Complex Grief is Complex

I take a breath before I type.

I am a survivor of emotional domestic violence. I am a survivor of sexual domestic violence. I am a survivor of verbal domestic violence. I loved the perpetrator, and he is loved by so many people, and he is dead.


I said it.

Complex grief is complex.

Why am I telling this now? Because I need to. Because my daughter needs me to. Because I speak out on behalf of so many other survivors, and still haven’t shared my own truth, and I feel like I am a coward for not stepping forward with my own story

So, when I was 21 I met Kev, a 43-year old fixer-upper – ex-heroin addict, traumatic childhood, failed marriage – the lot. Being 21 and therefore both omniscient and immortal, I decided to Mend Him. He was a breathtaking musician and a fiercely political man; an experienced fighter for all the same things I was becoming aware of, and I loved him. We married when I was 24 and he was 45. He had always had anger issues and episodes of awful verbal abuse, followed by apologies and promises to change; the episodes became fewer and he became far more self-aware as the years passed, although he continued to use any vulnerability or crisis as an opportunity to offload his anger (as an example, when I was 29 and Ella was 1 my mum died unexpectedly; just weeks later he went into a rage about me ‘ignoring’ him, and demanded a divorce. Once again he backed down, but it was another thing to carry at a time when I was already exhausted), and he was a skilled gaslighter. In addition my first ‘real’ relationship had been abusive, and in a sad, strange way, this already felt normal.

When I was in my mid-30s we hit our lowest patch. Within a year there were two separate incidents of physical violence on his part, including him choking me to the point of unconsciousness, attempting to bite my bottom lip off, and hitting me so hard across my face, again and again, that it initially looked like he had broken my jaw (he was 6’ 5” and I’m 5’ 3”; fighting back, sleepy and confused, was not an option). I went to the doctor and said I had been hit by a stranger at a party; I was ashamed of the truth. My jaw was not broken, but for two weeks the only way I could open my mouth was to slide my finger between my teeth.

Afterwards he wanted sexual contact to calm himself down, and all I could do was lie there and let him. Tiny Ella was in the house at the time and I didn’t even dare call the police because I was terrified of losing my home, and, ridiculously, ruining his life. He never hit me again after these episodes but there were further episodes of emotional and verbal abuse (trying to kick our front door down, throwing a bowllful of soup across the room so it shattered into countless shards), although fewer, and it was also a good marriage in between the dark points. I know how bizarre that sounds; the love I expressed when I announced his death, and spoke about at his funeral, were entirely genuine. 

Oh, the complexity of grief. Unless you’ve been there, you have no idea.

As most of you now know When I was 42 and Ella was 14, Kev dropped dead in front of us from an aortic dissection. He was 64. In keeping with the rest of his chaotic life he was intestate and uninsured, and so the next couple of years saw me become a professional widow and single parent – I managed to keep our home, did a Masters degree, made the leap to become a professional writer. I also started online dating. After a rocky start to the whole venture, I met James, and my life changed once again. So much so that I proposed and we got married the following December. He was and is the most gentle, calm man I have ever met, and ironically this is part of the problem I faced – James’ treatment of me was such a stark contrast to Kev’s. 

The incidents in my first marriage that I normalised came back to haunt me – why didn’t I fight back, or leave, or report him? The fact that I loved him and he loved me, or that there were ‘good times too’ seem to be ridiculous excuses and if another woman told me this same tale I would be incredulous that she stayed. I still don’t have the answers to any of this. I’m sharing it now because I’m about to hit 50 and I’m tired of juggling my words, and Ella has told me it will make it easier for her to talk to people, and I love her with all my soul. If you’re hurt by this admission I feel for you, but the living will always trump the dead.

And also, this keeps happening. To my friends, my family, to women I love, or who I just follow on instagram, or who I admire in the news. I am part of this narrative, and I have a story I can share and an understanding that might just make the difference to another young woman setting out on the same journey. I will probably write more in the future, but for now I needed the story told. 

Thank you for listening.

Part Five-ish. An Aside.

