528Hz: an emotional healing

 

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a light breeze floats in through the open window, toying with the light voile drapes in my bedroom. i feel it, but i am somewhere else.  i am a million miles away.  a million miles high.

i can feel the warmth of healing hands upon my solar plexus.  these are not my hands. i am alone in my room, save for my cat, Alf, asleep at my feet.

then, out of the blue, the tears come.

and they flow from somewhere deep inside me.  somewhere dark.  an emotional dam, breached. a release.  a flood.

“take my shadows” i repeat. a mantra.

i see my mother for the first time in three years and i can feel her hands in mine, cool and soft as i remember them being.  i tell her that i love her.  i tell her that i’m sorry, and that i miss her every day.

i see my father, for the first time in thirty years.  he holds me close. i can smell him.  i inhale deep and upon exhalation, i know everything is going to be okay.

i see my lover.  we are swimming in a deep blue ocean and we embrace, in the water.  like the waves we break through,  i feel a surge of overwhelming love for him.  immeasurable love.  and a longing to hold him.

my hands tingling, my heart feels heavy and i cry.  i cry for loss. i cry in gratitude. i cry with love.

i am filled with an enormous swell of desire.  desire to live.  to really live and savour each moment, because it’s the little things that matter:  every smile.  a scent.  a touch.  a glance.  every feeling.  every word ever said.

i feel like i am bathed in light and supreme love.  and still the tears flow.

tears of complete joy.  joy for having been blessed with the fortune of family and loved ones.  joy for having this complex and yet, paradoxically, simple fortress-like shield of love around me.  love from my family and my lover, my friends that are family, and the natural world around me.

i see trees.  tall trees, stoic and wise.  these giants are beautiful and i cry for them.  i cannot bear to think of a time when i will not see trees again.

stretching out my legs, i feel Alf’s soft fur against the soles of my feet.  i hear him purr in his sleep. i cry for him.  tears of joy for having the privilege of his friendship, and the knowledge that one day, he will be ash in my hands… just like my mother, whose remains (or what’s left of them) are in a small box, in a drawer, by my bed.

i see my grandparents. humble folk, hardworking folk and cry for the feelings of loss.  of being cheated because i never knew them.  but they are smiling.

i see my dear friend, Jess.  my lover’s gran.  i see her smile.  we look into each other’s eyes for the perfect time.

i feel blessed to know these beautiful souls, and to have been bestowed and entrusted with their love, their knowledge and wisdom, their guidance and other gifts.  gifts of smiles, embraces, shared laughter and raised glasses.

but the pain of loss and the knowledge that everything is infinitely temporary shakes my heart.

everyone is smiling, except me.  the tears roll down my face and soak the pillow beneath me.  i squeeze my mother’s hands.  she tells me to let it all go.

and i do.

and i am back in the ocean with my love, and we are kissing.  tears of joy rushing back to the ocean.  it’s like we have found each other again.   i don’t ever want to lose that.

i focus on my breathing and soon become filled with an inner sense of calm and purpose.

i want to live.  live better.  to create.  to live and love.

because love is everything.

 

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Words & Images (c) Kat McDonald 2020

dear mum

mum

dear mum

i mean this in the nicest possible way but i am glad that you’re dead.

i am glad that you’re not around any more. and here’s why…

i am glad you are not here, struggling and alone, in this new and worrying ‘reality’ or ‘regime’ we now find ourselves locked firmly down under.

i am glad you’re not here as this new way of living would terrify you.  it would defy you, deny you of your independence and the canny, simple and loving life you once enjoyed.  and you could never do the whole social distancing thing.   you loved us all too much.

i am glad you are not here, in the beautiful rural family-run care home that you, sadly, had to spend your last weeks in.   i am glad because at your age you would have, most likely, fallen prey to this COVID-19 virus that is sweeping the Earth.  this, with the added confusion and isolating delirium of Alzheimer’s and advanced vascular dementia, i am glad you’re already dead as this would have been even more terrifying for you. in isolation.  and i would not have been able to have held you close, as you slipped away.

you would have been a real nightmare, mum.  a real worry.

either we would not have been able to ‘contain’ you, in your little house.  you were stubborn; or you would have been worried to the point of hysteria, reading daily newspapers and watching the BBC.   choking on the fear.  calling us countless times a day to ensure we are all safe… and still breathing.

