I have to tell you I’m blown away by this next offering in the Letter to my younger self series. This is a beautiful letter, by Patricia Gibney.
I know Patricia through social media; we are mutual friends of a number of writers. She says she has been writing stories since she could hold a pencil. She’s currently editing her first crime novel and has a second one on the go. She got through to the ‘Date with an Agent’ competition as part of the Dublin Writers Festival in May 2014.
Patricia has two full time roles – one as a writer and one as mum to her three children.
Her two facebook pages are Once in a Lifetime Gifts and Spring Sprong Sally. You can also follow her on Twitter @trisha460
Over to Patricia…
I recently stumbled across letters he wrote to you, when he was in army training in Donegal, during the summer of ‘78. It was a time of no mobiles, computers or social media; a time when only one family on your estate owned a telephone. Letters were the lifeline of your early relationship. Finding those tattered missives scripted in his blotted blue pen, prompt me to write a letter to you, my younger self.
It is June 1978 and he’s home on a few days leave. You’ve just turned seventeen and completed your leaving cert exams. I can see you both. Lying on the flattened grass beside the murky waters of the canal, your head on his chest, your fingers idling with the buttons of his wide collared, mauve (yes mauve) shirt, while he smokes a Major from one hand, running his other through your short dark hair. He’s wearing those jeans you love. The faded denim bellbottoms, with the little plaits across the back pockets where you link your fingers as you walk. You’ve kicked off your prized platform sandals and don’t seem embarrassed by your green nylon hand-me-down trousers, eagerly plucked from your cousin’s parcel from England, along with the white cheese-cloth blouse, the one with the delicate mother of pearl buttons. You think you look fantastic and you know what, you do. Lying there, you are the picture of happiness, as you listen to his heart beat thump-thump, thump-thump, against your ear, your head rising and falling in unison with his breaths and you believe it is the most wonderful sound in the world. At that moment in time, you realise you are in love. You want this moment of natural serenity to last forever. But forever is just a word. And moments are fleeting. And nothing lasts forever. Forgive me, I’m a little bit cynical now, but trust me, I know.
As you lie there, intertwined by the naivety of youth, do you see the colour of the wild flowers, feel the touch of the grass between your bare toes, smell the summer fragrances around you and hear the bees foraging in the petals? Do you see the little butterfly flitting among the reeds or the soft white feather floating from the sky? I don’t think you do. Not then. Not for a long time. Not until you realise that there really is no such thing as forever. But you trail your fingers along his smooth jaw, memorise each lash fluttering over his magical blue eyes and flick his blonde hair from his brow. All your senses are consumed by the one you dream of spending the rest of your life with. Let me tell you, dreams are so far from reality that you can get lost in them, until the harshness of life intervenes and shatters them, like a raindrop exploding on concrete, when you least expect it.
I need to tell you, life is made up of moments, like the one you are now enjoying and you will have many moments of similar magic but I struggle to remember them. You will jump on the roller coaster and it will take off too fast, catching you in the wheels of stress, family and work. And in a flash, though many years from now, your dreams disappear, leaving you drowning in a sea of insane nothingness.
You do marry him. Yes you do. Sure you knew he was “the one” when you were only fourteen. And the day before your 21st birthday you pledge yourselves to each other and slip gold bands on your fingers. You save for your house. Wow, interest rates are 14% in the eighties and you will have to give up smoking to afford the mortgage. Having children won’t be easy. For nine years you struggle but a beautiful girl is yours through adoption and then the miracle of another daughter and son sprinkle your life with fairy dust. Through all this, you work, hard and long hours. You strive to be the best at all you do and never stand still. And he will travel with his job, Lebanon and Kosovo, Chad and Congo, Sweden and Sudan. And life will hurtle you through a tide of incessant “doing and going” and “running and racing”, babies and bottles, cots and calpol, pots and pans, school bags and books, plays and exams, laughter and love, discos and dramas, running upstairs and down. And he will throw the arm of common sense around your shoulder, grounding you in life. You will be defined by your husband, your children, your family and friends, and your job. They will be the constant in your world. Forever.
Forever? Remember when I said it is only a word? It is an imaginary crystal of a future you can know nothing about. Not then, huh, not even now.
Your forever with him will end in a single moment, so out of the blue that you will look at the sky and wonder where the cloudburst came from. Neither of you will ask why or shake your fists in anger or drown in each others sorrow. Two strong people gelled together as teenagers, nurture and grow as adults; in a world of the unknown, you both know and don’t know simultaneously. And the hardest day of your lives will come when you sit, holding hands, facing your three children and tell them their Daddy is going to die. They will scream and run from the room and curl up in grief and shed the tears neither of you can.
Resolutely, you will fight the disease as a family, but it will win in a very short time.
And as you lie by his side on the last day of May in 2009, you will rest your head on his chest and listen to the thump-thump of his heart beat grow softer and slower and you will feel his breath on your hair, in and out, until there is no out. And you will hear the birds in the trees outside your window and see the early morning sun send a steely shaft of light through the curtains and you will know that no matter how long or how short ‘Forever’ is, the moments of your shared lives will live on with you. Because when you look at your children, you will see him in their eyes, hear him in their laughter, feel him in their hugs and taste him on their tears.
As I see you on the canal bank, back in ‘78, I ask you to look around and drink in the moment, to memorise the colours, sounds and smells of the day, to photograph it in your mind. Follow the little butterfly with your eyes and grasp the soft white feather between your fingertips. And savour the prospect of the years that lie before you. Moments such as this make memories that will last.
Perhaps only memories can last forever.
Both photos supplied by Patricia and used with permission