As an introduction to this post, I would invite you to read the following article, nattily highlighted because I spent about five hours figuring out how to write a single line of html code. Go me…

Read this before continuing

This is something I feel really passionate about, so there’s a bias going on: the demonisation of young men, the negative impact of toxic masculinity, and the utter twattishness of the British tabloid media; according to them we are being overrun by a tribe of feral knuckledraggers and our future is doomed.

My latest piece, I hope, serves as a small but impassioned counterpoint.

As a bit of context, when I was at secondary school, by the time you hit sixth form it was vaguely acceptable to have one or two lads who you talked to without wanting to snog behind the boilerhouse, although you weren’t really expected to be seen out in public with them. And God forbid you were friends with a nerd. Me? I was mates with Ian Wilson. He wore NHS glasses, broke his arm trying to do the high jump for the first time by running into one of the supporting poles, and was an absolute frickin’ genius. He knew about astronomy, medieval history and comic book lore and I was taken aside by Ilona Turner who informed me that he was a bit weird and therefore people were talking about us and he also looked like he might smell funny (he didn’t); her advice was that I should perhaps refrain from sitting next to him quite so much. Especially in public.

Yeah. Fuck you, Ilona Turner – I’ve been sitting next to the Ian Wilsons of this world ever since, and I haven’t been bored once. I’ve never really forgotten the subtle courage and quiet determination it takes to be a different man in a world that seems to demand compliance to the norm.

Right. Fast-forward twenty five years. I’d known for a while that Ella had some amazing male friends; some a little younger, most a bit older, but all of them smart, feminist, funny and entirely and magnificently disdainful of any kind of bell curve that might even dare to try and classify them.

Basically when they all get together, it’s a bit like a Hogwart’s social.

So, when Ella’s dad died, this remarkable group of young men stepped forward, stepped up, and caught her. And they did it with such fucking grace and instinct that when I asked if I could use their real names in this piece, to a man they all replied that sure, that wasn’t a problem, but they hadn’t really done anything.

Right, time for some snapshots. In rough chronologial order:

Dom, Oxford theologian and part-time badass Medieval knight (Yep. Really…) had been round on the morning of the day that Kev died. Just few hours later I was texting him and asking him to ring me so I could tell him the bloke he’d been nattering to earlier had dropped dead, and would he mind awfully supporting my daughter in whichever way she might need? Without pause he gave his word that he’d be there. As I write this, he still is. Checks in via Facebook, comes round during the holidays, doesn’t back off.

Three days later, when the fallout was still thick and poisonous in the air and both Ella and I were struggling simply to remember how to breathe and stand and exist in our harsh new world, Dougie, six foot three of gentle genius from – I think – somewhere in the 18th century, turned up on our doorstep bearing pizza, mead and an enviable ability to sit in companionable, easy silence and just Be. He fed us both and then let my exhausted, furious, muted and shellshocked daughter lean into him for what seemed like forever, both physically and metaphorically, as they watched movies and talked and not-talked. For a blessed while, Normal – whatever that might be – returned to visit our diminished house.

I sneaked a photograph of the first time after the conflagration that my daugher let herself relax and trust another human. Even the bloody dog looks chilled…


On the day of the funeral itself, they were all there. Suited, booted, present and sombre and dealing with death when they should all have been dealing with life. Again I watched them step forward to embrace me and Ella, at a point in time when people decades older had no idea what to do.

Sam – a year younger than Ella, a school rugby star fluent in both Elvish and empathy – and Dougie stayed over at our house that night. Ate more pizza, made us laugh, and helped us to celebrate a life that we were loathe to let go. Ella then spent the night sleeping on Dougie, who was camping out on our sofa; she just flat-out planked the lad,  needing contact and a steady heartbeat and stability. In return, Dougie simply wrapped his arms around her, remained still, and let her sleep. This thing alone goes a long way to explain my utter disdain at how this demographic is represented by tabloids and the Ignorant Masses in general.

A couple of weeks into the great adventure of ‘How The Everliving Fuck Do We Do This?’ Alex, a deceptively louche linguist and classicist, called with an orchid and a bottle of Amaretto for me, and hugs and fraternal, sparky companionship for Ella. I cannot imagine any situation in my own past when a friend of mine would have brought appropriate alcohol and flora for either of my parents – my guess is that these dudes are constantly upgrading, and preparing for a global takeover. If it involves Amaretto and flowers, I might actually be okay with that.

