Mrs Garland’s Gift.

Mrs Garland’s gift.

Take everything with both hands and ask for more.’

Sometimes in life, a fortunate stroke of serendipity might allow us to encounter profound wisdom in a quite unexpected place, and moments like these only later reveal themselves as seed for hope.

Such was my good fortune one sunny morning when I was out for a walk in the fresh air of a long-awaited Spring, almost twenty years ago now, but the memory remains fresh in my mind. I was almost at the end of a 2-year treatment regime for Aplastic Anaemia, a serious blood disorder that can be fatal. Although my body had responded well to the treatment, my spirit was struggling. At diagnosis I was told that if the treatment did not work, I would have a 3-month prognosis at best. I was only twenty-five when I fell ill, and I had a future full of dreams ahead of me. What I needed, desperately, was a bone marrow transplant, but no suitable matched donor could be found and so an alternative treatment plan was put into place. As I slowly started to heal, some of the other patients that I encountered at the hospital, did not. At times I felt tremendous guilt for simply having life, coupled with a pervasive fear of the unknown. Why am I surviving this, and others not?  Would the treatment work in the long-term?  Might I relapse? And, the most disabling fear of all, if I were to relapse, would I survive a second time? These questions that plagued my inner-world were not unique. Many people who have battled cancer and other potentially life-limiting diseases have to face the reality of their own mortality, and the sheer vulnerability of life. I was tired of living with fear and I was searching for something—the permission to live, and to enjoy what I had been given.

And so, it was on that bright mid-week morning that I met Mrs Garland, a tiny, frail woman that I placed somewhere in her eighties. She had the loveliest smile and blue eyes that twinkled mischievously when she spoke. As we walked together in the sunshine, we exchanged pleasantries, and talked about the weather as strangers might do, but somehow, within a matter of minutes, the conversation grew deeper than what one would expect from two people who had never met until that day. I felt as if I had been drawn into a quiet place with this lovely woman who seemed to look right into the most afraid part of my heart. As our conversation kept pace with the soft rhythm of our feet on the sidewalk, I found myself telling her about the shock of falling ill, the two years of countless hospital visits, the never-ending blood and platelet transfusions, the countless pills that I had to take every day, the deep sense of loss and guilt that followed me around, and the dark fear that wanted to strangle me at times. Patiently, she listened to my whole story, a quiet nod of her head here and there, and when to my great embarrassment I started to cry, she didn’t once look away, she simply took both my hands in hers and said, ‘Life can be terrifying sometimes, and so unfair, but I decided a long time ago to live my life in only one way. I take everything with both hands, and I ask for more. Always ask for more, and it will come to you!

I don’t remember much more of that day, but I have held onto Mrs Garland’s words like a lifeline.

And ever since that morning, when her wise words were planted so gently in my heart. I have lived my life with both hands stretched out, always asking for more! Always expecting more! And, time has proven her wisdom to be true. Over the years, I have received more than I could ever have dreamed I would be given. Time, the most precious gift of all, but also love, and a beautiful little boy, and a million other things like sunsets, and the song of a blackbird, the fragrance of my tea in the mornings, and poetry to read and fill my soul. And yes, some of what I had been given was hard, and the fear remained for a long time, but still I received it as a gift, and it taught me to live bigger—to live outward, beyond my fears. Not only for myself but for everyone who didn’t get to leave that hospital—I live my life for them, too, and I live it gratefully and with great joy. I slowly learned how to live more vulnerably, and how to show my heart to the world. I now see everything as a miracle, and my heart and hands have never stopped being full.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Javon Swaby.

the lies we tell ourselves.

a few nights ago, whilst paging through a magazine, i read a letter

by ‘struggling to trust’, penned in desperation to an agony aunt column, and

she writes—this woman with an ancient question burning in her bones—that she had known a man for a long time, since they were not much more than children, and how she had planted love at his feet, in wild faith, as we women sometimes do, but

how he did not notice the fragrance of the flowers that bloomed around her when he was near, but still

she hoped.

for more. for him. for love.

and how they had lost sight of each other over the years, but love is a thing that does not easily die, even if it is only watered by one pair of hands,

and how there came a night where they were in the same place, geographically at least, and how he poured hot words all over her naked skin, and how she gave him her heart in her hands, and

she tells of his kiss, and his mouth and how it lingered on her limbs, and over the softest parts of her, and how he found the secret scar that runs across the half-moon of her right breast,

and she had once fought the darkness, and won, but

he did not know this, and

how his fingers had traced the full length of it, and how his mouth had moved over its landscape, on his conquering path, and how he did not stop to look into her eyes with ‘when’ and ‘how’ and ‘why’ on his lips, and

don’t scars in secret places whisper, there is more here and i am showing you everything that i have hidden from the world, and please look into my eyes and see what i am giving you, and

how the next morning he took all his words with him, and how they didn’t seem to shine as much in the light.

and what she really needed to know was how could she change so that she could be enough for him, and did this mean that he never really loved her?

and the reply came:

tell me…what do you think?

