A week after my brother died I booked a plane to Florida.
I planned to run away from the grief, sadness and pain that I was surrounded by and have a little holiday in a place which had always brought me feelings of happiness, joy and love.
Ever since I was a child Walt Disney World held special meaning to me, it was a place of family unity, a place of laughter but most of all it was the place where I was sure I could run away to, and the grief wouldn’t find me.
When I arrived at the Priory last Tuesday, after a tense 25 minutes on the motorway getting completely lost and ending up on the ring road for Terminal 2 car park at Manchester airport (my sense of direction is absolutely terrible, I could get lost in my own living room) I was absolutely frazzled and unsure of whether this journey would be worth all the effort.
I drove past a golf course internally screaming about my inability to listen to even the simplest of instructions, and screaming externally at Vivian (my Sat nav is called Vivian, on account she sounds like an anally retentive, posh school teacher) who was now insisting I ‘make a u-turn, make a u-turn’ on a one way road. I banged my fist on the steering wheel in frustration and prepared to throw Vivian out of the window, when all of a sudden, like the illusive light at the end of the tunnel, there it was in front of me. (Screw you Vivian! You make a u-turn you clapped out whore bag! Update your software!)
‘The Priory Altrincham’ was written as clear as day on an understated sign surrounded by a backdrop of sweeping green, perfectly mowed fields and majestic, beautiful oak trees. ‘Huh?’ I thought to myself. Altrincham? I thought I was in Hale. (Story of my life.)
I put my foot on the brake too quickly in surprise and stalled the car.
So much for my celebrity entrance.
Nobody seemed to notice though. Teenagers and adults combined were mooching across the lawns in a relaxed manner, holding folders, and chatting, there was a woman sat to my left, cunningly hidden (but not very well as I saw her) between the trees having a sneaky puff on a no doubt elusive cigarette. I smiled at her as I passed and wondered what her story was.
I wound my window down to let in some air (I still have stomach flu and my aircon is broken) and noticed immediately how peaceful it was. It was like a blanket of calm had descended over the entire place. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, but still somehow, this place held an atmosphere that was so tranquil and still, it was almost eerie. Maybe I have just watched too many films.
I located the car park with moments to spare before my appointment, and in my panic to park, duly knocked off my wing mirror manoeuvring in, next to a great big mucky, yellow skip. (I wasn’t even reverse parking!)
It’s typical really, that amongst all this beauty and expansive open space, I would be the person to locate and destroy a material possession on probably the only eyesore in a 500 mile radius. I see now why nobody else had parked there. Would you park a Porsche Carrera or a Range rover sport next to a skip outside a loony bin? No? Me either, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. (My car is a shed, but I was still gutted!)
After having a quick puff on my inhaler, picking my mirror up off the floor and trying not to cry at the lack of peripheral vision I now had for the journey home, I slammed my door shut and headed towards the Manor at the top of the hill, looking for reception.
I walked through the sparkling double doors just as two girls were making their exit whispering to each other conspiratorially. They had their heads down and their hands shoved deep in to their pockets. Smuggling out food? Smuggling out cigs? Sneaking off for a cig? The nosy person inside me was desperate to know their story too.
They glanced in my direction but looked away quickly. They probably thought I was one of the counsellors; such was the age gap between us. Although, come to think of it, I am probably giving myself way too much credit there. I had just been on my hands and knees next to a skip. But anyway, very quickly I started to feel very old and very ridiculous.
Surely I was too old to need all this guff? Surely self harming and crying one’s self to sleep is for the emotionally unstable youth? What the hell was I playing at trying to stay young by being a total fuck up? I didn’t have time for this. I needed to get a grip and move on.
Every fibre of my being was screaming at me to get back in the car, and go home. Stop wasting everybody’s time, it shouted. But my feet kept going and before i knew it I was in reception.
I walked in, to what can only be described as a grand hall, to the sound of silverware clattering against silverware, (food smugglers those girls then I reckon…) and as my feet sank in to the ridiculously lush carpet, I looked upwards towards the most beautiful double staircase and my gaze caught on to an impressive mosaic painted ceiling. It was like a house you would see on cribs. But tasteful.
I stopped in my tracks and just stared for a while, agog. I am used to the NHS. The words poles and apart would be appropriate here. I once was booked to have psychotherapy on the NHS in Salford. The reception was behind bullet proof glass and the woman actually locked the consulting room door behind us when we went in. ‘Never be too sure’ she had laughed nervously before spending 20 minutes trying to unlock the barred window to let some air in. I never went back, fearing for my safety never mind my sanity.
‘Hello,’ the receptionist said kindly from behind her huge mahogany desk ‘How can I help you?’
I heard her, but couldn’t respond. I was lost in the moment.
‘The suuuun will come out tommorrrrroooowwwww, bet your bottom dollarrr that tommorrowwwwwwwww, come what maaaaaaaayyyyyy’ If I had been wearing a red dress and not my lumberjack Dr martins, I would have been prancing about and singing. True story. As it were I can’t dance in those boots, so just let my imagination run riot.