Two months after D-Day, Ella went to Whitby Folk Festival with Dougie (there as a rapper dancer, because not one of these guys is short on talent or otherness), and camped by herself at a time when I really wanted to suggest that she might want to stay in her bedroom and watch DVDS. For a couple of years, perhaps. Or a decade. Or the rest of her life. I’d like to think that I coped well enough with this particular challenge, apart from that time when I rang her twenty six times in about two hours because she wasn’t answering the phone. It was a blip; what can I say?

Months later, Ella casually dropped into conversation that Dougie’s elder brother Ben (older than the demographic in the article, but still societally bound to be a tosser according to the data) – a sociopathic martial-artist physicist whose brain operates at warp speed on a slow day – also at Whitby as a rapper dancer (see what I mean about that talent thing?), had assigned himself as her Protector-in-Chief with the quiet but heartfelt promise that he would watch over her – both at Whitby and in perpetuity – and anyone who crossed her would get their skull cleaved with a claymore. Cheers, kid – if I’d have known that the man with the best murder-face I’ve ever seen was watching your back, my mobile phone bill would have been significantly reduced.

It’s been nearly a year now and all of these guys have kept some kind of unspoken pledge. They still turn up with love and humour and empathy, and I keep trying to express my gratitude. They keep doing the, ‘It’s what anybody would do’ response, so sod them, I’ve decided to write about what they did and who they are. Because I’m kind of mean like that.

And also because I can now sit back and breathe and predict that the future might actually be safe, thanks to a bunch of weirdlings who’ve got all our backs.

Sleep easy, as long as you’re a good guy.


Everything and Nothing Changes At All. Part Four.

Fuck me, I’m a widow. Bugger.

I’m standing in our – my – house, and I actually have a dead man for a husband. I didn’t bloody plan for this. Not this soon, certainly not on a sunny May afternoon. This is not good. I clearly need to do Things.

I also have a house full of people: my dad, my stepmum, my next-door neighbour, my over-the-fence neighbour… and to my amazement they’re all doing really well. Not too much crying, minimal hugging, and a decent mutual anger at the dude that’s just dropped dead.

The natural offers come: ‘Come with us tonight…’, ‘Don’t be alone…’, ‘Do you want us to stay?…’ They’re all heartfelt, but I know what I want, and it’s so damn counterintuitive that I almost question myself. Almost. But I can do solitude so much more easily than company, and besides, there are things I need to do.

I need to be alone.

People leave, and the child does her own thing, completely removed from the expectation that she might need mothering right now. This is the start of letting her get through this in her own way. She calls a friend and asks if she can stay at his house for the night. In no time he picks her up and she goes to find her own sanctuary. I message my TBISP (Tory Intellectual Sparring Partner, for those in need of a reminder), and he simply states that he’s on his way. I later find out that he’s in Leeds when he gets the call, and will attempt the British Land Speed Record to get to my side.

I pour myself another gin and tonic, and pick up the phone. Over the next few hours, gin helps beyond measure (or several measures. I lose count…). I find an optimum level of inebriation and manage to maintain it as I get on with my job. Drunk enough to say the words over and over without going mad, but sober enough not to slur.

Carrying out this task feels familiar, so I’m good.  When I was twenty nine, with a one year old daughter and an intact family, my mother – best friend, role model, yadda yadda, whatever additional sentimentality needs to go here  – died. A few weeks after she got the all-clear following radiotherapy for breast cancer, she caught pneumonia, was put into a controlled coma, and died. On Mothers Day. Because the Universe can be a total cunt, apparently. And also my life is actually a daytime soap script.

We knew she was dying a few hours before she went, and I assigned myself the job of Death-Curator in Chief: taking close friends and family into her room in the intensive care unit, explaining what was happening, catching them as they did a weirdly similar slump into my arms, and arranging for a nice cup of tea afterwards. Coping by coping. Not ‘brave’, not ‘strong’, just assigning myself a role that needed fulfilling so I couldn’t disappear into a corner and dissolve.

