Do you remember your first time?
No. I don’t mean that first time… Tut. I don’t know. One track mind
I mean the first time you realised your mum was actually a. Wait for it. Woman
I remember mine clearly. The moment I experienced my first inkling that she led a double life. Had an identity. That is, an identity outside of me and my brother.
I’d like to think that these pivotal realisations in one’s life should be set against some sort of dramatic landscape befitting to such a moment.
Glorious meadows. Spectacular rocky gorges. Roaring waterfalls. Basically anything from a Timotei ad
For me. It was whilst watching The A Team
I know. It’s a bit low-rent.
I was young. Maybe 8. The A Team was on telly.
I loved The A Team.
I’m not going to lie. I had a thing about Face. It was my dirty secret. Yes. I know I was 8. What can I say? I was an early developer.
To me, Face was the epitome of the term ‘dreamboat’. Dirk Benedict. Even his name sounded naughty.
He reminded me of Simon Byrne from school. Simon Byrne of incredible brightness (teacher’s words) and very kissable lips (mine). Not that I ever got near them. He obviously didn’t like freckly girls. With big eyes. Who looked a bit like Richard Hammond.
So there I was. Sat on the sofa. Transfixed on Face’s face. I didn’t even know mum was watching. But she was. Because out of the blue. She said ‘He’s rather nice’.
It was the way she emphasised the word ‘nice’ that made me turn and look at her.
Hang on a minute. My mum fancied Face.
I turned back to the TV and pretended to watch the rest of the episode. But I couldn’t concentrate. Something didn’t feel right. And I didn’t know what.
And then it slowly started to sink in. There was something going on. Something I hadn’t before been privy to. About Mum. This person who I thought existed only in relation to me. She was someone else. Outside of being a mother I mean.
It was like when someone shines a torch under their face and transforms into some sort of ghoul. Or seeing a stain glass window under a stream of sunshine for the first time. Or. To use a more sophisticated reference. In Neighbours. Back when Plain Jane Superbrain removed her glasses and ‘became’ beautiful.
My God. I thought. Mum was a woman.
I was hit by that realisation again. Almost 30 years later. In the oncologist’s office.
This time it had nothing to do with Dirk Benedict.
Instead it was the word palliative.
It was a few weeks after the initial diagnosis. Mum was about to start chemo.
We think of chemotherapy as being a course of treatment over a set period of time. To fix the problem. Kill off the cancerous cells. Yes. It can cause the most God-awful side effects. But somehow that’s the pay-off for doing what it’s meant to. Well. That’s the idea anyway.
But in Mum’s case the chemo was never intended to stop the cancer. Apparently it was unstoppable. Incurable and inoperable. The oncologist seemed to like those two words. He must have. He bandied them around a lot.
Too extensively spread across both lungs. He said. Pebble dash. That was the term used. For anyone who’s tried to remove pebble dash from an exterior wall, apparently removing it from the lungs is just as tricky.
We were told that the treatment´s sole purpose was to extend mum´s life. Not save it. It was called maintenance chemo. Otherwise known as palliative chemo.
Palliative. That word. It’s amazing how a combination of ten letters can have so much of an effect.
It´s such an awful word to hear. I wanted to rub it out. Press control Z to undo it. Like for a typo or after pressing an incorrect key.
I wanted to take it out of his mouth. Like a dentist with an abscess. Hide it in his desk drawer. I didn´t want mum to hear it.
The chemo was in tablet form. To be taken every day.
‘Every day until when?’ I´d asked. Thinking it was like normal chemo where you have a course and then stop.
‘Just. Every day…’ He trailed off.
Oh. I see.
I wish I hadn´t asked.
Palliative. I remember thinking the word felt alien. Especially, I thought, in reference to the woman sitting next to me.
And there it was again. Woman.
You know that idea of life flashing before your eyes? It was a bit like that. But instead of my life, it was hers.
Like looking through the viewer of a camera. Twisting the lens until the picture comes into focus. It starts off fuzzy. Gets a bit worse. And then boom. Crystal clear.
In that moment all the other roles in her life fell away. She was simply a woman.
With her own old childhood ambitions. Secrets. Dreams. And Fears. With parents of her own. Times of sadness and regret. And achievements. Strength. And laughter.
And who had a crush on Dirk Benedict. Just like her daughter.
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