… and can you believe that bumbling blond buffoon that you once used to laugh at is now running the UK, and making a real cunt of things like you once, jokingly, predicted?

you would hate this new regime, mum.  not being able to visit family, neighbours and friends.  and not having visitors round for a cuppa tea and a carry on!  i know, it would kill me not being ‘allowed’ to visit you.  you would be considered one of the vulnerable ones.  a high risk.

in a sense, you have been protected from all of this.  but who knew your death would bring relief at this time for me, and my brothers and sister.

i miss you, mum.  don’t get me wrong.  i miss you so bad some days, the pain as raw as it was that Sunday evening in July 2017 when your heart stopped beating beneath my hand…

… but today, like yesterday and the day before and the day before that, i am glad you are not here.

not now.

not now.

 

(c) Kat McDonald 2020

 

year zero

so this happened…

ambulance_miaow_mcdonald_2020

18 months ago, Kat McDonald, the former chanteuse of Little Buddha and Bedhed, finally gave in to the burgeoning suggestions, from her fellow Pilgrim and lover, that she record the songs she had been writing.  engineered/co-produced by the Aged Choir Boy, she began to record the handful of songs she had been writing.  crafting songs from chaos using only her voice , Julio – her 35 year old Spanish guitar and a tenner’s worth of virtual instrument apps on her cracked up old iPhone.

the past 3 years, for Kat, had largely been teeming with love and moments of joy but they were not without stabbings of grief  as she watched my mother grow sick and die, as she watched her ‘adopted’ gran grow sick and die, as she saw her boyfriend struggle under the duress of a complete mental breakdown, as she held too many hand of friends as too many of her friends’ mothers died, as she struggled financially and now there is this… THIS!

what is this?

Kat finds herself locked down in a weird existential delirium: in the throes of the new and merciless pandemic virus that has its jaws firmly clamped around the world.  a terrifying and yet curiously calming time to reprioritise.  and time to create.

and so, in the wake of the vicious pummelling to her heart and brain, she sought solace in writing songs.  for her, it’s a chaotic, visceral process.  yet cathartic.  “a primal scream at the top of my lungs”, she says.

a release…

after 5 months of deliberating, pacing like a caged leopard, as Kat made mad scribblings of possible album names on napkins or any other bit of paper available, she has finally decided to name it “year zero”.   because that is what it is.

13 songs about this life.  because this is her ‘year zero’

and it is our ‘year zero’ – from hereon in, life will never be the same.

under her creative name, Miaow McDonald, her debut album ‘year zero‘ will be out some time under lockdown……  available on all digital platforms, incl. bandcamp

‘ambulance’ – the debut single from ‘year zero’ and will be released Monday 13th April 2020. available everywhere.

https://miaowmcdonald.bandcamp.com/releases

“a very special thank you to the Aged Choir Boy/fellow Pilgrim (Robert Davidson) for his patience and believing in me, even when i felt like an imposter, i know i can difficult to work with…  “you are my dragonfly” x”                                                                                                                         – Miaow McDonald

 

Miaow McDonald: vocals, guitar, bass, piano, Theremin, synths and responsible for some other sonic perversions and samples.

album cover _ YEAR ZERO

(c) Kat McDonald 2020 – locked down, performing/recording as Miaow McDonald.

whoever would’ve thought an onion bagel with peanut butter, blueberry jam, toasted garlic & chilli flakes would taste so good…

well, well, well.  it’s the end of the world.  for real.  or so it seems, at times.

