The Last Day of My Life
The Last Day of My Life
Friday 17th March, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the world was wonderful; it was a day for celebrating the miracle of life and rebirth, the power of good over evil, light over darkness; it also happened to be the day that my life ended.
It was one of those days where, despite the fact that it seemed only yesterday when it was almost impossible to drag my worldweary arse out of bed in a morning because of the bone-numbing cold and the suicide-inducing darkness; despite the still fresh memory of having to scrape a porthole of permafrost from the windscreen each morning, with freezing fingers and a broken music-cassette case; despite that it was only a couple of weeks ago that I found myself hurtling down the road, hopelessly out of control, with bald tyres on black ice; despite all that, things were beginning to look up:
Snowdrops, having fulfilled their role as frontline spirit lifters, had now dipped their delicate white bonnets to the ground, making way for the crocuses with their yellow, purple and white palms clasped together in readiness to open up to the heavens; the daffodils had forced lush, green shoots, fat with bud, up through the cast iron clay that passes for soil in our garden. It was that time of year when the evenings are beginning to give over to a little light: people can drive home from work at five without the use of headlights; the local rabbits make their first appearance on the grass at the side of the road, and, it is possible to dodge the mighty potholes in the road by looking for them rather than trying to remember at which point you need to swerve sharply left and then dangerously right. As a nation we are all ready to embrace the coming spring and the blessed rise in spirits that accompanies the knowledge that British Summertime is only around the corner. After the seemingly endless winter nights, drawing in just after three in the afternoon, and making us want to start drinking before tea or go to bed before the nine O’clock watershed, we’re desperate for a release from what is fast threatening to become serious depression.
Well, I am.
Friday 17th was one of those days; one of those days that makes us, me, believe that the end of another long, miserable winter just might be in sight.
Little did I know how near to the truth that would prove to be.
I live in a small, three-bedroomed semi in a South Yorkshire village, on the border with Derbyshire, with my wife, Kate, and our little boy, Ben, who is three. It’s nice – quiet. Peaceful suburbia I suppose (the village is very near to the city); not too posh but not run down either. There are neighbours who are doctors and accountants and there are neighbours who are middle managers and self-employed. And then there are those who are… more relaxed about employment, much more relaxed. You can find them in every street in the land: those who appear to successfully avoid any kind of occupation indefinitely. I am one of those people.
Today’s general lack of neighbourly, social interaction, prevents me from knowing how the others actually achieve this, but, for my part, I am what is affectionately known as a house husband. Kate earns a small fortune while I do the one-hour’s housework that’s required every day and watch DVDs with Ben. Although, when I say affectionately, that’s not always the case. Most of the family, particularly Kate’s half, keep asking me if I’ve found any work yet. The fact that I get to do what was traditionally regarded as a very valuable job done by a woman, I’m perceived by many to be getting away with something. And I still have to mend the car, and the boiler, and take rubbish to the tip…
I’m getting carried away.
Kate and Ben were spending a few days with Kate’s mum. The old girl hadn’t been too well lately. I’m not exactly sure what with. Don’t know if I’d been kept in the dark or if I simply hadn’t paid proper attention. Anyway, the two of them were spending regular weekends there and the odd few days when Kate could get time off and when Ben wasn’t at nursery. The top and bottom of it was that I was at a loose end. No-one to boss me around or demand attention. I enjoy my own company, a bit of solitude, but I’m never very good at deciding what to do. And that morning was no different. I remember looking out through the patio doors at the garden and seeing the bright blue sky and the fluffy white clouds (Toy Story sky, Ben calls it) and the obvious new growth on the lawn and the birds fighting over crusts that had been thrown out earlier, and the day shouted: “Come on, Steve, get yourself out here and start to live!”
It was more than I could resist.
I needed stamps so I decided on a trip up to the village postoffice. Also, I thought, I could maybe chuck a couple of quid at the lottery – you never know. I pulled on a thick, hooded sweatshirt and set off walking.
By the time I got to the end of our road (no more than seventy yards) I was frozen to the bone. So cold I was already mentally running a hot bath and pouring a generous gin.
Alright, I can imagine what some of you are thinking now: if this is his last day, then we’re not likely to get much past eleven fifty nine this evening with this sorry tale of domestic tedium. Well, I suppose I have an admission to make, the first of many. Yes, it was the day that my life ended, but not my only life. It was the day that my old life ended. The day my new life began.
But do not fear. This is not a “born again” type of thing: I’m not about to chuck religion in your face. Though I haven’t been entirely straight, even if that was never the plan. Honest. It was never my intention to tell anything but the truth here. It’s just that there are a few hurdles and a pretty rocky road up ahead and we need to negotiate them together. They will have to be taken slowly, carefully, one step at a time. I can’t just throw everything at you straight away, it would simply result in sensory overload and you’d give up before I got started. I’ve spent long enough talking to myself about all of this; it’s time someone else came along for the ride.
