A friend of mine

(This blog post was first published on squarepegs.overspillers.net by SusieJB and is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission)

Around about the year 2000 I needed to earn some money so I set up a little business as a home help, it was just me, I offered to do shopping, cleaning, basically anything that anyone needed doing for a few hours a week.

I received a phone call from a lady who said she had a rather strange request, she was a recluse, and wanted me to do her shopping, she would leave the money on the step, as  I was to do with the shopping on my return. I told her I fully understood her situation as my son was recovering from a very similar episode.

I talked to her on the phone a lot and gradually established a very good friendship, even taking a fully cooked Christmas dinner to her doorstep.She was very intelligent, but had a very sad life losing her parents and her only brother very close together, she had been in a car crash and was very concious of some scarring on her face, she would not look in the mirror, turn on a light, or open her curtain, she had absolutely no one, not one friend.

It eventually emerged that she had a lifelong desire to move to Polperro so I encouraged her to do so, saying that we would help, even though it is quite some distance from where we live.
Eventually she found a flat to view and much to my amazement agreed that we would take her to see it. I had never met her even thoughI had been doing her shopping for getting on for three years by now, I did wonder what sort of person we would be meeting, I was I must admit rather shocked when very smartly dressed attractive lady came out to the car, if she had bad scars she did a marvellous job of hiding them.

Well to cut the story short, she did move, it seemed to transform her, she made new friends, went out of her home and started to have a life.
We have kept in touch and I have always done her online Tesco order for her, however, I have noticed over the last year or so that she has gradually started to retreat back into her shell, not wanting to see anyone.
She has sounded very unwell on the phone and has resisted all my attempts to persuade her to go to the doctors.
She phoned me on Monday her voice very slurred, she sounded very ill, I begged her to phone the doctor and she promised to phone for an ambulance at 9.30 on the Tuesday which she did.
She is in hospital now and sent me a text yesterday to tell me that she is terminally ill and has very little time to live, she won’t allow me to visit, she has absolutely no one, I doubt if I will even be informed when she dies.

I know I could force the situation, but I know her, and I know she trusts me to respect her wish to be left alone, she says she has to build a wall and that if she saw me it would break it down and she couldn’t bear that,  she sent me a text saying ‘no sad farewells young Sue’

I don’t even know why I am writing this, I just need to, to appease my conscience maybe…because I now think I should have been more insistent that she saw the doctor although I do know her very well and know that would have been fruitless.
I suppose I feel it is really such a wasted life, she was such a lovely person, and it is quite heartbreaking to see someone so nice come to such a sad end.

Chance meeting

Some years ago, I was traveling to a job and along the way stopped to get some antacids from a small superstore as the meat and potato pie I had wolfed at lunchtime was causing me some gastric discomfort.
I parked up on the store car park and was making my way in, when I met a man on his hurried way out, who would have barged me out of the way had I not sidestepped – I stopped and looked back after him as he made his way to his vehicle.

I thought “there’s a man on a mission” and then continued my way inside and made my purchase of the much needed indigestion remedy.

On approaching the check out, there was a small queue and both cashiers were not at station but were stood nearby with a little girl, perhaps of 4 or 5 years of age and they were talking to her.
Long story short, it transpired that the man I had met leaving was the child’s father and he’d asked one of the cashiers to just watch the child while he went back to his car to ‘get his wallet’, which had probably been some ten minutes earlier, by the time I’d found what I wanted and then made it to the checkout.

Eventually I paid for my purchase and left as more members of staff gathered around the little girl, to continue my journey.
It was a strange incident to witness and it haunted me all day and I must have told everyone I met about it, including family later when I got home.

It was some good time later, well after the event had faded from my mind, that I was reading a local evening newspaper when I read of the case of a man who had, after leaving his young daughter in the care of a local shop, had then shortly after gone and driven his car deliberately  into a head on collision with another vehicle, killing himself and the other driver in the event.
The article went on to describe how the man had been suffering from severe depression after the breakdown of his marriage and the failure of his business.

At was at this stage I recollected and connected the events of the day in the shop, but then had been completely unaware until that very moment of the rest of it and for while it filled me with horror and  a whole range of strange thoughts of the irrationality of him ensuring that his own loved one was safe and then taking the life of someone else’s loved one in the deliberate ending of his own life.

The inner circle

Some 18 months years ago, a maiden aunt of mine died, she was one the younger sisters of my mother, the strange thing was I never knew of the death until I decided , whilst working in the area to call and see this aunt and another aunt she lived with.
On knocking on the front door, I was greeted by the younger of the two aunts, who invited me in and almost immediately announced “I’m on my own now, Andrew”.
I was surprised and shocked as she went on to explain, I did not say anything by way of negative reaction but my face must have given a clue of incredulous expression of learning about the death this way as she just said “It wasn’t anything personal Andrew, we just didn’t want a great family fuss, we didn’t even tell her old nursing colleagues”

She went off to the kitchen to make a hot drink, I sat alone for a while in the lounge mulling it over and as the initial impact of the news subsided it struck me that what had just happened wasn’t all that traditionally unusual  in that particular branch of the family.
My mother had always said, on occasion, that she felt an ‘outsider’  – she was the eldest of  eight children with a domineering father, with whom she’d always been at odds with, ultimately leaving home at twenty two years of age to marry and then shortly after moving away.

My aunt returned from the kitchen with tea and biscuits and we sat and talked, she expanded on my other aunt’s death and the circumstances surrounding it but didn’t mention the secrecy aspect and I hadn’t mentioned it either, but as I was leaving and we were saying goodbye she did qualify again “Sorry Andrew, as I said it wasn’t anything personal” and I responded that” it was ok and I understood” – but inside I was still astonished.

On returning home, I related the events to my wife , who again after the initial shock wore off observed ” well that’s what you get when you’re not in the inner circle ” – this was so true as those sisters of my mother who had married but had always remained locally and produced children (my cousins) who again had stayed locally were the ‘inner circle’.
After some pragmatic reflection I decided this was so, I still felt a little resentful at not being told, but that was the nature of the beast.

Some six months later, as if to reinforce the above, I got a telephone call from one of my inner circle cousins to inform me that my other aunt had died the day before, at the time of my visit she’d seemed fine.
Subsequent enquiries revealed she been later diagnosed with terminal cancer, but the news could not break out of the inner circle until it became the ultimate scoop.