the bogey man, this time around, is called COVID-19.  a pandemic.  a corona virus.  and it is invisible.  and terrifying.

i have watched it sweep from east to west.  it’s not discerning. it favours not the pretty nor the tall; the rich nor the hirsute; the male or the dog.

it is a new contagion.  a new threat to life as we know it.  worldwide economies are breaking,  thousands of people are dying.  life will never be the same.

i have watched it shut down our neighbouring countries.  Italy. Spain. France.  and i’ve wondered why our limp Governments have been so slow to react.  lock us down, please.  full lockdown.  if you want to ‘flatten the curve’ you have to stop the migration and congregation of people.

today, first official day in lockdown (is it lockdown?) here in Fife, Scotland where we have currently 19 cases of Coronavirus confirmed.  out of a population of close to 335k, that may seem like a blip, but given that you can drive around Fife in 3 hours and that these cases have emerged since March 17th, i would say we have reason to be concerned.

but i had to go out today.  latex gloves on, antibacterial gel in my pocket – like a gun a holster – i ventured outdoors with my boyfriend, Robert.  we needed to get some essentials.  yes, we are in isolation together.  i guess you could call it ‘twice-olation’.  keeping a sense of humour when adrift in unchartered waters is essential.  as is toilet roll, it would seem.  it’s been 5 days and i’ve yet to see any on shelves when i’ve made a trip to the supermarket.  it’s as rare as hens’ teeth!

we got, pretty much, what we went out for: food for us, and food for Alf – our cat.

i have been self-employed since 2012.  now i am not working.

i have had to claim emergency benefits. having paid my taxes for all my working years, i feel thankful that i can do this,  feeling no shame in it, and that my claim has been dealt with swiftly.  i only applied yesterday.  and after a brief telephone interview today,  i should have an emergency advance paid to me by Thursday.  that is a relief!  at least i know now that my rent is covered, for another month anyway, and that i will be able to pay my bills (hopefully).  yes, i have to pay that advance back, but on my terms.  i was not expecting that.

so here i am. no work. all been cancelled or postponed.  how do i stop myself from becoming engulfed in the fear, swallowed up in the mass hysteria and going stir crazy? it’s all everyone is talking about. and rightly so, it is a strange and terrifying time to be alive.  and we are all scared.

and things are going to get worse before they get better. i can see it coming.

so we are doing what we are told. washing our hands.  staying indoors.  not making any unnecessary journeys.  avoiding contact with anyone and everyone. i am not even visiting my family (some are high risk with underlying health conditions stacked against them).  it’s just me, Robert and Alf – the cat.

initially, i had moved in with Robert to continue working on a solo music project that he is producing for me, as i have four new songs that i wanted to lay down.  that was 10 days ago.  we have decided it best that we isolate ourselves together, keeping our shared car in one spot – in case of an emergency.  it’s working out well.  and we give each other space – that is essential.  but it isn’t all that bad, being locked up with your lover and cat.  we have some fun times.  singing in the kitchen, cooking together.  making music together. i have been playing a lot of guitar lately.

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so this is where i wrap this blog post up for today…  it is 1.31am and i am having my supper:  onion bagel with peanut butter, blueberry jam, chilli flakes, toasted garlic and jalapenos.  i know… it sounds weird and disgusting, but i swear… it tastes like hope.

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stay safe people…

 

(c) Kat McDonald – March 2020

i know what dreams are. but what comes of that?

