Twelve long years ago I had a baby brother with blonde hair and a cute smile, two older sisters, brunettes, popular with all the boys, and a mother and father. This was my family; this was our family. It all stopped.
These days I have a baby brother with brown hair but still with the cute smile (like my clever sisters he went with the braces option rather than telling the dentist to go away) a sister with brown hair and a beautiful baby boy and a mother and father.
There is of course one thing missing and that will never change and although it all sounds so obvious, when you lose your sister three months before her 18th birthday you kind of try to all forget that this new reality, this new family is going to be forever.
When Catherine’s birthday comes around each year it is always a strange day. A mixture of joy and remembering while experiencing near on simultaneously such sadness you could just curl into a ball and dissapear into your thoughts and the memory of our childhood together forever.
Moving house I have come across so many things that remind me of her. Twelve years on, several breakdowns and a new home you wonder you will forget what she sounded like, what she did and how she was. People ask how many brothers and sisters you have and you tell them but bite your lip because it would be a bit harsh to tell the poor man blow drying your hair that you had two sisters and one brother but now you only have one brother and one sister but you cannot deny the fact of the existence of someone so wonderful so you tell them and then it kicks you once again to think of all the things the family could have been if she was still around.
Yesterday would have been my sister’s 30th birthday. I so wish it had been.
I have to stop, I haven’t learnt to blog and cry while wearing these bloody glasses yet and they appear to have steamed up.
Happy birthday to a darling sister, friend, daughter, cousin, and all round good egg, Catherine Yvonne O’Neill.
Today, for the first time, my name has appeared in a byline at the top of a story for which I will be paid. It is very exciting for me but as I fear the story will bore anyone not from the borough I thought I might take this opportunity to publish here the first piece I ever had published. It is a poem, so I hope it will still please those here for the prose. When it appeared in a book of poems: 2001: A Poetry Odyssey, I was hurt. The publishers had added a postscript to the poem which placed it into a context which I was not comfortable with and was had only been happy to reveal through verse. I am leaving their lines aside this time as I want it restored to its natural state. I wrote it when I was 16-years-old so go easy with the slander on this, my former self.
It was half-four in the morning when they told me,
Silly o’clock as we would’ve called it.
I woke up hours later crying from a dream,
A dream where I’d lost you, I woke to the nightmare.
Lying in bed, I felt too numb to cry,
I could hear people speaking downstairs,
But their word couldn’t penetrate through my daze.
I cried teras of selfishness only for me,
You were gone, you’d left me wishing I was still with you.
Words of comfort offered by friends, seemed nothing but cliches,
And those who understood, I pushed away.
Indignant that they dared to compare their hurt to mine,
You were my sister, part of me.
Though confined to bed, I still hoped for a miracle.
But on the fourth day before you left, I broke down,
I hated to do it, to admit to myself and you,
Admit that no act of God was to come.
Elinor O’Neill (16)
St Paul’s RC Comprehensive School, Evington
- Today’s dress is another donation from collections by Hannah Cantrell. It is originally from Topshop and I had to pull it in with a clincher belt at work to make it a look a little more structured. The photos are taken outside in the back garden. I can tell how late this post is because looking out of the window I can see the same daffodils which have now opened up.
- Today’s dress is lovely layered silk with leather panelling and a hard zip up the front to stop it ending up looking too girly. I probably should have saved it for a big night out but supplies are running seriously low. Opaque tights and a black T-shirt from gap make it winter suitable and Kurt Geiger wedges make it deliciously difficult to totter around in. I got it from another sample sale and once nearly ruined it by putting it in the wash after spilling balsamic oil down it
- Today’s dress was kindly donated by Sinead Kenny of Market Harborough. It is on loan but was brought from Boohoo. It probably needed a belt to pull it in but the pattern was too pretty to touch it. I’d like to say the ironing was a stunt but I actually have so many dresses to press I just had to keep on with it. My Mummy took the photos again today but the boy provided the tulips in the background as a present to cheer me up after an awful consultation on Monday at the Brandon Unit.