A similar thing happens now, as I call and message as many people as I can think of; colleagues, family, friends who were friends with him before I was born. I have a job to do, and this keeps me going. Not coping isn’t an option right now, and the people I need to tell are those who we – oh shit twat and pissery, I realise I’m a singular – I really need to tell. People cry so damn hard because they love/loved him, and most of my call time is spent in silence as I listen to hard sobbing. This helps, even though I do not cry myself. He was loved, so he will be missed. Not a bad epitaph at all.

Then I write a Facebook post to let everyone else know, sit back, and pour another gin.

This death has been sponsored by Bombay Sapphire.

TBISP arrives with lovely girlfriend. I have summoned him because he is a hard-assed bastard who will obviously be stony-faced throughout whatever I throw at him. He walks through the door and bursts into tears so I have to punch him really hard and tell him that this is not what I expect of him, and the resulting laughter helps more than any stoicism ever could. He stays long enough to stop being a wuss, hugs me until my ribs creak, and leaves. Despite this early error, he does pretty well.

So once more I have an empty house (except for the animals, who are all freaky and silent and looking for where the hell he has gone). When exhaustion hits, I go to bed. He was always such a bad sleeper that I’m used to being alone in bed, although I make sure I leave enough room on his side for when he comes up. Nearly a year later, I will still be doing this.

This is probably where I should describe how I toss and turn all night, and cannot find repose. Hah, yeah… I’ve had the best part of a bottle of gin, and done some pretty impressive CPR. I sleep like the dead.

The next morning is brought to me by the fairly amazing autonomic nervous system. Whether you like it or not, unless there is some major physical issue to counter it, your diaphragm is going to contract and air is going to get sucked into your lungs: I breathe, therefore I live. I have no say in the matter. The universe doesn’t give a shit about yesterday’s events. and I find this rather comforting – I have to get up, get sorted and get widowing.

I pad downstairs to let the dogs out to pee, and  find a square of kitchen towel that the paramedics used to clean the tube they put down Kev’s throat. It is covered with snot and blood, and I realise that I have an entirely unwanted souvenir of my husband’s last moments. I can’t imagine framing it, but at the same time I can’t quite bring myself to put it in the bin. I therefore do the entirely logical thing of standing on the back step and burning it to ash with a cigarette lighter.  I am nothing if not practical.

His death is already yesterday’s news, but I am awake and sober and not ready to surrender to anything. I can fucking do this.









Everything and Nothing Changes At All. Part Three.

So I have a husband who appears to be having a massive heart attack. I have a scared but calm and scarily competent fourteen-year-old daughter who has just called an ambulance.

I can work with this.

The dogs go wild. They adore him and can sense that something is Not Right. The child and I throw them out into the garden. They are too much of a distraction.

Suddenly I realise I know that aspirin can inhibit platelets in the bloodstream. It’s like some superhero sense has just come online, but I’m not complaining. I even remember where I’ve stashed the packet. I run to the kitchen, fetch them and a glass of water and get my roaring, terrified husband to swallow.

The child is dealing with the phonecall like a pro – fourteen-going-on-forty-seven, and coolly relaying age and medical history and any detail you could wish for – but this is now my show and I need to get angry and assertive and get the people here that are going to save his life. She hands me the phone. I remember demanding, “Just get an ambulance here now.”

“Okay, so I need you to tell me if he’s changed colour.” The call operator is warm and northern and reassuring and I already hate her because she’s being kind. I don’t want kind. I want ‘This is what you do so your husband doesn’t die.’ Between us, he and I lift his t-shirt and yes, his skin is already beginning to yellow. I relay this information and also tell her about the aspirin thing because I also know that this is an Important Thing For When The Paramedics Arrive.

Somewhere in this exchange he’s fallen onto the floor. I haul all of his 6’ 5” length back onto the sofa. He starts to fall sideways. “I think I’m going unconscious,” he mutters, and then does just that; collapses onto the cushions with his eyes rolling back into his head. I give this information to the operator. She tells me not to panic. I tell her I’m not.

I order the child round to our neighbours. She nods and runs. Still calm and amazing, even though she’s just watched her dad tumble into oblivion. I think this is the first time that I swear at the operator. “Where’s that fucking ambulance?” is going to become my mantra.

I check the instruction manual I have stored in my consciousness and realise I now need to remove his false teeth. I stick my fingers in his slack mouth and grab them out. Then under the operator’s instruction, I begin CPR.