— the lies we tell ourselves.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Jaymantri.

the kiss.

summer’s light pulls me from my sleep earlier than i had hoped, but still i wake to silence in the house and quietly i rise, feet bare; limbs stretched out  a languid nod to the sun on the green of my mat and later, somewhere between midnight and now, i make breakfast and countless cups of hot assam tea. 

and as the hours slowly walk their way towards home, i teach a small boy how to do addition — if you take one and add it to another, just like this, see how well they fit together, then you have two. and this is how we find each other in the most ordinary of places.

and later, after lunch, i stare for a long while in silence, at the swollen thunderclouds making slate-grey rain fall down on theold kilpatrick hills, and i envy them their freedom to let go, and somehow, somewhere between the soft shell of my earlobe and the horizontal exclamation of my clavicle, my bruised skin remembers your mouth. 

and i wonder how to hide this, but my body will not listen, it never does, and the radio is softly playing that song, do you remember it, and i peel potatoes for dinner, and run hot bubble baths, and all i can do is blush. 

 the kiss.

The Decision.

‘Did I ever tell you about the time I gave myself away to a broken man?’ She asked me one icy afternoon when the skies over Glasgow were mourning the loss of Summer.

The tea grew cold as I waited for her to return from where she had retreated to inside her head. I had known her all my life—our friendship, a tapestry of dark and light. When she finally looked up, her eyes were wet with tears. My heart broke for her.

‘I walked away from everything that I had. Everything that I felt was no longer enough. I sacrificed it all and I gave myself to him in pieces. One heartbeat at a time. I thought that I could save him. That I could rearrange all his fractured pieces into something new. Heal him. You know?’

She stared out of my kitchen window at the rain falling in grey sheets over the Old Kilpatrick hills.

‘I realised too late that he would cost me something that I could never get back. I almost lost my life bleeding from trying to put the splinters of his life back together in the shape of a man. It’s an impossible thing to do. A broken man who doesn’t want to heal, will cut you until you die.’

I reached for her hand across the scrubbed pine table. Our eyes met and I nodded.

‘I know’, I said, ‘I’ve known for a long time. But you can walk away from this. You have to leave him there. Leave him where he walked away from you. He didn’t deserve you. Still doesn’t. You are worth so much more. You have lost so much of yourself because of him. Don’t let him steal the rest. You have your husband back. You have to choose where to plant your love. Here, with a man who adores you; who would give up his life for you, or in the past with a shadow who never had any intention of loving you. The choice is yours.’

She smiled her beautiful smile at me and for a moment I saw myself in her eyes. A tapestry of dark and light. A friendship of pain and joy and all the other moments that made up our relationship. Yes. She had a choice to make.

A shaft of afternoon sunlight broke free from the grey clouds. The rain had stopped. Briefly. It would fall again. But for now, the light was breaking through. And it was good.

—The Decision.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Daja.

I haven’t written a flash fiction piece in a while. I hope that you enjoy this.

liezel

A boy, remembered.

She had come for a blood pressure check.

Would I mind and did I have a moment inbetween patients and she really didn’t want to waste my time?

Her eyes avoiding mine until the tears that silently found their way down her cheeks, revealed that the real pressure was not in her arteries, but in her heart.

And please, please—she was so ashamed of what she had done, but she had had no choice. And she hoped that I would understand.

Not judge.

She needed a safe space to cry—to share the memory of the son she had birthed 9 years ago to the day, but whom she had given away.

Knowing herself unable to mother, her heart (still) mourned. Like a pulsating umbilical cord she bled pain—every single day.

Afraid to share.

Because…what kind of mother gives her own child away?

And so we sat.

Nurse and patient.

Woman to woman.

Mother to mother.

And we remembered the day she gave birth and fought that fierce loss that tore the fabric of her being in two. Watching the life that had grown under her heart for 40 weeks, wrapped in sterile green—vernix from her body covering his—leave her life.

How was it possible to mourn a child for the rest of your life and not splinter with grief?

Not fold in on yourself from shame?

Was it possible?

And together, we remembered the other woman—who, with empty womb, became a mother that day.

Years of heartache evaporating in the face of this gift.

And we remembered the boy.

…we remembered him.

And so we sat, until she could stand up under the weight once more, and breathe.

The Therapist.

At home, Gabriel only ate the red M&M’s.

The other colours all terrified him.

His exasperated mum wrote it off as ‘just another of his autistic quirks.’

He couldn’t tell her that the angry lady with the piercing eyes, always ate the red ones during his ABA sessions; ‘rewarding’ him with the other colours when his fear finally forced him to follow her barked commands.

The other colours were the currency of her grudging satisfaction, and only when she slid them across the table at him, one by one, did he not have to look into her eyes.

To Gabriel, red, was the colour of freedom.