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do you dream?  of course you do.  everybody does.   i’m not talking about having dreams, per se, like MLK.  i’m not talking about visions, ideals, or aspirations.  we all have those too, to a greater or lesser degree.  perhaps we have dreams of winning the lottery; dreams of becoming famous; dreams of a better fucking world…  yeah, we all have those.

i’m talking about the dreams we have when we are sleeping. you know… the strange mind movies in which we find ourselves cast in a leading role; the weird worlds we frequently find ourselves immersed in, in the hypnagogic state; the queer and fractured alternative realities we all too often wake up from.  as ocean-eyed teenage pop phenomenon, Billie Eilish, once asked of us ‘when we all fall asleep, where do we go?’

i have often wondered that myself, Billie.

three nights ago, i had the strangest dream.  a dream that felt so real and, most importantly, one i was able to recall in vivid detail.

having studied psychology, i know what dreams are.  but what comes of that?  why this?  shall i share it with you?  feel free to comment.

it starts with the sound of a voice.  a male voice.  speaking in English.  it sounds like a broadcast.  as i become aware of my surroundings, i realise it’s coming from the car radio and i also become aware that i am behind the wheel of a large beat-up old Army Jeep.  it has no roof and it is left-hand drive.  i seem to be driving across war torn terrain.  i think  i am heading towards a city,  or what remains of a city, rather.  one i know not to be from my native Scotland but what appears to be (from the road signs) somewhere in eastern Europe.  my gut instinct tells me i am somewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

the man’s voice breaks on the radio, and he sounds distraught and terrified.  it’s a live broadcast.  an update.  he is telling the people of the world that planet Earth, our home, is going to stop turning at 1600hrs.  i glance at the time on the car’s dashboard.  it is 15.49.  i have 10 minutes left of life as i know it.

i come to a derelict building with vines and trees growing up and through the rubbling masonry.  i stop the Jeep and get out.  the sun is shining with a new found ferocity.  my bare face and arms are burning in the heat.  i look up at the white sky, searching for any other sign of life and feel my eyes burn.  it feels like they are blistering in the sun’s wave.  there are no birds in the sky today.  i venture inside – hoping to secure shelter here.  the building is merely a shell, no roof, no window panes and a ivy-clad stairway leading to nowhere.  the walls are broken and blasted.  huge chunks missing, like monster bite marks, from the building where mortar bombs and scud missiles sought to destroy its one time beauty and prestige.  i walk through a gnarled door way and see what’s left of one room.  a space that offered some kind of haven.  some kind of protection from whatever the rest of me was soon to be faced with.  the room was rather odd. there were, literally, hundreds of violin bows hanging from what remained of the ceiling, swaying in the breeze.  no music.

suddenly the earth began to shake and scream.  scream.  a sound coming from God only knows where, stunned me, and violently threw me to the ground.   i covered my ears.  it was deafening.  otherworldly.  it sounded like the Earth herself screaming in pain, in the throes of her agonising death.  and then it stopped.  everything went black.  just as if someone had pulled the plug on life.

shaken and terrified, i slowly stood up and peered through the dark towards where i had abandoned the Jeep and saw, to my surprise that only this half of my surrounding area was now in darkness.

this must be it, i thought.  the world has stopped turning.

the world had stopped turning. and the screaming din had stopped.  there was now an uncanny silence.  a silence i had not heard before.  but strangely, over to the west, and what looked like a 30 minute drive away, there was sunlight.  daylight.

i got in the car and drove towards the light.

 

words/concept/dream (c) Kat McDonald 2019

should i embellish upon this, continue the story?  as a book?

 

 

jellyfish jargon

i have writer’s block.

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i read, somewhere, that there are many ways to overcome this curse.

i thought “oh… what the hell – things can’t get any worse, can they?“.

so i played a little game – some “word disassociation” – with my lover.

here is the result of our experiment – our “mind meld”.