This place was incredible, I was orphan Fanny (because, well, why not?) and Bupa medical Insurance had become my Daddy Warbux. Damn it! Why hadn’t I worn that spare ball gown I keep laying about the place?!
The moment overwhelming me slightly and completely lost in thoughts about changing Doodle’s name to Sandy and searching on the internet for a bald rich man, I took a step forward and nearly catapulted myself over a very well camouflaged, amongst all the grandeur, reception desk that the kind, jowly old woman who had spoken earlier, was sat behind.
‘Hello,’ the receptionist said again kindly, looking up at me, undeterred by the fact my face had just made contact with her bosom. ‘How may I help you?
‘I am here to see, Dr Jawa Gustantinoble’ I stuttered out the unpronounceable surname, mortified that I had only been there two minutes and had already managed to nearly inflict injury on both myself and an unsuspecting other. If she had been bent over the desk, (not in a kinky way, as in, if she had been writing or something) I probably would have chinned her and she would have been knocked out. My life is never straightforward.
I straightened out my top and cursed my stupid big boots with their stupid big laces for planting me in such an uncompromising position.
‘Who?’ she asked, attempting to make eye contact and looking only slightly amused and just a tad concerned by me.
After my humiliation at the dentist the day before, I’d just about had my fill of making an arse out of myself so instead of continuing to attempt to pronounce the 64 (or thereabouts) lettered surname I sensibly began to rummage in my bag for the letter containing the Dr’s name to just show her. Unfortunately my bag was still filled with formula, a bottle, 3 nappies and 7 empty biscuit packets, so this took a while.
‘Ah’ she said, when I produced the letter in such a flourish of triumph that I nearly took her eye out. ‘Dr. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, I will tell her you are here, please rest your weary bones over there on those amazingly squishy and luxurious leather sofas by the window.’
(She didn’t actually say this, but this is what I heard.)
‘Would you like some champagne? Maybe a little caviar to tempt your over sensitive palette? Maybe a canapé?’ (Pronounced canap, for comedy value.)
(Again, she didn’t actually say this, but this is what I heard. I think she actually offered me a bru, in all honesty. But I don’t like Earl grey so declined politely.
I sat down and as my oversized pillow bottom began to sink in to the heavenly cushions I closed my eyes for the briefest of moments and was immediately transported back in time.
‘Santaaa claus wee nevverrr seeee’ my internal monologue sang ‘Santa Claus, what’s that, who’s he?’
Oh how I used to love the rags to riches story of poor orphan Annie, and oh how I thought I could relate to the poor little darling with the curly ginger hair. (For the record I came from a loving home, and my hair is bone straight and not ginger. Not that there is anything wrong with ginger. The Irish one is ginger, except he won’t admit it. He calls himself sunset blonde. Whatever mate, you are as ginger as the day is long…)
I must have been sat there for a while because the film, in my mind, had reached the part with the evil (and now I see, clearly fabulous) Miss Hannigan.
‘Er, excuse me?’ A voice bluntly interrupted my reverie.
My eyes flew open and I realised with a start I had been tapping my feet and swaying to the internal beat of Mrs Hannigan’s drunken gin fuelled symphony. When I was younger I used to hate her, what a horrible woman, I used to agree with the orphans, simply terrible, what a villain.
Now, by the way, I totally get it. ‘Little boys, with their little toys, night and day I eat breathe and smell puke and poooooo, little cheeks and little teeth, everything around me is little!! Some women are dripping with diamonds, lucky me, lucky me look at what im dripping with….. PUKE!! (For the record I love my son to the moon and back, but if I had 75 of him, I reckon I would be on the gin too. Which reminds me, I am out of wine…)
‘Er yes hi!’ I coughed out groggily.
‘Who are you and what can we do for you?’
It was the receptionist I had given my details to only about five minutes before. I was instantly confused. She was looking at me like you would look at someone you had just caught trying to wake your baby up during your well deserved five-minute period of peace and quiet. Murderous.
‘My name Is Lexy Ellis and I, err, I am, err’ I stalled, a bit scared she was holding an envelope opener or some other girls interrupted type of weaponry behind her back (shoe laces maybe.)
‘Yes?’ She asked again rudely.
‘I saw you a moment ago,’ I stuttered, ‘at least I am pretty sure I did, I told you I am here to see Dr Didumdumdumshawadada…’
Was I going mad? I was thinking. Surely I didn’t just walk in here and sit down? I am sure I spoke to her, surely I didn’t imagine up the whole conversation??? Thoughts of Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind flashed before my eyes and I snaffled a quick glance at her cleavage. Yes, yes, I did! I remembered, the relief washing through my brain instantly and slowing down my rampant heartbeat, I would recognise those boobs anywhere.
‘Ah,’ she rolled her eyes and backed down, immediately cursing herself ‘sorry, have you already spoken to me? My memory isn’t what it once was.’ I was flabbergasted. ‘The doctor will be down soon to get you’ and with that she ambled away back to the desk I had been bent over, not five minutes before. Memory isn’t what it once was? ? ?