I’ve seen this done on the TV and in movies; it’s portrayed as dramatic and occasionally glamorous in a violence-porn kind of way. I quickly learn that this is a big fat lie. CPR, done correctly, is brutal, exhausting, and fucking awful.

I refuse to be incompetent at anything. I knit my hands together and begin thumping the everloving shit out of the man I love. Even at the first impact the sternum creaks, and this is a sign I am doing it right. At the same time I am shouting endearments at him. I can’t recall the exact script, but “Don’t you dare fucking leave me you fucking cunt this is not how it fucking ends you fucking fuck!” is a general theme.

I tilt his beautiful head back, pinch his nose, and give him my breath in an intimate and futile attempt at resurrection and love. I have kissed this man for over twenty years and I know every contour of his face, and even at this point I know that the breath he returns in a soft sigh is not his, but mine.

My neighbour runs in. My sweet, funny friend who has been enjoying an afternoon of Sunday TV, and who has just been invaded by my child telling her that her dad is having a heart attack. It will be weeks later before I realise that I have dragged someone into a situation that they might want to run from, but her response, “What do you need me to do?” is all I need for this project right now.

CPR is a mean cardiovascular workout, ironically. I am wearing a sweatshirt over my dress and I’m already sweating like all hell. Without considering that doing CPR on a dying man might be a bit of an ask, I tell her to take over whilst I remove a layer of clothing. She does this without question. Another pro.

I take the opportunity to swear at the operator again. She assures me that the ambulance is on the way. I reckon it has been hours since this show has started.

Down to my short-sleeved dress, I take over the CPR. This time something deep inside him cracks beneath my palms and I keep on going. Another breath, returned as an empty moan. This is when I know. “He’s gone,” I state to the operator.

“Oh, now we don’t know that. Just keep going,” comes the reassuring response. I want to smack her face with a shovel.

Because I do know. It’s been too long since he’s taken a breath, since I’ve felt his heart beat. And you know when a shadow races up a hillside, when the colours fade as the light stops touching the earth? That has happened to his complexion, and there’s another thing I can’t quantify – a feeling that whatever makes up a man’s soul has slipped away between my cursing and the CPR and the silent pleading to the universe.

My husband is dead, I tell myself, already feeling the weight of the words.

Still I keep on going. Just throwing my weight behind bringing a dead man back to life.
In the middle of all this, the Indian takeaway delivery turns up. My wonderful neighbour sees the poor man off our property as if he were a burglar. I briefly wonder who gets to eat the food in these circumstances.

I repeat my demand to the operator regarding the ambulance crew. Again she tells me they’re on their way, and again I explain that that’s really not fucking well bastard good enough.

The paramedics arrive. Not one but two ambulances. Bargain. It has taken precisely twenty-three minutes. I step aside and let the professionals do their stuff. “Medical history?” they ask as they lift him onto the rug.

I listen to myself calmly reel off everything I know. Recovered heroin addict; hip replacement, prostate cancer; high blood pressure but under control… Then they start their work. What strikes me is the silence. Each man knows what job he has to do; there is no shouting, no panic, just a sense that there is a task to be carried out.

As they intubate my husband, I return to Facebook. I’d been messaging two of my very best friends about the minutiae of my day just before this all kicked off so under the circumstances it feels appropriate that I keep them updated. It will be a while before this strikes me as being in the slightest way odd.

I then step outside onto our driveway and make a noise that I have never heard before: a roar and a howl of grief and anger and frustration. Another neighbour is just leaving his house to walk his dogs and asks if everything is okay, what with me baying at the clouds and the two ambulances blocking the street. I stop roaring to tell him what is going on. He tells me that if I need anything he’ll be there, and I manage a ‘thank you’.

When I return to the house, they’re still working on him but it’s clear that they’re just doing their job and running every single option before they surrender. I alternate between watching and updating my friends over the internet.

“I’m sorry love, but he’s gone.” The guy who finally tells me is kind and gentle but I don’t need to know because I was there when he actually went, and they weren’t. They remove the tubes and all of their kit, and now I have a dead husband lying like he’s asleep on the lounge rug. I thank them for their efforts because I am middle class and English and this is what we do. Besides, I mean it. They did everything they could, and just because it didn’t work this isn’t a reason to be ungrateful.

