Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Shelf Life

"Mummy, the elf has killed the cat."

I opened one eye and tried to blink enough sleep away to see my daughter's face. She was stood next to my bed, clutching the teddy she had been inseparable from since she was two, and I expected to see a smirk playing on her beautiful lips. As my eyes adjusted to the half light of my bedroom, however, I saw tears where I expected to see mischief. 

"Oh, for God's sake," I muttered, my voice still thick, and pushed the covers away. Had my husband been in the room at that point, I probably would have kicked him, but instead I pulled my bereft child into my arms and squeezed her as tightly as I could without hurting her tiny frame.

Once I felt her relax a bit into my chest, I pushed her away gently by her shoulders and looked into wide eyes that still glistened with grief. 

"Listen to me, darling. Daddy and I control the elf. We move him in the evenings to make it look like he comes alive at night. I promise you it isn't real and I'm sorry we lied. I'm really sorry that you've been frightened."

Pete had been enjoying playing the Elf on the Shelf game as much as any young dad with social media accounts, and poor Kringle  (as Meredith had christened our inanimate friend) had found himself in all sorts of compromising positions for the amusement of our social circle. However, there was one cast iron rule: always create a scene suitable for our five year old before she woke up. Last night it had been Pete's turn and he had clearly neglected to deconstruct his makeshift horror scene before leaving for work in the morning; on Christmas sodding eve of all days.

Meredith was looking at me doubtfully. 

"Kringle did it, Mummy. He told me."

I sighed and ran my hand over my puffy face. My head was pounding.

"No, darling. He didn't. You were dreaming," I said, but Meredith just shook her head and pointed into the hallway that laid dark beyond my bedroom door. As I opened my mouth to speak again, we heard a shuffling in the gloom and Meredith dove under my duvet with a small, strangled yelp.

"It's just the cat," I mumbled, trying to sound more confident than I felt as I made my way towards the sound. I had owned Sooty for almost eight years and I had never once heard him scuffle around like that; it sounded sinister, threatening even. As I reached the hall, the unmistakably tinny smell of blood filled my nostrils and I gasped. I fumbled for the light switch, filling the corridor with fluorescence and immediately wished I hadn't. 

Sooty was sprawled in a mangled heap on the carpet, his insides a vivid red against the normally light beige pile. And then I saw him, stood upright against the bannister, his blank eyed grin unchanged and yet somehow twisted into a menacing sneer. 

"K-Kringle?" I managed, feeling both terrified and ridiculous all at once. I heard Meredith yelp again at the sound of his name and turned briefly to glance at her huddled shape before returning my gaze to the scene of horror before me. In that split second, Kringle had moved. He was right in front of me and his wiry little arm was reaching out for my leg. 

As his felt hand made contact with my skin, I saw the truth about the elves and why there were sent. I saw Santa Claus, not the jolly old man from greetings cards, but a hulking mass of judgement, seething in his dank cave as he reviewed the behaviour of the human race over the course of our existence. As he toiled through years of war and pain and cruelty, he grew in size and his rage filled the cavern. I saw my own life in vivid colour: the fights, the affairs, the drinking, and I knew in that moment that it was over. Santa was not making a naughty list, he was preparing to wipe out the sinners and he had played the long game. The elves had been deployed to do his bidding, gradually infiltrating every home across the planet, and only the innocent were safe.

I thought of my baby girl, shaking with terror in my bed, and looked down at the red clad figure at my feet.

"What about Meredith?" I asked in a low, trembling voice.

"She is good," said the elf, his painted lips not moving.

"I am not," I admitted, hot tears spilling down my cheeks as I squeezed my eyes shut. 

"No, you have been a very naughty girl," said the elf, before calling to the shape under the duvet, "say goodbye to Mummy, Meredith. Santa will see you in the morning..."

The End

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

On Reflection

Ah, the Facebook 'On This Day' app: you have to love it, right? Most days, I'm met by glorious photos of my children when they were squidgy and largely immobile or tales of bravely fought hangovers from the days before children and enormous debt, but today was different. Today I was faced with several years' worth of melancholy as I dealt with what was essentially an enormous comedown from an unexpectedly large weekend, and a house that looked a bit like Ground Zero before the clean up.

Maybe this pattern has developed in response to the close proximity of a Christmas that I can never afford, but it seems like more than coincidence that, after the always traumatic school run, I went back to bed and stayed there until lunchtime. I was not feeling today at all.

But then I got thinking about the ghost of Novembers past and the last year in general, and I realised that this year is quite different after all.

November 2016 was the worst one (and that's compared to the three Novembers that saw me unexpectedly unemployed as the sound of Christmas songs drew nearer). I had a two- and a one-year-old and I was drowning in postnatal depression and as-yet undiagnosed Primarily Obsessive OCD, and I spent every day hiding from chores that I couldn't cope with, bills that I couldn't pay and relationships that I couldn't maintain. We were facing the fact that this Christmas would be the last with my beloved father-in-law and I had taken on far more work than I could realistically deal with. I had been at home with the children all day while my husband worked late, and went to bed alone when he text me that he had been tied up due to a fault in the alarm system and would not be home for ages (he was doing nothing of the sort, as it turns out). I was at what I thought was rock bottom at the time, but I had no idea what the next twelve months were going to throw at me. 

It has, in short, been a complete fucking car crash, but I am still here. Five hundred, twenty five thousand and six hundred minutes that have brought separation, death, sexual assault, coming out, glandular fever, the consumption of more substances than necessary, my own rejection of something that made me happy because it was different and I didn't understand it, a mental health diagnosis that hit me like a bullet train, and I am still standing. 

My children are happy and healthy, and my relationship is finally blossoming in a healthy, controlled and balanced way. I have made the conscious decision to stop drinking on a regular basis, but I won't torture myself if I decide to have a couple on special occasions, and the treatment plan to beat the finally identified demon in my head is in place.

I have always thought myself weak, but the last year has shown me that I'm anything but. I am stronger than I would have ever imagined because I'm living in a head that keeps telling me I'd be better off dead and I'm defying it. I am fighting myself every single day and I'm still managing to hold down my family, my home, my job, my relationship, my degree work and my sanity. Every session with my therapist or doctor sees them ask me if I feel able to keep myself safe and the answer is always a proud yes. I can always do it, despite the fact that it sometimes feels like I'm pushing a boulder up a mountain.

I get up every single day and I manage to get through it. I get through it in a different way from other people; we don't necessarily leave the house as much as other families because sometimes getting us all out of our pyjamas is more than I can cope with, but I get through it. We get through it.

I am alive and that is enough to make me a warrior.

Because some things are worth living for