I have been having a bad few face days this week.; there has been an attack of dry skin and even God forbid a spot. When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to never get struck down by acne and other than sporadic attacks of eczema I felt rather smug about my skin. When I reached 24 I was struck down by a series of spots which I had no idea how to handle. Thankfully Clinique were on hand to royally ravish me and fleece me of every spare penny I had by persuading me that a miracle cure could be found within their treatment plans. I must have given them easily a few hundred pounds in the one year I subscribed to their skin care screw-over and though I have a nice make up bag which has the same pattern as this dress (another Valentine’s vintage buy from the boy) none of the products made the slightest bit of difference and in the end I returned to using clean and clear and Freederm. At about a quarter of the price and a lot longer lasting, within weeks I was back to being a smooth skinned albeit slightly skint girl.
Today’s photos are a bit of a disaster due both to the lack of make-up and artistic differences with the photographer who kept telling me to smile and not cover my forehead with my hand or hair. I have excluded the picture where I tell him where he can canter away to but the grumpy expression is proof enough of the tiz. Today I was in rather a mood due to the lack of food in the house and having once again had an accidental lie in. Since the start of this project I have made an effort every day to smother myself in lovely creams, brush my hair at the very least and most importantly of all slather myself in make up. Today largely because I got up late and also because I forgot about the photos until nearly midnight due to a dreadful game of never-ending Scrabble; at one stage I had three Ts a Z and a W. If only I had an F I would have tried putting down a WTF word or what the fuzzle for those of you not in the know.
My mother has always had an amazing collection of cosmetics and so from a young age I always had access to good quality cosmetics. Although she has threatened over the years to put a lock on her door or the cupboard she usually relents and gives me enough testers and barely used bits and bobs to make up a pretty fantastic collection of my own. My sisters never really taught me how to do make up, they both had pretty incredible skin and so with just a lick of mascara and some Nivea Visage they looked like all Irish natural beauties.
I started wearing full make-up on a daily basis from the day my sister died. In the morning the house was descended upon by a host of people who came to lend a hand and offer words of comfort and casseroles but in spite of the hive of activity below decks I remained determinedly asleep in my parents empty bed. I thought that if I kept my eyes closed I could convince myself that it had all been a horrible dream, and that in the early hours of the morning I had not really kissed my sister for the last time and neither had I stood with my family by her side watching our darling Cathy slip away. When my mother’s friend finally managed to rouse me I forced myself to suck it up and get on with it, we had guests after all and I had two broken-hearted parents, a sister and a baby brother who were all consumed with grief and the god damn unfairness of it all.
I decided then and there that if I could just keep it together it would all be alright, I painted my face artfully having been shown how to do so by my mother back before the dark days had arrived. I used thick foundation, powder, bronzer and concealer to cover up the dark circles and force my face into some kind of stability. I heard someone call me downstairs and darted eyeliner and mascara on to ensure there would be no way I could cry and in doing so let my sister down who had been unbelievably brave. She was gone but there was so much to do, all I could think of was that the house was going to have to be cleaned as people would be coming to pay their last respects; the body stays in the house in Irish families until the funeral so everyone can say goodbye; and there would be guests coming to stay with us so someone needed to be there to make tea.
I can’t remember the rest of the day much, I know that we all somehow got through it; somehow we accepted plates and dishes at the doorstep; made the calls that had to be made and thanked people for their words which at the time we barely even heard. I remember at one point during the day going over to one of my oldest friends house along with her cousin and laughing which looking back on it now seems insane but it definitely did happen. When the night came though and everyone had left I remember going in to see her, my older sister who I loved so so much and I remember seeing a book on the side, a stupid Marian Keyes book, Last Chance Saloon which I had read to her up until a few weeks before when she was still conscious. I don’t know why but it was then that it hit me that I was never going to be able to laugh with her again, read her books or even argue with her and I just lost it. I cried every molecule of make-up off knowing then that time might heal one’s wounds but there is always a scar. You never get over it you just learn to live with it eventually, but even now though I thought at the start of this post I could talk about it without breaking down, just thinking of her and all the world lost when she went, I feel my heart-break all over again, the wound splits and I just can’t bear to paint on a perfect face when the pain is so raw it actually aches.
Sometimes the blues come on so unexpectedly one is left feeling somewhat shell-shocked. After looking round and looking internally for the cause of them at times you are forced to admit sometimes there is no raeson for one’s state of mind other than just because; at other times you can pin-point the start of a bad mood to a specific event in your week or day. For me I think my blues started around yesterday lunchtime when I came across a posting by a girl who seemed so utterly distraught all I wanted to do was find out where she lived, climb aboard a white horse (still no car due to giant’s concerns) and go help her.