So much happens now, and if I’m honest I don’t recall the proper order. These next things happen all at once, or in a completely different way than I remember them. Still, they need to be told, so here goes.

I know that I call my dad and my stepmum answers. I am like some despot over the phone; I explain what’s happened and tell her that I don’t want my dad to come over unless he can handle it, and, horror of horrors, not become emotional over the unexpected death of a man he loved. Despite my lapse into dictatorship she says she’ll be right over.

I know that I’ve sent the child to my neighbour’s house and I have to tell her that her dad has died. It’s a thirty-second walk, but by the time I’m there I have a script.

I kneel in front of her. “Darling, your dad died and I’m so sorry, but I promise you I’m not going anywhere. I’ll always be here. I promise.” She gives a wail that sounds uncannily like the noise I made on my driveway and we hold onto each other like the world has ended. I briefly consider that this is a lie, that I cannot guarantee this thing, that platitudes are wrong, but both of us are falling and we need words that suggest that we have a future. We go back to the house.

I know that my dad and stepmum arrive, and they obey my earlier instructions to the letter. They hug lightly then step back; stay dry-eyed and calm, despite the dead dude on the rug. I’m so fucking grateful.

And then more stuff happens. In no particular order:

The child sits by her dad’s body and takes his hand and kisses him and tells him that she loves him and that she’ll make him proud.

Two police officers arrive because this is a Sudden Death and I might have killed him. They are young and apologetic and have to turn his body onto its side to check for head injuries. They do that with such care and respect that I nearly cry. But I’m damned if I’m going to do that.

My neighbour makes tea for those who want it. I decline and pour myself a gin and tonic because I feel I’m going to need it.

Undertakers arrive to take him away. They’re professionally solemn and I’m grateful for their distance.

I am a martinet and I don’t care. I order everyone out of the room so I can do one last thing.

He has over a foot of height difference over me. I have always joked that when he is dead, I will have him dissolved in acid so I can have his femurs displayed over our fireplace. When we’re in bed together I love the fact that I can lay my head on his shoulder and the very tips of my toes will still just about touch his ankles.

I realise that this is the last time I will ever get to do this thing.

So I lie down on the rug next to his vacated body. It is already stiffening, and I know I don’t have much time. The hands with the graceful long fingers that I have watched play guitar for so long have begun to cool and the fingernails are now sky-blue.
I lie next to him, as I have always done since I was twenty-one. I pull his arm over my shoulder, and I hook my ankle over his tibia. I nestle my head into the dip of his clavicle and breathe in the fading scent of the man I have shared my life with across all these years.

In a whisper, I tell him that I have loved, love and will forever love him. I thank him for being my husband, my lover, the father of our child, my best friend. I forgive him for all our arguments, and ask for the same in return. I curl into his side and close my eyes for one last blessed time.

I hide in the kitchen whilst they take his body out.

I’m a widow, and I have no idea what to do next.

Everything and Nothing Changes At All. Part Two.

Late morning, once my hangover has receded to the neuropathic equivalent of someone using a piledriver three streets away, we go to the nearest Aldi as a family. Doing the Big Shop together has become something of a ritual, and in truth I’ve never known anyone love shopping as much as him. In fact I’ve sometimes felt guilty at depriving him of trips to the Metro Centre and Ikea due to my own personal aversion to the arseholes who tend to gather in such places. Gender roles have never loomed large in our relationship.

We have a stupid little spat in the carpark when I tell him he needs to move the car a bit because the woman next to us can’t get into hers, but it’s quickly resolved when I point out that it isn’t his parking that’s at fault, it’s because she’s pregnant and therefore a wide load. When I run into the shop to get change for the trolley I also buy him a bag of Maltesers and lob them at his head and call him a stroppy bastard. He agrees, apologises, and that is that.

I loosely link my fingers through his on the trolley handle as we buy food for the week ahead – kind of roughly planning each day in the knowledge that it will depend entirely on what I feel like cooking that will ultimately decide the menu. He prepares meals occasionally, but is sensible enough to let me do my thing in the kitchen. As usual, by the time we get to the tills, there is a pile of sweets and biscuits in the trolley that I hadn’t even noticed building up and I know they’ll be demolished by the time the week is out.

