View of “Le Canigou” – the Pyrenees’ highest mountain – from my parents’ house, after a summer storm
3 August 2020
We have been on holiday now for a “fat” week. “We” is Megan, Ben, Medjool and me. A “fat” week is 10 days. The first 7 days were spent in the Camargue, a beautifully wild part of southern France, around the Rhône Delta, famous for its pink flamingos, black bulls, and white horses. A paradise for more than 400 unique species of migrating birds. (I got that last bit off the internet). And a fun spot for kite-surfing. One of Medjool’s top five favourite sports. And one that Ben, Megan and I have now tried twice (and – speaking of myself – failed miserably at).
Part one of the holiday was a lovely week in Salin de Giraud, cycling to wild beaches, flying kites on a beach, being in the water failing to fly and be transported by a kite, and visiting beautiful Arles. A week where I believe we all got something of value – not necessarily a given in this broken family of mine. With “two older kids” who, given their ages, would probably prefer to hang out with friends, but kindly honour their commitment made to me soon after Mike’s death, to “spend a week with me in the summer until I no longer need you to”.
I still need them to. With or without Medjool, I still need them to. And of course want them to. And want them to want to.
Then a couple of days ago we drove a few hours further south to Céret in the Pyrénées-Orientales. Here, greeny-blue mountains and bluey-green sea (heaven, in my book). And the home of my parents. Always lovely, somewhat “grounding” to arrive here. My dad presents me (and us – but mostly me) with a glass of pink champagne on arrival – pink champagne he received a carton or two of after accompanying a musician on piano some months pre-COVID.
Only my third visit since Mike’s death. Just too far to drive on my own, though I have done it. My last couple of trips, whether with or without Medjool, I was allocated a narrow and rather hard twin bed in a spare room. But this trip, my parents allowed us to use the big double that my dad sometimes uses. The room that Mike and I had for years and years when we came to visit. Massive bed, spacious room, private bathroom. Luxury stuff for us when on holiday or staying with friends/family.
But I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep with Medjool in the room I always shared with Mike. It felt all wrong. Him noticing things and commenting on things (not unkindly) that I had never even noticed or given a second thought to before.
Eventually at about 4 am I cut my losses and went to be in the rather hard-bedded twin room. At least I know those beds, and had been in them a few times in the past couple of years. At least I could read a book. Catch up on the news. Be on my own. Even sleep a couple of hours.
It’s a lovely new relationship. It really is. I wouldn’t swap Medjool for anyone who is living and breathing. Even a year ago I knew he was gold. Is gold. But he is not Mike. And the history of decades spent together is not easily removed. Erased. Not in my house. Not in my parents’ house. Not in friends’ houses. Not anywhere where there are traces of Mike.
I was “big enough” (just about) in the morning to know that I needed a “Mike fix”. So I just took myself off on a run (not one of Medjool’s top 50 sports) through the local woods where Mike and I used to go. Sometimes separately. Mostly together. Remembering places, conversations we’d had, him looping back to run with me a bit when he got too far ahead. Our piece of quiet time together.
I came back from my 45-minute run a better version of myself. I am grateful that Medjool is so gracious and understanding. That even when I cannot find the words or mental space to articulate, “This is hard – there is so much Mike and Julia here” until 12 or 18 hours later, he waits patiently. Till I am more balanced. Better able to manage my fragile equilibrium.
Sometimes I just need a Mike fix. I suspect that will always be the case.