On the way home from work on Friday, I took a cab back to Waterloo. As we were driving along the Mile End Road, the cabbie had to make an emergency stop to stop him ploughing into a car that had just turned in front of him with no indicators.
Of course, I wasn’t watching (and naughtily hadn’t put my seatbelt on!) – so the next thing I knew I was flying slow-motion through the air from the back seat of the cab. Eventually, I fund myself sitting up on the floor of the cab, my hand and arm having taking the brunt of the force. After getting over the shock, and checking that I just had bumps and bruises, and nothing more serious, we carried on. As the sense of relief came over me, I just found myself wanting to laugh and giggle – with the phrase “Oh, he’s down!” in Mac’s voice and his laugh like a peel of happy bells ringing in my head.
You see, Mac was clumsy. Mac had the ability to knock over a small cup placed in the middle of an empty room, just by trying to avoid it. Every night when Mac went upstairs to bed, you could hear the noise as he bumped his was up the stairs, knocking from the bannister to the wall and back again until he got to his room.
He could fall off anything, and like many boys constantly had some sort of bump, bruise or graze on his legs. Part of it was that his balance took a while to recover after he broke his femur when he was younger. It took a while for that leg to allow him to get a proper balance – Tae Kwon-Do really helped him with this as he learned in the increasingly complicated patterns to gain the next belt.
But I think he was also clumsy because he was growing at an incredible rate. Like many parents, we still have the marks on his bedroom wall that where we frequently marked his progress. When he came to live with at age eight, he was at Swee’s chest height, and she is not very tall at all. Once he was settled, it was if his body made up for all those years of being unsettled as he just began one long growth spurt – it was impossible to keep him in trousers. They wouldn’t even last a term! His desire was to be taller than me at 6’3’’, and by the time he had reached sixteen, he had done that and was clearly the tallest in our family.
So, it was no real surprise that he didn’t have full control of those long, elegant limbs. Finally, as he reached the age of sixteen, there began to be a little more poise and elegance about him.
The expression “Oh, he’s down!” was what Mac would shout on those frequent occasions when he did fall over, and you’d see that large, tall frame suddenly disappear as gravity took over. I have such wonderful memories of that expression, because it was always followed by the giggles and peel of laughter – the same laugh that came over me as I found my self on the cab floor.
It is an example of memory of Mac that always brings joy – one that you remember fondly with a smile, and a warm feeling of love and contentment welling up from inside. And I do find that more and more, the memories of Mac are like that. Of course, it doesn’t take much to go back to the darker, sadder place – but it doesn’t have the hold it used to have, and it is easier to find your way out with a warm and happy memory.
And as I was reflecting on memories, thinking about what I might write today, I realised how much we do have some control over what we remember and how we remember it. I have said before that I made some positive decisions on the day that Mac died – not to be angry and to live my life because he wasn’t able o live his anymore. And I think unconsciously I must have also made an effort to control some of the difficult memories and thoughts.
There are gaps in my knowledge of what happened to Mac on the day he died. All I know for sure is that he left us on his motorbike, and the next time I saw him he was peacefully lying in a hospital chapel of rest. Of course, on an intellectual level I know what happened to him. But my mind doesn’t let me go there much.
I could try and visualise the scene, I could wonder if he was scared, I could feel guilty that I wasn’t there in his last moments (and in my darkest moments, my one major regret was that I couldn’t hold him as he moved on to his next big journey). But I know that it won’t make anything better if I do any of those things, and my mind doesn’t let me go there. I do know that there were people with him, and holding him when he died. I don’t know who they are – I started to make a feeble attempt to track them down at the beginning – but I am very grateful he was not alone and that someone held him tight.
But those are moments my mind does not let me imagine. It’s strange, because I sometimes see people flinch if they mention a motor accident in front of me or someone dying in a crash and I can see they want to apologise for reminding me of what happened to Mac. But in some ways I forget that is how died. It’s hard to explain, but for me the reality is that he did die – as I didn’t witness it, it is not real to me and is irrelevant. I realised that when I sat through the court case of the man who killed Mac. It was like an intellectual exercise – interesting in and of itself, considering the points of law and what needed to be proved in evidence. But it never seemed like it was describing Mac and what happened to him – not until right at the end.
The human mind is a wonderful thing – and I know that bit my bit it has allowed me to process more and more, and that this will continue throughout the rest of my life. But the most wonderful thing is that mostly it allows me to remember the funny, warm moments that we shared – and to hear in my head that laugh as he tripped over his feet another time.