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My step-father died

My stepfather died a couple of weeks ago. We hadn't seen each other for years and had a tumultuous relationship while he was married to my mother, then came to a meeting of minds when I was in my 20s. Since then he moved on, I moved on and we fully drifted. But still, a part of my life left this earth, taking with him his bad dad jokes as well as rows, clumsy step-parent conversations and someone who stuck up for me when I was bullied.

I felt like a fraud of a step-daughter when my sister told me he had died. He was my step-dad but she became my sister, an absolute rock in stormy waters. When she told me my first thought was for her, how devastated she must be. I was numb, so I assumed I didn't care enough to be upset.

That day I stayed in, and did nothing, and berated myself for doing nothing and staying in when I was fine. I didn't tell anyone he had died.

That evening I sat in a darkened living room and thought I must turn on the light. I turned it on then needed to leave, so took the dog for a walk with my younger son. I didn't mention anything to him (they hadn't met since RT was a very young boy and he didn't remember him).

I came home and did nothing, then went to bed. The next day, I didn't tell anyone.

I did more, suddenly rejuvenated into action and found myself buzzing round the house doing anything but nothing. Then went to work and tried to talk to little children and big children and, for some reason, kept thinking back to when I was a child. I didn't tell anyone.

I was still hyper the next day and the next, unable to settle or think but quite industrious. I kept getting a headache though, a migraine starting in my jaw and making me sit, sometimes, and rest a finger on the edge of my temple, looking down at the floor and thinking nothing.

Met up with my sister the next day and we talked about the mechanics of when someone leaves, of how she might be, what she might do, of how his wife was and a little of what she planned for the future.

Afterwards I was struck with how practical, technical the conversation had been and that I hadn't reached out a hand, or invited her to talk about more heartfelt matters and that I was a bad sister. I texted her to tell her I was sorry I had let her down, that I really did care, that she had my love. I was berated very softly for suggesting I had done anything wrong.

Why is it easier by text? Why didn't I react to her like other people? Even in the middle of our lunch an acquaintance came up and offered condolences to her and I remember thinking, this is what people do, is it what I should do?

I still didn't tell anyone he had died.

It's not that I was avoiding it so he would still be alive, or avoiding the love and compassion of my friends - which I know was there if I needed it. I still felt like a fraud, still numb, still-

By then I wasn't sleeping, the headaches having been replaced by a foggy mind which seemed to stifle out any small flame of lively inspiration. And like a fog my life seemed shrouded, the places I could usually see far were hidden, mysterious; I wandered in them, touching things around me to place myself and know where I was.

I dreamt at the end of the week and it was back then, in the bright, ultra-vibrant colours of when we are small enough to think we can keep up that level of shading forever. And there he was, after all, just as he had been when we fought in the mornings, sulked in the afternoons, then went out with the pony and talked about strangely fascinating subjects that didn't come up with other people.

At the weekend, I remembered his laugh. I could have described his laugh to you before this (it was a truly embarrassing dad laugh), but at the weekend I heard it, a caught moment in the middle of another busy, confusing, fog-filled day.

I didn't tell anyone about him.

And then another set of activities, distractions, utter focus on normal life and everything in it as if filling the dishwasher and walking the dog can ultimately take the place of deep, wondering reflection on a life lived and briefly shared.

I got lost in the car, forgot what I needed, mixed up facts and dates and names and kept coming back to what a fraud I was.

And remembered my sister's wedding, and his ex-wives and his brother who we visited when we were young and who had warm milk on cornflakes. There was the weekend with the cub scouts that we took with him, me and my sister the only girls in a youth hostel packed full of smelly, noisy boys. It rained the whole weekend and I remembered him trudging us all across the sodden grass to see the standing stones. I even remembered the whitewashed walls of the hostel, the big, thin-legged spiders there and the baked beans.

I thought about how hard it is that we have to get old and lose all our choices and wondered if he would have known me if I visited.

And even though I didn't feel upset, everything was so hard, as bad as trying to find those standing stones in the pouring rain, surrounded by yelling, happy boys who didn't care about the weather. And him holding the map, trying to see it through the rain and me wishing I was anywhere else but here.

Time passed so slowly, as if I had two timelines running alongside each other and I was living both. One kept getting the better of the other so that this life, this bland, fog-filled landscape, gave way to sharp shafts of winter sunlight that made me squint, or hot days spent in a garden that goes on forever.

I still haven't told anyone.

Today, for some reason, I cried and felt lonely, the room felt bigger, the world, I need the world to stay right away today.

There's winter sunshine today though, outside the window, and the trees are bare, the frost just melting from the path. Days like this I'd be dragged out on walks and left behind, glaring at the bouncing rucksack ahead of me, wishing I was somewhere else, alone.

I'm still in the two timelines but they seem to be merging. Perhaps that's why I'm crying in this one. I guess I'm frightened of what might happen once they come together. How can I face the past when there is no road back to it?

I think I need to tell someone today.


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