They Can’t Come Back
Nothing can ever replace them. It’s not a gap; a void – a shadow that tries to fill a space that someone once occupied. Where they once stood, you’ll always see them standing there. Even though they can’t come back, there’s something there that can’t be taken from you.
I always see her seated, in her favourite place, a drink in one hand and a spliff in the other. Her couch – her ‘operations’ room, where she did everything. She laughed; she laughed a lot, even when it wasn’t really all that funny. When nobody else thought it was funny, she often would. Even if I didn’t see her sitting there, I would call her or message her and I’d picture her sitting in that spot with the drink and the draw, the remote nearby – because she was never going to miss any of her favourite programs. Nobody got between her and her main connection to the outside world.
Her television invited her into the homes of those in Coronation Street. She got an emotional workout with Eastenders and Emmerdale. She knew the names of every celebrity on television; she could even tell you who they were briefly connected to and for how long. Some people’s lives are better connected with television, while for those of us who do not live that way, it’s very difficult to understand it. That’s ok, we don’t have to. We just have to respect it. There were more than dozens of moments in which I arrived at her apartment in North London and found her crying when she opened the door. Within minutes, I’d been informed about the latest horrendous episode of one program or another.
I can’t even tell you that her blonde hair was her finest asset, nor was it her smile – which was ever-present, one of those people who seemed to be smiling even when they’re sad, as though they felt sheepish and the smile helped remind them that they too were human. Or maybe they were born lucky in that they just couldn’t frown because their faces didn’t work that way. Which was great for those like me, who relied on that smile to pick us up when we needed it. If push came to shove and I was forced to recollect one detail that lasted more than any other, it would be her laugh.
Always the first to.
When we sat in a pub once, and talked about our pasts – one boring Sunday in which nothing could make us feel a part of the world more than a couple of pints of beer could, she opened up more than I ever knew she could. To this day, I realise how lucky I am and how precious it was that her words tumbled out and she told me her story. That so much had happened, right under my nose, yet I’d had no idea. Because the whole time she lived this secret existence, the smile covered up hidden bruises. And if she ever got close to wanting to cry, her laughter covered that up too. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself when I think about whether I contribute anywhere near as much as I took.
You think you know someone so well; that the way their blue eyes twinkle with mischievous knowledge, that its because they had a naughty thought behind that snippet they showed you. And that if you were lucky, one day they’d divulge some of those naughty secrets to you over a beer or three. If you were lucky, those stories would widen your eyes more than any Kardshian story ever hoped to. Or maybe even more than Britney’s publicists could dream up.
Today I’m smiling, because I know how much that would mean to her, as I think about her on her couch, smoking a spliff and drinking a cider while with one eye she kept an eye on her glimpse of the world and with the other, she let me know that her I was important too.
She tried to do that even when the television wasn’t there and she lay on that bed in the Hospice. Even 24 hours before it all meant a bigger deal to everyone else, she did her best to radiate a smile behind the grief. While her daughter and her mother stood on either side of her and tried to feed her; massage her hands and her feet and wept at the coming hours and what those hours would bring and began to hate that C word because never before had it meant anything so meaningful as it did in those final hours. Even as I watched her struggle to take those last breaths and then her pain would be over, I knew that I would always remember her on her couch and not in that bed.
Months after she’s been gone but never forgotten, I remember her not as she was in her final weeks, but as she lived her life, happily and with a smile and laughter.
I know when they’re gone that they can’t come back, but Monique has left a legacy in her life’s work.
I’m so proud to have been chosen as that special person that wrote her life into a book. It will be the most important memory for me.
They can’t come back, but that’s because they never really left us and that’s what helps me stay focused.
RIP Monique – 1966 – 2017