I didn’t really get to process this random and clearly mental occurrence as literally 2 second later the kind doctor appeared in front of me like a vision in designer labels. She introduced herself as Dr Hillybillysillywilly and beckoned me up the beautiful double staircase towards her consulting room.
I immediately warmed to this fabulously dressed Dr and her kind, accepting manner the moment I sat down in her inner sanctuary, as this is what it was, the term ‘office’ does this welcoming and comfortable room no justice, and she commented on my handbag.
Materialistic? Maybe. But I am a woman who loves handbags. If she too, was a woman who loves handbags, we were going to get a long like a house on fire. Screw the delving in to my turbulent psyche; show me the lining on your Marc Jacobs!
She didn’t council me. She didn’t umm and ahh and cock her head to the side in a patronising manner as I sat down and spoke about why I was there. (She didn’t show me her lining either, in case you are wondering.) It was a very matter of fact conversation, and I found it very easy to open up, as if we were talking about somebody else. (Gossip? Moi?)
She was absolutely lovely (and I really want her scarf) with a way about her that yes, although she was clearly loaded (I want her scarf) said that she was also down to earth and capable of empathising with those who weren’t clearly loaded. (Did I mention the Chanel scarf?)
Forgive me, at this point for skimming.
The appointment was incredibly personal and unbelievably effective.
I told her where I was at and that rather than things improving, they seemed to be getting worse. I told her about my childhood, as she asked. I told her about my twenties, as she asked, and I told her about the fateful week I spent in Florida after my brother died, because she asked.
It turns out I hadn’t run away from the grief. I had just taken it with me.
That week, spent alone, in a world so far removed from the one I then knew, a world filled with smiling families and laughing children, a world filled with possibility and hope and love, was one of the worst weeks of my entire life.
I remember sitting in the middle of Magic Kingdom, totally alone on a bench, probably the only person who was alone, in the entire park, with a vintage greying film reel of memories playing out before my eyes. Memories from long ago, memories of me and my brother, memories of me and my family, memories of working there and all moments of happiness I had experienced when I was living there, a time when life had seemed like a fun game to play.
Screams of joy, peals of laughter and it’s a small world after all, made up the soundtrack to my agonising grief, that day, sat on that bench, in the middle of a theme park, a million miles away from anybody who knew me or what I was going through, alone.
As the sepia, frozen pictures, of a happy moments lost long ago, trampled across my soul, one after the other, my heart was slowly torn out and shredded, piece by piece, and then stamped on. Everything was lost, everything was irreplaceable.
In some ways I think I left my broken heart over there, lying under that sodding bench.
I came back a different person.
(Dramatic huh? I don’t do things by halves, me.)
Ignored grief. Denial (which isn’t just a river in Egypt you know! Fnar fnar.) and a metaphorical pick and mix of psychiatric terminology was thrown at me towards the end of the session.
I was exhausted. I hadn’t cried. I hadn’t wailed but I hadn’t lied.
I hadn’t missed the painful bits out. For the first time in my entire life, I had been completely truthful about where my emotions and head had been at, for the last decade. I thought maybe I should be feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, but I didn’t. I just felt weird. Spaced almost.
The Dr in Chanel, or Dr. Chanel, as I will now call her, put her pen down to mark the end of the session and told me something which I will remember till the day I die.
‘When you’re stuck with a day, that is grey and lonely, you just stick out your chin, and grin, and saaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy, oooooooohhhhhh… the sun will come out tomorrow….’
Ok, she didn’t really. But it would have been fab if she had.
She wanted to admit me, (ooo the drama!) and I was up for it too, until she told me I would have no contact with the outside world for a week.
‘Take my mobile off me? I can’t live without my Iphone for seven days! No twitter at all? Are you insane??? I should get you committed woman!!’
I err, I mean, obviously I would have missed Addison way too much, and I wouldn’t have been able to bear it! That goes without saying! Which is why I didn’t just say it first! It goes without saying do you hear? Of course I would miss him, I was just saying, you know that I err, oh sod it.
So Daddy Warbux willing, I will be starting intensive day therapy in June, twice a week for a month. Group therapy, no less. (Oh dear.)
Hopefully after which, I will be a well-rounded, happy individual.
It could happen!
And Lexy lived happily ever after…. She went back to that bench in Disney World with The Irish one (who is ginger,) Addison and a photo of Doodle and got closure. She now lives the billionaire lifestyle after wining Euro millions and sharing it with all her followers on Twitter. The woman is an angel.
Not in to fairytales? Is that too cheesy and end for you?
Well how about this then,
Driving home with my left wing mirror riding shotgun in the passenger seat was horrific, and although I am sure I barely use it, I really noticed how much I missed it, when it was no longer doing the job it had been destined for (much like my third nipple) especially on a four lane motorway, in rush hour (unlike my third nipple.)
But needless to say, I did safely make it home and collapsed on the sofa in a heap.
Three minutes later I realised I had left my Iphone at The Priory.
Now that is irony for you.