The oxygen mask covered Patsy’s nose and mouth, pressing against her small face. She shut her eyes for a moment; the sleep that so desperately wanted to come seeped through her. On the edge of that pleasant precipice of unconsciousness, the voices around her fading fast and intermingling, a hand shook her shoulder. Slowly she came back and flicked her eyes open in alarm, grabbing at the hand.
“Don’t go to sleep Patsy. Just don’t go to sleep and everything will be all right.” The hand patted her slowly and comfortingly; an unsure smile flitted across the medic’s face. Patsy kept her eyes rigidly open, blinking emphatically. Anxiety started in her stomach and she looked across at her mother, her hands folded neatly in her lap, her skirt immaculately smoothed across her legs, but she wasn’t looking at Patsy. She was looking at some detail on the framework of the ambulance, her face bland and smooth, her eyes unblinking.
Patsy opened her mouth to speak, to beg her mother to look at her. The anxiety grew, panic went down her arms, but she lay inert. Blackness was encroaching all around; her mother was going out of sight, fading to grey. The darkness grew and she felt menacing hands, cold and damp, trying to grasp at her. Her own hands clutched the blanket by her sides. Her breath was going; she started to pant. She couldn’t see anything although she was sure she still had her eyes open. Sinister murkiness was devouring her up; it was how she imagined drowning to be. She tried to get her head above the water but could not see the light that would be the top of the water, and something was holding her back. ‘This must be hell. Why me? I believe in God.’ Her thoughts were washed away by every wave. She struggled to breathe, sucking down the oxygen. She had to get this object off her face; they were trying to suffocate her. Her arms flailed around, she couldn’t find her face and now she knew she had to swim for it, up, up, up.
A hand reached down and took the mask off. Patsy saw the light at the top of the water and she swam up to it and took great gasps of air, staring straight into a stone grey face that was studying her like a new species of water boatman.
“Are you all right?” The ambulance man asked her.
Patsy suddenly felt calm and relief, she could hear him; she was not dead. “No not really”. She answered steadily, as she watched with interest the colour come back into her line of vision. “I don’t want to go.”
“Go where?” He asked, feeling her pulse.
She thought for a moment. “Anywhere,” she answered, at last, helplessly and wearily. “I can’t stay awake. I’ll go to sleep now.”
“Wait.” The voice was urgent. “Just think about something pleasant. Your children. Your lover.” He turned away and spoke quietly to the driver.
“I wish I had a lover,” a whisper of words passed her lips. Her mother smiled as a tear rolled down through the carefully applied blusher, and she grasped the chilled hand of her daughter. “I’ve tried so hard, mum, so many times and now I don’t want to try anymore.” The rasping in Patsy’s chest seemed to drown out her words. “Can you hear me?”
Her mother’s mouth twitched and wriggled as she tried to control the lips. “Yes, I can hear you. Don’t talk anymore sweetheart. One day you will have everything.” Her voice was cracking.
“But I don’t want to leave it too late.” Patsy could feel the perspiration on her mother’s hand and noticed her struggle to stay calm.
It had been a long time since Patsy had had a lover. A passionate lover whom she could call her own. A man who adored her and held her hand, touched her skin and kissed her neck. Patsy had rejected them all, all their adoration. It had been a very long time since Peter had been there, but he wasn’t a passionate lover. He wasn’t even good enough to be called a man.
She heard her mother blow her nose quietly. She could feel the pain very near, close to the surface, engulfing her. There was much to think about, much to consider. Had she left everything the way she wanted or had she wasted all those precious moments planning things too much? This attack had been a surprise; she hadn’t had one for two years. Her whole life had been a series of surprises, just when she thought she had it sussed something would come along and bowl her over again.
Thoughts rose into the air like speech bubbles. She watched them float around her. Frightened; she was always frightened and surprised. Frightened that she wouldn’t be good enough, that she wouldn’t measure up. She had never measured up to her mother’s friends children; they had done so many wonderful things. They had dynamic jobs in the city and married the correct partners, lived in pleasant houses with their children and a dog. Patsy had done it all wrong. Mind you, she had never been scandalous like them, running like a lemming across the front pages of the tabloid, snorting coke. She had just taken the wrong path and run down it full pelt away from the conventional, away from her mother. It had seemed so full of hope, so full of promise. A better life. Just like boat people who tried to get to a better life, risking all. She felt like she had risked it all and lost. She had not found Nirvana. The path had opened up into a park with swings and flowers but after she had walked around it once enjoying the scent of the shrubs she found she was alone. People came and went but never stayed, never seemed interested in her. She was not different; she was ordinary and wandering in the wrong park. She could see the other park over the wall. People with smug demeanours having Barbeques together and children running and laughing.