 

                                      wishbone,                   elbow
                                      and plastic cannon
limp leg
                                      and jellyfish jargon

blade system, warm broth
                                      damp disaster and
soft sponge

                                      swamp surf
and temper ripped
                                                                            telephone tampon
a signal pip

                                     yellow dog and decaying sun
                                     rattling flowers and
                                                                                                                flavoured gun.
                                    keys collected
on a pretend horse;
                                    a cannon ball
                                    with turtle force

                                                                    pristine hands
                                                                    and permanent grin
                                                                                                              apricot eyes and
                                                                                                              lavendar gin

howl, pull,
                 push harder
                 a crossbow found
in Cupid’s larder

                                                                        wishful thinking
                                                                        with lemon aid
                                                                                                                         splice,                     splinter
                                fizzle, fade

tiny mind
                  little bitch
lonely existence
thou shalt not suffer a witch
                                                                       broken glass
                                                                       and pineapple powder
sleep asylum and
                               tulip chowder

                               mask trap and
fuck face
                                                                       vile greed
                                                                       and petal safe

dog, cat and watermelon
                                               thunder boom – put that dress on
                                                                                                            a clever kiss
                                                                                                            in blind rage
a fist full of piss and desert sage

                                              stinking dust
                                              good luck chain
fortune cookie and
                           lust                     for rain

                                                      ritual blood
                                                                             earth quake
                                                                                                   teeth chatter
                            vanilla shake
in forest dark
we travel light
                          turn
jump
                                                                                                   petrol high

                                              denim serpent
purple cloak
                                              opium stab
                                              at ticking clock
                                                                                                   listen to jazz
                                                                                                   hand on cock

                       cowboys
                                      and lions
lipstick smear
                                      red, dead
and drawing near

clip
cut
                                    pussy pie
                  dull twist
shudder
sigh…
                                                    my lone piano
                                                    in temple building
                 mud paste
                                                   for sandwich filling

                                    dragon light
                                    and ocean fire
                                                                                        forest song
                                                                unholy choir

                                   drowning thoughts
                                                               and downing bourbon
                                                                                                              blue balloons
                                                                                                              for a nervous breakdown

lick
         lips
         waterfall
                         of space perfume in empty hall

my empty pen
my broken sword
                                sacrifice the umbilical cord
                                                                                 of my wild imagination

 

Image & Words (c) Kat McDonald

June 2019

a green cardboard box

all that remains of you rests in a green cardboard box:
6″ x 9″ x 6″.
your name, printed on a generic white sticker,
with a number and a date:
the date we set you free
by fire –
and all that remains of you now rests, with me, in a box by my bed.

a green cardboard box.

you weigh less now, but you are, surprisingly, heavier
than i anticipated.
i didn’t know what to expect, to be honest, when i got the call
to come and collect you.
but you were given to me, gift-wrapped, like a present.
gift-wrapped in a silver bag, with silver rope handles:
like a belated birthday gift.

having you, for my mother, truly was a gift.

with my brothers, i will scatter
what’s left upon the graves of those you lost long ago:
your lover and your son,
just like you wanted, Mum.

but, truth is, i am finding it hard to part with you.
so long as i have you, in this little green box,
you remain a part of me.

but, part we must.
i cannot hold onto these fragments
of bone and cinder
– that were once strong arms that held me
– that was once a beating heart that loved, unconditionally.
i must let you be
and scatter you to the breeze
and set you free.

i must learn to breathe for myself.

some days, i feel like i am drowning,
suffocating,
in my own loss and self-pity.
Sundays are the hardest days to bear

because i was there that Sunday,
when you gave your last breath back up to the sky
– do you remember?
i saw the light in your eye
turn off, like a light,
leaving my world a whole lot darker,
despite the sunlight.
i was there, with you, with my hand on your heart.

i felt it stop.

part of me died with you.
oh the pain of physical severance.
our umbilical cord, cut.
finally.

i know Death is not the end.
i know you walk with me.

i know you have stopped by… i know.
i could smell your perfume.
and i heard you, rattle my cup!

but i cannot keep you here, comforting as it is, having you close.
i must set you free.
i must let you be: be with Dad and William.
it’s the one last thing i promised you and
it is time.

time. we always think we have time.
truth is, there is never enough time.

time. my past, my present and my future:
all in one little green box.
time. it is all we had.

they say, in time, it becomes easier…
… this… breathing for myself.
i hope so
because sometimes i feel
like i am weighed down at the bottom of the ocean.