The problem is with all the help-lines available, inparticularly NHS direct is that if you come across someone not properly trained or who has been having a bad day themselves it can put you off seeking help from other sources. I remember one particuarly bad episode when I called the NHS only to be confronted with some idiot who was so concerned with protocol they refused to give me any assistance until I gave them my address. I was taken to hospital by ambulance the next day.
There are many useful telephone counselling services; univesrities usually provide their students with a night-time-hot-line which you can call if you are feeling low and they are usually able to offer advice or listen as you run through worries you are too scared to share with your house-mates or fellow residents for fear you will come across as a crazy person. I had a few struggles in my second first year at university and pretty much just wanted to hide away in my room. Luckily for me my mother is not one to do nothing when she thinks her daughter may be in danger and after speaking to me on the phone she decided I was too low and was on the blower to the resident-in-house-tutor at 11 at night with her concerns; by the next morning I was in a comfy chair discussing my problems with the lovely fella for which I felt better even if it was only because he told me he had a hard time when he started himself.
Over the past week I have come across incidents of several people, some via the blog, others from checking out other blogs written by sufferers of bipolar who are very much in need of extra help. The problem a lot seem to be having is they do not know where to go for assistance. Finding out that figures for suicide have increased over the past couple of years is a fact which utterly terrifies me because these people obviously felt there was no alternative, what it shows more than anything to myself at least is that they have been failed by a society which was meant to be there for them.
The difficulty is in-spite of every service available unless a person who is feeling head poorly is prepared to make the first move and reach out just a tiny bit to anyone, these services can not be accessed. Although I have had mixed experiences myself with the NHS, the facilities are there to help people who are in need of care. After a few traumatic incidents last year around May I went to the Doctors in tears. I couldn’t get a grip on myself and was so close to falling off the edge it was unreal; luckily that day I was booked in with a caring practitioner who took immediate steps to help, putting me in touch with emergency counsellors. When the situation later deteriorated the same practice referred me to The Crisis Team who came round to the house as often as was deemed nessecary to get me through the darkness. This was a relief to my partner, my lovely, the boy, and I am eternally grateful to his flat-mates for putting up with strangers visiting their house for regular visits for a nearly a month.
The boy has advised me against doing this, but from my own experience I know there are times when one finds it too hard to pick up the phone and reach out and writing or speaking to someone neutral can help. All I can say is if you are feeling blue, please try and reach out to someone, and then perhaps they can get in touch with people on your behalf. If however you just need to vent to someone who has been in unplesant head poorly situations before please just send me a comment here or if it is too difficult email me at firstname.lastname@example.org not for counselling, and not for an immediate response, I can not promise that, but I will try and get back to you within a week at the latest even if it is just to advise you on a number to call. Please if you know someone you think is struggling try and bring them out or get them to seek help, people may say they want to be left alone but if you are really concerned don’t let them suffer in silence, there are things that can be done to help and no matter how dark a day is the sun will always shine again even if you have to drag them outside to see it.
Although the images are full of smiles and flowers today’s posting for a time was in danger of becoming the most bitterest yet. I had some issues with my family to put it lightly, and the long and the short of it was that when I boarded the train to Manchester I was seriously wondering whether relocating up North was my only option.
The difficulty with splitting one’s life between two homes is that inevitably both will suffer to some degree. I often find myself neglecting friendships because I am in the wrong city at the wrong time and I never get a chance to properly adjust before I am on the road again. Today’s dress is an example of the chaos of my life at present. I thought I had enough dresses to last me until today, but unfortunately I do and I don’t. In spite of my director friend’s comments I can not help but think that wearing a ball gown or bridesmaid dress so early in the project would be a bit of a shambles so instead I do what I do best, I rummage. I find in my mother’s wardrobe this fabulous summery dress it is an old one and though it is the wrong size I find a number of brooches to make it into a form-fitting fabulous frock. The brooches are all gorgeous, my favorite being the harp with the gem-stones in it, a sign of one’s Irish heritage.
