I was small. I was a child again. I found myself entering an oversized, somehow seemingly sideways home. Sideways, yet familiar. We’d been here many times before. Each time greeted by a giant fluffy white dog and the sound of the kettle blasting off. Miss Claire always knew when we’d arrive, and the tea would always be ready just in time. Miss Claire was much older than my mother, but they had become great friends. Afternoon tea and coffee was routine. I’d sit in a cloud of secondhand smoke with my English breakfast tea. I didn’t drink tea at home, I looked forward to this treat each visit. I could put as much cream and sugar as I wanted. Most afternoons I would drift off in my mind, that was my refuge back then. At times I’d listen in on the banter and gossip Miss Claire and my mother shared. But on this day things had changed, something had gone sideways, something had gone very wrong. On this day the tall white house sat in the clouds. We seemed to float in past an array of blue and red lights. We entered. My fluffy friend lay under the kitchen table and we were instead greeted by officers who exited as we entered. Miss Claire sat sad at the table. The kettle began to ring. I pulled up a chair next to Miss Claire. She kindly grabbed my hand gently placing a medallion in my palm, “PRAY TO ST. JUDE … patron of all things despaired…” I know when she gave me this gift, I was not yet able to read the prayer, but this was a dream and suddenly I could see. The smoke clouds dispersed, we remained in slow motion as my mother poured the tea it was an endless stream unaccompanied by banter and gossip, there would be only silence if not for the ringing in my ears... It wasn’t because they didn’t want me to know what had happened three floors up. I’d already known, Miss Claire had lost her son, and I knew she’d lost him by a gun, and I knew just what he’d done.
The ringing in my ears continued as my alarm began to sound. I awoke. In my fist clenched tight, the St Jude medallion I’d kept all these years. I clicked down the button on my electric kettle, placed the medallion over my heart and closed my eyes welcoming a rush of morning tears.
Miss Claire had seen my sadness all along, she knew it as it was familiar to her, and she knew I’d suffer just as her son had. That’s why she gave me the medallion, she knew I would need it. I had grown up; despite my sadness I made a small succuss of myself. I would go on to leave it all behind. I shed most of my belongings. Everything came down to a few suitcases. I had clothes, a few books, some tokens and charms, little oddities that became part of me, small comforting things I could keep with me as I traveled. The ST. JUDE Medallion being one of them. I picked up things along the way. I blue footed booby carving from Ecuador, Nazca lines bird magnet from Peru, an easter island head keychain from chile and that’s where I left my husband. I left him there standing in the airport where I purchased the keychain. I didn’t actually make it to easter island. But still I enjoyed how the immense heads looked and it was the only souvenir I could afford. So now I have this token to remind me of the last time I saw my husband, the last time we hugged with hope thinking we’d reunite soon. But I left him and kept him there and here I have a souvenir, that’s since severed in half due to lack of care, which is actually quite fitting. We’d seen a war together, been to half the world together, I said my goodbyes and let the earth’s ether take me away. I didn’t really know it, but I could feel it, the earth, her ether, her borders, her politics and her plan did not include us, nor did it consider us. She would keep us apart and our surmise would burn itself into her heart.
The collection also included a post card from Dublin, it quoted Oscar Wild “I can resist everything except temptation.” I’d also obtained a vintage compass from a shop on Portobello Road which was in the vicinity of where I found myself living, Notting Hill -London.
It’s almost unexplainable but with nearly nothing left and nowhere to go I found a job and a roof over my head in a London hostel.
I was grateful for the job, grateful for the shelter, but a pandemic was looming.
It wasn’t the time to fall in love, but I’ve found sometimes these kinds of things happen at the most inconvenient of times. It was the painful kind of love, not the happy ending kind of love. It was too soon to see anyone new since I saw my husband last. It wasn’t the best time to learn just how hurtful someone could be, and I had no resistance towards this temptation.
Each night the confusion became worse, each morning the aggressive depressive pain would set in, worse than the day before. Lifting myself up with invisible weights each day. Love would release the weight temporarily but only to suffocate me in exchange.
And so, the night came where I could breathe no more. All hope escaped my body, I thought I couldn’t go on. I reached for the medallion Miss Claire had known I would need. I took it and kept it tightly in my hand and wept all night until finally falling asleep. A short sleep that was long enough to get me back on my feet. Sometimes that’s all you need.
My London fog began to clear as the kettle clicked off. There was no slow motion now and here, I quickly poured the water as I placed St. Jude beside my oversized mug. Before the fog could return, I took the love that would kill me, and I put it in that oversized mug, and I drank it all up. Soon after I packed up all my stuff, flew across the ocean, packed my life up on a bus and could relax until the last stop. The rest of the way I walked home with suitcases that weighed me down, but I knew soon, I’d get to put them down. Just a few short blocks from my bus stop, on the way home, there it was. The big white house. I paused. I couldn’t go in. Miss Claire wasn’t there; she was one of the many we lost that year. I stood outside and starred as I thanked the air. She was there in the earth’s ether, her good heart, burnt into the atmosphere.