She looked over at her mother again who had once again gained her composure. Patsy had been such a disappointment to this well meaning woman who had tried so hard to get her admittance to the other park but the wall was too thick and tall. Her mother had still spoken to her over the wall, encouraging her, but Patsy could still hear the disappointment in her voice, that little edge of ‘if only’.
Then Peter had tried to strangle her when she was bathing the baby. That was the first time she had felt that all her breath was gone, that she was drowning. She had held on to that baby though; never let its wet body slither out of her hands. She had waited, waited an eternity, until Peter unexpectedly let go and she heard the front door slam. She had panted and coughed and held the screaming baby close to her heaving body.
“I want to feel warm” she said out loud and her mother turned to face her.
“We are nearly there. It will be warm in the hospital, and safe.” Her mother smiled comfortingly.
“I want to feel safe. I want to feel warm and safe, but know I never will.” At least Patsy was breathing now, it didn’t feel too uncomfortable to take a breath, but she was so tired, so sleepy.
A dream, a swimming dream. A cool glassy lake on a hot day. A boat jetty, a small boat tied up but ready to go, to sally out onto the calm water. The water lapped gently at her feet, cool, refreshing, rejuvenating. She had seen this place somewhere. It was real, she had been there, she struggled to remember where it was, how old she had been. Life had been good then. Her father was with her, alive, he had been alive then, tall and kind. So kind. Love. He had taken her on the boat once. They had crossed to the other side and then rowed back. Silence. Quiet. An inner peace. What had happened to that? That feeling of inner peace. That had been warm and safe. She didn’t need anything or anyone because she was her. She was alright. She knew she was OK, she didn’t need anyone to tell her that she was OK, she knew. What had happened to that? When had she become so needy? When had she lost herself?
“When did it happen?” she said out loud.
“Today. We are still on our way to the hospital. You had your attack today.”
“No. When did I lose myself mum?”
“You never have. I think you are confused.” Her mother looked over at the ambulance man who shrugged. “I think you are confused darling. You haven’t lost yourself, you are here with me.”
Patsy thought about it. She was here, but she wasn’t her. She was just another cliché. Another statistic. Another person for whom life had not worked out the way it should have done. The world needed mass psychology. The psychologist had told her it wasn’t her fault. Everyone has problems, it’s how you deal with them. All she had wanted was to get back down the path and go to the other park. He wouldn’t let her. He told her it was impossible. She had to move forward now. Find the next problem and overcome it. Fight and fight again. In the other park they never had to struggle. Everything came to them. Their balls were never flat their children never grubby.
Where was that place, that place she always went when she was a child, a pretty child with blonde hair and blue eyes? The perfect child, with the perfect parents who loved her. She had messed up big time. Her father smiling, smiling indulgently at her. Weren’t we supposed to marry someone just like our fathers? Why had she chosen someone the complete opposite? She felt conned. Conned out of a life she could have had. The travelling salesman with a case of encyclopaedias had knocked at her door and sold her the wrong product, all she needed was an instruction manual. A map for human development, a way to navigate out of the mess she was in.
“I want to go to the park, mum.”
“Not now.” Her mother turned to the ambulance man. “She’s delusional. Is she going to make it?” Her mother’s clammy hand touched her scorching forehead.
“You don’t understand. Dad would have.”
“I’m sure he would have, but I’m all you’ve got now so make the most of.” She sounded angry. Was she angry with her or her father? Both. Maybe things hadn’t worked out the way they should have done for her either. She had been alone for eighteen years, longer than Patsy had been alone. Maybe no one could live up to her father and she had refused all suitors, fought them off. Undoubtedly she was still very attractive. Conventional, but attractive. She was a disillusioned woman. Disappointed with her lot. Her child had never lived up to expectations and her husband had gone and died when he was supposed to be around so that they at least celebrated 40 years of marriage and have one of those stunning glitzy parties where he would have made a speech about how much he loved her, adored her, worshipped the ground she walked on. Had her mother ever reached the point of thinking that the hurt was too much to bear? She is so buttoned up Patsy wondered how she could inhale. There was no flamboyance or extroversion. Flat, grey, dull.