When I returned home with my book of stamps and my three lottery scratch cards, I decided against running a bath. I’m only just forty and that sort of behaviour is for old men. I’d put a bit of a spurt on coming back down the hill and worked up quite a sweat. In truth, by the time I was back in the centrally-heated living room, I found it much too warm.
After binning the useless scratch-cards (stupid tax, Kate calls it) and swearing, again, to buy no more, I swapped the heavy sweatshirt for my beloved, but dangerously thin, Peter Green teeshirt, which I got from his first tour – his first comeback tour that is. I, like so may others that night, turned out to see a poorly man, a man who had given so much pleasure to us all, strut his stuff on stage again. Only it wasn’t actually a strutting your stuff kind of night. There was this tubby, smiling chap wearing a beret pulled back into his neck, struggling to keep up with the other band members, and yet, he was the man who gave us Albatross and The Green Manilishi and Oh Well and Black Magic Woman. He gave us all that and then disappeared from the face of the earth, thus securing his status of rock legend.
And yet there he was. Standing right there. Not ten feet away. God, it was awesome, and I hate American sayings. Anyway, while I was there, (it was in a small, city-centre club, no big stadium or City Hall, just this little, understated gig), I noticed a guy selling teeshirts from a trestle table. Normally I buy a shirt; they’re expensive, for what they are: anything between fourteen and twenty five quid as a rule, but they’re the only clothing I ever buy for myself. I’ve got Peter Gabriel shirts, Faithless, Sting, Moby and Jethro Tull; I’ve got P.J.Harvey, Korn, Eric Clapton, Eminem and Jeff Beck shirts – you name it, and, if the music’s any good, then I have a teeshirt. Like I said: it’s the only clothes buying I ever do and they take Visa. At least, they normally do.
“No, mate. Sorry. Ten quid cash,” the man said. “I’ll take a cheque, that’s no problem.”
I must have looked at him strangely then, because he followed it with: “I’m not jerking your dick here, we just don’t have a Visa machine. That’s all.”
I walked away. Told Kate that they wanted cash. She asked how much I’d got.
“Fifteen,” I said. “But the beer’s not cheap.”
“I’m not bothered about any,” she said. She was a doll (there’s another of those American things. They’re like a virus). I remember looking over at the bar. It was fifty feet long and five deep in bodies. The lights were beginning to dim. I ran back to the trestle and handed over my ten pound note in return for a crumpled bundle of black material. I stood through the entire gig (there were no seats) without a drink but with my shirt clutched tightly to my chest. I felt that Peter deserved at least that much. Besides, if I’d queued up at the bar, I’d have missed half the show.
That’s the teeshirt I wore when I changed at eleven thirty seven in the morning on Friday 17th March. Peter’s wonderful, trouble-free face smiling out from above his old Gibson. To say that I treasured that shirt would be to fall prey to cliché, but that’s what I did. If ever the house caught fire, providing Kate and Ben were out and safe, that’s the one thing that would have me running back into the flames.
Irrational, I know.
I put that shirt on, threw my socks into the bathroom, came downstairs and wandered over to the patio window again. I sensed that there was something special about the day even then. Whether it was the deafening tick-tock of the digital clock, or the heavy, burning rubber smell from the aromatherapy candles, or the total absence of the ear-splitting screech of skill-saws as they cut new driveways for old cars, I don’t know. But the day, the moment, had a certain quality about. Hard to describe but, everything seemed so real, so immediate.
The soft, blue pile of the carpet tickled my bare toes as I stood there staring at the sky. It struck me how deep a blue the sky really was. In fact (I remember thinking at the time) it was almost purple. A vivid, deep purple (I have that teeshirt too somewhere).
I suppose it was the depth of colour that made the contrast with the lights over to the east all the more noticeable. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I was just thinking how strange it was that the world could look so inviting, so warm and cosy and safe, and yet still be so harsh and terribly cold.
The lights drew my eyes over to the left. I thought, perhaps, it was the police helicopter. South Yorkshire Police miss no opportunity to annoy the city’s residents by turning what used to be a pleasant, quiet, suburban backwater, into something more akin to a militarised zone. You would be trying to watch a romantic comedy on the DVD (you know the sort: the ones with no romance and no comedy but which leave you feeling as though you’ve been through the funeral of your entire family) when, suddenly, it’s like Saigon; in the sixties of course, not now. Anyway, a helicopter is what I had it down as. But, as it drew closer, it became apparent that it was like no helicopter I’d ever seen; not even in a James Bond film. For a start, it had no blades; also, it had no wings, so it wasn’t a plane either. The lights were pulsing rhythmically. Honestly, they were, have you ever heard anything so corny? I was mesmerised by them as they drew closer, until all I could see was a mass of flashing light. This soon set up a very worrying, sympathetic twitch somewhere in my lower gut. The last thing I remember before I blacked out (which is what I assume I must have done) was: Jesus! I’m gonna shit myself.