and she turned to street-medication.
She has felt, and witnessed, things that we cannot imagine. She knows what the bottom of the pit looks like, because she’s been there – in a place where we have never been, because our hearts beat differently.
I knew that she had to witness pure darkness before she could see the light, so I turned away from her. It was horrible – I looked down on her from my safe window, saw her staggering by, and felt my insides shredding. I coped by being angry, by feigning indifference, by talking to Serenity, my mannequin, by chanting affirmations – any way I could, I coped. I woke some mornings terrified that she may have died in the night, all alone – yet knowing she hadn’t, as I would have felt it as her life ebbed away.
She was sliding on black ice. She slid until there she was in utter darkness, with her eyes closed. When she opened them again, there were glints of light twinkling in the distance – not one, but many. There was her boyfriend Joe, me, her sister, Sarah, and other family members who never stopped loving her – and not only those, there were many – twinkling away, in this country, and all over the world – in America, Australia, Canada, Africa. I hope you all know who you are – all you who sent your good wishes, your healing thoughts, your love and your prayers – she saw your light. I know I’ve mentioned it several times, but I can’t get over what you have all done for her.
Laura’s 31 now. She’s no longer a schoolgirl; she no longer has to try to fit into a tight box for the convenience of school or society. She can practice her own unique dance, and she will be admired for it. She’s been burnt and frozen by life. She’s been cut, bruised,and fractured, but her scars make her more beautiful. She is her own person, brave, strong and creative. She’ll achieve her own kind of greatness.
Joe says that when the world points its finger and speaks of the mistakes of others, they speak out of ignorance. They don’t know the background. They don’t know that what they call a mistake may have been the right thing for the individual at that particular time, or that it may have seemed like the only choice available. I think he’s right.
We have a lot to learn from those who have climbed out of that dark pit.
I’m in shock, and for once it’s happy shock. I keep finding myself smiling about nothing – except that it’s not nothing. It’s all-consuming.
©Jane Paterson Basil