“Mum, did you love him?”
“Yes.” She looked away. “Yes, very much.”
“Are you angry with him?”
Patsy thought she saw a hard shine in her eyes. Tears that she never shed. “He was so full of life. He didn’t choose to die.” Patsy said in his defence.
“You know nothing about it.” Her mother’s voice was terse.
The ambulance had arrived at the hospital and all the noise started again. Patsy was quiet in amongst it all. The still centre of all the attraction. She went again to a cool place, floating on the calm lake, peaceful as a baby in the womb.
Her mother smoothed the blanket on her bed and patted it with seeming satisfaction. “I have to go.”
“You always had to go.”
“That’s not true. I was always there for you. I took you everywhere, showed you everything. If anything I spent too much time with you and neglected your father.”
“Yes Patsy. In the end I had fewer years with him than I have had with you.”
“I never knew you felt like that.”
“No. You never really thought about anything.”
“You never said.”
“You never asked.”
“But you had loads of friends. They were always coming round after Dad died.” Patsy was defensive.
“Why would that make me feel that I hadn’t neglected him?”
“I don’t know. I guess they tried to make you feel better like all friends would after a death.”
“Their surface beauty was dazzling but it doesn’t take long to get sick of self-absorbed cynical liars. It never made up for what I had lost, or even got close to it.”
“Is that how you felt about them? I thought you loved them and all they stood for.”
“No, I pretended to like them; I flattered them and watched their children grow up to be like them. Most of them ended up snorting coke and blustering pretentiously. They were cruel and self serving. They used me to make themselves look good, doing their charity work. I often wonder if they used me as a tax break, or just to salve their conscience.”
“But you wanted me to be like them. You wanted to be proud of me getting a great job, living in a huge house, having all the trappings of a brilliant life.”
“I didn’t want you to be like them, I wanted you to be what you wanted, but sometimes I could see you getting too close to the edge and I tried to bring you back before you slipped by telling you stories about what it could be like.”
“I slipped many times.”
“We all have and still do. At least you didn’t end up an alcoholic with all their self serving machinations and grandstanding. Your father would have been proud of you, you know.”
“How do you know? I hardly knew him, I can hardly remember him.”
“The way you have coped, the amount of strength you have. You have made yourself go through hell but you are still here, still kicking.”
“Why did I have to go through hell though?”
“Why did you make yourself, you mean? It was your choice. I think you were punishing yourself.”
“That you have to work out for yourself. I have to go now. I will be back as soon as I can. The Doctor says you are out of danger.” She kissed Patsy on the cheek, and walked out with perfect posture.
“How sad.” Patsy whispered. She closed her eyes and dozed uneasily, starting awake to an empty room, the rain streaming down outside. Why hadn’t she met a man like her father and been loved as she should have been, as she rightfully should have been? Her father had left her when she was young, lying in the coffin, no more to greet her with unbridled happiness. He could have stuck around for a few more years, seen her grow up, steered her away from those undesirables. Peter was the opposite of her father. Brutal, uneducated, a misogynist.
Tears rolled down her cheeks silently. Her breath started to leave again. She fought for air and fumbled for the alarm. Running feet, doors swishing open, the sound of her heart pounding in her ears, churning the blood around her body in panic. The mask came down on her face again and she sucked it in, panic slowly subsiding. She wanted to go home. Go to that house with chintz furnishings, deep pillows and deckchairs under the cherry tree. Why had her father left her? Left her mother? She had been a good girl, always behaved herself, but he had still died. How sad it was that her mother had been alone so long, that she had loved her father so much, felt that she had neglected him for her. Patsy had messed up again, not seen her mother’s sadness, done anything to help her, thought only of herself. She had made herself live a ghastly life and abandoned her mother.
Psychedelic colours swam in front of her eyes. Sleep seeped through her. It was all too late to go back and change anything. She could never make it better. She could hear the nurses calling to her but she was too tired; too tired of her self-imposed hell.
updated by @sian-anita-ceiriog-jones: 01/28/16 09:49:50PM