The Cardigan Is Blue
Photograph by Natasha Coleman, Story By Charlotte Allam
There I am. I recognise myself in this photo. It was a regular and familiar pose.
The red lip, the blunt fringe, the cigarette, the powerful and deliberate gaze. But most of all, I recognise the scratchy blue cardigan which was once my beloved mothers.
It is made of mohair and washes like a dream because it is from Marks and Spencer’s or St Michaels to be exact. It is a size 16 and it is the one of the few things I have of hers.
My mother’s name was Annemarie.
The last time I saw my mum, as the woman I knew and loved, was on September 3rd 2002.
It was the day I was leaving to go travelling like every other unimaginative twenty-two-year-old.
My mum had fled to my granny’s house; any goodbye caused her too much emotion and uncontrollable tears sprouted without warning.
So we had our rushed goodbye right there in my granny’s living room beside the bridge table and the mini throne which never did get reupholstered.
My gorgeous, bold and brilliantly naughty granny sat in the kitchen, shrouded in a cloud of smoke from her Marlboro light, a kaftan and a gin and tonic. I believe it was about mid-day.
My mother stood arms open, wet cheeks, undeniably vulnerable and strong.
“I just feel like I’m never going to see you again” she said softly as we held each other.
“Don’t be silly – I’ll be back in a year” said I – longing to get going. I had to start working on my tan, feel comfortable in harem pants, experiment with henna and spend the next year travelling around Thai islands, smoking weed, avoiding opium and discovering myself, mainly played out to a soundtrack of Pink.
A couple of months past. She was distant.
Emails were a relatively new and confronting notion for my mum so I put her infrequent communication down to her lack of affiliation with technology.
All the while ignoring my primal instinct that something was wrong but wanting so desperately for my fears not to be true.
When I called home she seemed small and distant and didn’t want to speak for long.
I told myself everything was ok.
I have been telling myself everything is and will be ok as a consequence ever since. When the unimaginable happens the possibility of other unimaginable occurrences seem possible, even probable.
Having made it to Australia and achieving a relatively flat stomach and a deep tan, I was returning back to our hostel after a few days off grid when I received the message I had been hoping would never come.
Mum is sick.
I have never had such a shock. A shock which filled me with a severe physical sensation. I fell to the concrete floor beneath me. My body unable to carry the weight of the words. Sounds were muffled and far in the distance. I crumbled as the enormity of the moment overtook me. Assuming fetal position, still holding the phone, trying to house the grief and the fear.
My mum died a few hours after I arrived home.
So she was right. She felt something I didn’t because I never did see her again. Not the mum I knew anyways. It wasn’t my mum who I met when I arrived back after an arduous 26-hour flight home, alone and terrified and in a state of shock and trauma. She had transformed into a version of herself I didn’t recognise. Morphine and last rites and nourishment drinks peppered the last moments we spent together.
I have not been able to meet her since. Not throughout the reckless reality of my 20’s nor the complex yet calmer reality of my 30’s.
But I bloody wear that cardigan and let it scratch the hell out of me. I wear it and we go on adventures together.
Once the cardigan and I had a real chat. We sat down with each other. I smoked and we just sat there.
Together - in the silence and the smoke.
Mum and I have the same eyes. Hazel with a speck which can find the light on just the right day when you need to flirt with the world a little.
We have the same ankles and feet.
Well, we have the same feet and the same non-existent ankles. Making for quite a thick set and abrupt end to one’s legs.
I am slowly growing a varicose vain.
I say certain expressions only because they were hers. And I want to keep them in existence.
I still always smell her perfume when I see it in the shops and drown myself in it as sales assistants glare disapproving at me.
One day, I’ll yell – “this is the perfume of my dead mother and I am trying to remember her smell’ and see if I get some extra Boots points for the great pain their scathing looks have caused me.
I have grieved that my mum does not get to know the woman I have become. I have wrestled with her not knowing my light and my dark. I have tried to reconcile that we lost our future. That we didn’t get the chance to share our lives. She does not get to be proud or appalled of me.
We do not get to explore the reality of cultivating an adult friendship.
I do not get to shower her with the same amount of love she poured into me.
I don’t get to ask her all the questions I didn’t ask.
But I do get to keep her held within my very essence. I do get to emulate her. To sound like her, to say her sayings. To try and embody her kind and generous nature.
And I choose to have her with me in all the big moments. Through my despairs and my triumphs.
Even when I haven’t got the energy to wear the scratchy blue cardigan.