Back at home my hangover makes a brief resurgence and I take a couple of aspirin and go to bed for an hour whilst he dozes on the sofa downstairs, covered with adoring cats and dogs.

When I wake up my head is clear and I’m hungry, and I don’t want let go of the weekend just yet. I suggest ordering an Indian takeaway, because I’m still hankering after the coconut pilau from the night before. I place the order and then go and mix drinks: a gin and titanic for me and the usual Jack Daniels and Coke for him, both of them in half-litre glasses filled with ice. In terms of pub measures, I reckon we both get a quintuple. It’s Sunday, the sun is shining, and it’s a perfect time to chill. Even the cats think so: I take a picture of our ginger cat as he stretches out next to his beloved human.

I sit at the dining table with my laptop and alternately drop words into my latest book document (as an activity it’s not a sufficiently focused to earn the title ‘writing’, but at least it makes it a few letters longer than it was the day before) and mooch on Facebook. He’s at the other end of the room watching an Abba documentary. The child is on the other sofa, busily absorbing her dad’s love of music. We do Sundays well. Companionable silence interspersed with general banter, and the knowledge that we’re a content if slightly quirky unit.

He takes a drink of his JD and Coke. “Just so you know,” he says, “this is the best one you’ve ever mixed. Just try and remember the ratio for next time.” I laugh and promise that I’ll try, or at least keep practising. I return to my laptop. All is good.

Five minutes later he sits forward and clutches his lower back. He’s frowning and it looks like something hurts. “Do you want a hand up?” I ask, and he shakes his head.
“No. Ambulance,” he mutters through clenched teeth.
The child stands up and looks at me, worried. “Do it,” I order but she’s already doing it because she’s smart and brave, and all other probabilities silently fall away as I realise that something bad and bigger than all of us is starting to happen. She picks up the phone and dials as he starts to roar in pain.

Time helpfully slows down, and I bring up the document in my head that gives me the complete instructions on What To Do Now. I’ve got this. All will be well, because frankly, the alternative isn’t worth thinking about.

Everything Changes and Nothing Changes At All. Part One.

Where the fuck do I start?

Twenty three years ago, when I was twenty one, immortal, beautiful and omnipotent, and he was forty three and tired of life, and I hunted him down as if he were a wounded dog? Nope. Too much to write from that point onwards. There’s a whole book there and I’ve already got one of those on the go, thank you.

Thirteen years ago, when we hit the skids harder and more explosively than a Formula One pile-up and started all over again? Nah. We worked through that. It’s a history that doesn’t need repeating.

The week before, when we spend a magical day in a recording studio in North Wales, singing as a family – me, him, the child – and he plays the guitar with a skill and passion that almost makes me cry, and on the journey home he asks, “I’m doing alright now, aren’t I?” and I can only answer that yes, he is? No, because this is too close to Ground Zero and we are too happy, and it still hurts a little too much.

Okay, so let’s try the night before, because if this were fiction, this is where I would start. It gives the whole event a rather beautiful, if tragic, narrative arc. And If I’m writing this thing, it has to be good. I owe that much, at least.

We’ve made plans to go out for a meal with friends in our local Yorkshire-posh market town. The child is out for the evening so we declare it a date night and catch the bus like a pair of teenagers, despite a taxi costing all of six quid. As usual, I curl into his denim-clad shoulder for the journey– I’m five feet three and he’s six feet five, and I have nearly a quarter of a century’s experience of knowing every curve and give of his body. I’m always puzzled by couples who don’t touch like this – what’s the point of being together if you can’t use your beloved like a human beanbag? When we started dating I used to look like his daughter. Now, with his long hair and his recently-acquired silver-fox beard, and my own grey streak that I’ve got bored of trying to dye out, we look closer in age. It’s one of those weird things; when we met he was more than twice my age. Ever since, I’ve been catching up…

On the way there we talk about what we want to do next together. He says that he wants to retire and buy an old property; he’ll stay at home and renovate it, and I can keep working and writing, and it will all be amazing. I state that there’s no way on God’s earth that I am doing hard labour on a house, and he says that’s okay because it’s something he’s always wanted to do. I visualise a little run-down Victorian cottage somewhere and it feels good. This is where he will grow old and distinguished, and die a gentle, old man’s death, and I will retire and write. There may even be llamas.