Perhaps it is because the dress is rather mumsy; there are times I catch a glimpse of it in the mirror and honest to God think I am with child; or maybe it is because of the difficulties with the giant but today I am thinking a lot about the responsibilities of being a parent. In an ideal world one has a child when one has saved up enough to give said child the things one never had (horse riding lessons, French tuition etc) and one has said child once one has met the man, woman of one’s dreams. Accidents do happen and in-spite of advances in baby-making technology the reality is most of us were allegedly pleasant surprises. It is apparently an awful thing for a parent to tell their child they were a mistake but I have no qualms about myself as planned pain in the backside, but am just grateful for the fact I wasn’t sent away for adoption.
So many of my friends have had their lives turned over because of that little buggy of a blue line but all of them were, once they got over the shock, overjoyed at the thought of bringing a Baba into the world and I think this shows in how good they are with their children. I wonder though about the parents who have a child and all goes well up until the point where the child, inspired by the parent, begins to answer back and argue like any independent minded being does. Is the child still the sweetest little thing or does the parent wonder whether they made the right choice in being a childer couple.
I am a massive fan of Super-Nanny, I am terrified of being an awful mother and seeing how she is able to turn around the lives of families no matter how much the situation may have deteriorated gives me hope that I wont be too dreadful a parent, and worse comes to worse I will just have to hope my hubby is one of those stay at home types who will be able to compensate for my lack of maternal skill.
Yesterday whilst around about Manchester I saw some dreadful examples of children who were loved but not adequately watched over. When I hit 13 I became extremely aware of my body, of my self as a being able to command the attentions of boys. I took pride in boys who glanced at me and as much as my mother would ever allow at times I dressed in a way which were designed to draw attention to my curves. The difficulty with wanting to seem attractive to the opposite sex is there are times when no-matter what precautions my mother might take, and no matter how intimidating the giant might be, it is still a very real possibility that on shall attract the wrong kind of attention On one occasion in particular I remember being in a supermarket with my mother wearing a silk summery dress and flip-flops. As I went up the bread aaisle my mother spotted a man there with his wife and child, double-backing from his family to sneak a look at my 14-year-old figure. She waited till he had followed me to another isle before she jumped out from behind the shelves, waved and suggested he return to his wife.
There is of course nothing to suggest he knew of my age, but the fact remains that the way a teen dresses is dangerous no matter how innocent one’s intentions. Yesterday whilst walking from Piccadilly train station I noticed two girls who were causing a stir; semi-drunk men broke their necks to turn and leer at them and they muttered filth about what they would do if they spent a day with them. It wasn’t until I had over taken the girls, both with long hair, both wearing tiny denim hot pants and tied up shirts, that I realised the reason their legs were so slender wasn’t because of a dangerous eating disorder but because they were all about 13 at a push. It frightened me because I do not know if these girls were aware of the responses they were getting or if they had only donned these outfits for an activity they were off to in the afternoon. Either way I found myself hoping that rather than being allowed to have left the house like that they had snuck the clothes into their school bags and changed into them once they had left home.
When I was younger I fought tooth and nail against children’s clothing and apart from a couple of years where I wanted to wear tight tops and short skirts I pretty quickly transformed my uniform from blazers and rolled up black skirts to knee-length pencil skirts, Marco Polo fitted crisp cotton shirts and Sisley ribbed fitted jumpers which revealed little skin. Every child has to go through a rebel stage but I hate to see when shops encourage children to dress like little adults with slutty trends such as low-cut dresses and teeny tiny skirts. I started noticing kids out around the town which you had to take a second glance at to make sure they weren’t in early adulthood and since then the trend seems to have grown and I often see children in skin-tight leggings and low-cut tops when there is nothing to-be-low-cut-for. As much as I didn’t approve of the heel issue I do like the way that Suri Cruise is dressed as a little woman and not as a little teen. Teenage years are hard enough without encouraging your child too quickly towards them and as I remember from visits to my sister when I was a 15-year-old girl, there are far too many predators for them not to be noticed and they are men which need little encouragement to try their luck. My first serious boyfriend was 21 but I met him when I was 15 and he first kissed me on New Years Eve on the turn of the millenium, admittedly nothing really got started till I was 16 but still. I thought my parents and sister were overreacting when they heard about it and were convinced we were just like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. He was a nice guy and I still to this day just think we got on quite well and having lost a sister the previous year after 18 months of illness I did probably behave older than my years but today looking back on it I wonder why it was that he did not want to be with someone his own age.