We get to the designated meeting-place pub before our friends and have a couple of pints. We both know what each other drinks and get the rounds in without having to ask, and I’d be lying if I remember what we talk about while we wait. The day’s news; music; the child; the odd-looking fella across the room – anything and everything is fair game. We still haven’t run out of subjects.

The meal is brilliant: an Indian with my Tory Bastard Intellectual Sparring Partner (TBISP) and his gorgeous new girlfriend. I’ve probably had one too many ciders already but it’s one of those lovely early summer Saturdays when that’s okay, because we all get on and drunken banter is expected. The evening ends with me and TBISP locking horns over non-binary gender: I try to explain using my fingers, and TBISP shoves them together with a firm, “People are boys, or they’re girls. That’s it!” but I know he’s smart and is taking things on board and doesn’t want to give up on twelve years of skilfully pushing every button I have.

New girlfriend looks concerned, because I’m calling TBISP a motherfucker by now and our voices are getting progressively louder. “It’s okay,” my fella says to her, smiling, to reassure. “This is what they always do.” She believes him, even though TBISP and I now look like we’re trying to snap each other’s fingers off. It’s a damn good night.

We get a taxi home and stumble into bed. I’m all cidered out and fall asleep in minutes, make-up still intact and clothes thrown in a heap by the bed. Twenty years ago, me sliding between the sheets naked would be a come-on; now it’s ‘I’m a bit too pissed to find my nightie. Sorry about that…’ It’s all good though. We’ll have plenty more opportunities to do that kind of thing if we want to. That’s the joy of being married to your best mate: sex is there if you want it, or you can just collapse in a drunken heap and pick it up next time.

I wake up at three o’clock in the morning. That’s kind of unusual for me, because I sleep like the dead. I think maybe it’s the curry, or too much cider, or the humid May night. He’s already awake next to me, which is no surprise – I have never met anyone with a sleep pattern quite as bad as his. I briefly consider bringing him off, but he’s already going downstairs to put the kettle on for us both, and I pick up my iPad and check Facebook. All is normal. I update my status, turn on my side, and fall back to sleep.

“Put the voices down on paper…”




As with most occasions in my life that have involved doing something ridiculous/counter-intuitive/potentially bloody painful, a tipping point was reached.

I was most definitely not going to write a blog, no matter how much I was tempted. I have a second novel to publish, I’m arse-deep in assignments for an MA in Creative Writing, and then there’s the day job and the how-the-fuck-do-I-single-parent challenge, and…


But I’d started to think about it. That was the problem. Composing posts in my head, making scrawled notes in margins of work notebooks… So I shoved it to the back of my mind for a few months, but the words just started shouting louder.

And then came that tipping point. When I was discussing the whole blog ridiculousness with a friend he used my own advice against me, the complete rat-bastard: “Put the voices down on paper.”


Naturally, my brain processed this as a dare, because there is a part of me that is forever ten years old and still well up for licking a battery if someone dares me to, and also this is something I regularly tell people who say they want to write but don’t know where to start and I cannot therefore be revealed as a hypocrite.

And here we are.

What’s this blog going to be about? It should have a cohesive theme, naturally. Fortunately I have that covered. There’s the obvious, of course: the elephant in the room that triggered the word-whispering in the first place, aka that Dead Husband thing (I’ll warn you in advance when that one’s coming up – you may want to leaf through a Reader’s Digest instead…). And writing about writing, naturally, especially my own brand of dark fuckery. And feminism – can’t leave that out –  and the best fights I’ve ever been in, and my intimate relationship with gin. Ooh, and being a geek with high-functioning Aspergers and how I wouldn’t change a thing about it. And parenting. Definitely parenting. Or not-parenting, as is often the case. Maybe a bit of kink, once I’ve figured out how to classify it. See? Cohesive as all hell.

All that remains right now is to welcome you to Scrawling in the Margins. I can honestly say I have no idea what will come next, but that’s life in general and we’ve all made it this far…