When I opened my wardrobe this morning it was to find some frightfully slim pickings of dresses. I am by the last day of January largely down to a collection of frocks more suitable for ball gowns or beaches. As I had booked a table for myself, the boy and some friends at Cafe Bruxelles in Leicester I had to choose an outfit which I wouldn’t feel too ridiculous in once my coat and my self were parted.
Cafe Bruxelles is one of my favourite places in Leicester City Centre. Lately the city has undergone a terrifying transformation in the form of regeneration and unfortunately, as is usually the case with city centre regeneration, the result is more traditional areas are fast becoming abandoned by most shoppers and shops who have moved to the swankier area where there is less grime and graffiti but also a little less character. There is a host of chain stores and depressingly all too familiar mid-range food chains all offering overpriced dishes which taste pretty much the same whatever you order from the menu.
Amidst these culinary crapes are two fantastic places to eat, Cafe Bruxelles and Cafe Italiano; I shall save going into too much detail about Italiano till another day as the man who runs it is a legend and should I visit there this year he will command an entire post just by his greeting; there is however two very defining characteristics of both places which chains will always lack, a clear sign of who it is who is in charge of the place. When you walk into a restaurant and know immediately who it is who owns the place you know you are in for a treat. In both of these places the owner offers at least a friendly smile when you enter and it is their everyday involvement in the running of the place and the personal pride they invest which ensures you never walk away feeling duped of hard-earned cash. It is a place you take pleasure in paying because you know every pound is well deserved.
I first went to Bruxelles with my God-Mother or Fairy-God-Mother when I was fifteen. I know her as my fairy-god-mother because she used to be able to treat all maladies with the touch of her magical wooden spoon when I was a child. My mother also used to have a magic wooden spoon but this was used to ensure good behaviour; the threat of a beating by the spoon was enough to guarantee goodness and I once came very close to experiencing its wrath when I was nine and swore in front of my mother; I had never known she was a runner but she chased me round the garden path, spoon in hand, for what felt like hours but was probably only mere minutes. Anyway my fairy god mother took me there after a shopping trip to find an outfit for a family wedding. It was only a few days since my sister had died and unfortunately the wooden spoon had failed with its magic so Bruxelles was a treat to try and take my mind off our family tragedy. I still don’t think any of us believe we got on a plane a week after my sister died to attend the wedding in Ireland but people do strange things when they are grieving and even though it was a surreal and difficult experience, we would have felt worse if we had not gone.
Bruxelles was at the time everything it still is today. It was formerly a bank and has a carved out ceiling with intricate paintings all around which look as though they have been finely etched with gold. The bar is long and its fridges filled with unusual beers; we brought six and shared them between four of us, each having a little taste which sounds sensible but becomes a little silly when one glances at some of the labels afterwards only to find some are as strong as 12%. Generally when one goes to Bruxelles, one gets mussels which come with thick white freshly baked bread and frites. It is such a luxury and at £8.99 is enough for two to share as a starter or a light lunch during the day.
That day when I came with my god-mother I was allowed a very small glass of wine and a hot chocolate and though I remember feeling distraught the warmth of the place did help to wake me from the trance I had started to fall into. What is most difficult when someone close to you dies is that afterwards for a long time you feel angry at yourself when you experience joy. Happiness seems somehow inappropriate considering the enormity of what you have lost; it is of course a sign that whether you want it to or not life will go on and if you keep resisting the urge to live you will get left and the despair will eventually consume you completely.
When I chose this dress today I could not help but think of my sisters favourite dress which was a red silk Chinese dress, the one which we eventually had to bury her in as was her wish. In Irish families unlike English ones you lay the body out in the house prior to the funeral it is a tradition which is difficult for those who live in the house as you can find yourself going a little crazy hoping the person might still be able to hear you but in many ways it removes the idea of death as something which is scary and should not be talked of. Later after my sister died my parents brought me a black silk dress for my 17th birthday. It is and was beautiful and when I wear it is mas much a homage to the loss of my sister as it is to the joy she brought us. Today at Bruxelles, surrounded by friends, few of whom had known her I couldn’t help but feel sad and full of sentiment and although I meant for this posting to be about the joys of Sunday dinner at Bruxelles, which by the way was lovely, in my melancholic state thinking as I was of my darling sister it seemed a bit too trivial to post only on luncheon.