 

(c) Kat McDonald – September 2017

Rest in peace, Mum.

My late mother – on her 91st Birthday!  7th June 2017… she passed on 16th July 2017.

chaos and curls

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i cut my hair.  inept and small, the dull blades rip through its length with untold savagery and brutality.

slices of yellow and inky black tresses fall to the floor, landing in concentric patterns of chaos and curl.

the sound of nail scissors, the most inapproriate tool, chewing through my hair is curiously satisfying.  like grinding teeth.

i remember, as a child, cutting my own hair with pinking shears – thinking it would make it zig-zaggy and pretty.  of course, the end result was fucking horrible and my mother had to salvage what was left so that i still looked like a human girl child.

but i love to cut my own hair. it’s cathartic. cleansing. grounding.

it’s only hair though, isn’t it?

of course not.

it’s more than that for women. for girls.  it’s everything.

i am no longer four years old. so why do i do this to myself?

i really should have ‘outgrown’ this phase by now; this phase, this compulsion, this fascination with cutting my own hair.  but i can’t.  it’s inexplicable and gives me such intrinsic satisfaction.

little fringe and long hair.  years later, i am back with the same hair as that of the four year old Kathryn.

only its colour has changed.  many, many times.

i’m such a whore with my hair.

let it grow.  grow up.

ah… but it is only hair, right?

 

(c) Kat McDonald 2017

– anyone else out there cut their own hair and why?

 

my iphone’s stream of consciousness


i’m not going anywhere near the border with a new song.  this is the best of all time favourite songs that you can listen to but
i’m not sure what the future is.

i’m so tired but can’t even see the point of having to wait until the end of this year.

the fact is, you can do this for free but ‘it would mean the world’ is not an option.

the fact is, it is a very long and slow process now.

the only way you can get the chance of winning this game is by being the most beautiful thing that you could have been. 

and you know what you want me to be.

just because i don’t have a perfect example is not a bad thing.

by the way, you can be a great way to let me shine.  this isn’t the only thing that i love about you.

i’m so excited about the new update to earth and the best bit about it is people don’t know what i intend to do with it.

aliens are real and the other side is a great way to go back to.

i will most likely be sleeping on my way home and then you can do the rest.

be careful with your friends and family members.

this girl just said i look like a good one for you and your guitar hero to play with.

trust me when i get a new song.

why do people have stupid grins and square feet in my head?

it hurts to know that the future is bright and, yet, the rest of the year too dark.

tomorrow will bring me some food for thought because i have no clue how much i love you because you simply can’t measure it.

wild animals are my life and death of the year is going well.

you will find me listening to music while playing the piano in a bar, barefoot.

she said that it would mean the world to her and her friend to be in the first half of the best thing.  this is not the only thing that would make me laugh so hard i cried for the rest of the year 

before you go back and forth between a new song and the other hand please fix the problem with this phone.

it is happy to have a nice dream.

the fact is, i can see it as an excuse for the next few weeks of tomorrows.

i’m big on this way home from work.

i don’t think it’s time for hours and hours of sleep until i see the new version.

the ultimate use of the year is where you were in the Amazon Basin for a while, proving to be the best of the year for you. 

high quality of life.

try and open up, it’s true you have the only thing.  

we have to back up and get it right away.

your phone is a lot of fun.  play this, you will never get tired when you get to the gym today.

besides, it is not the year you get it right away.

i just want to love it.  it hugs you back, in my head, and it is not even the new version.

stars are the only thing that would have made sense up and down and across this earth.  their emotion is used in a statement issued to those i love.

it used to be the best of ups and downs.

planet earth is the only one. i love it and the voucher program under which it has just enrolled made me laugh so hard for the first half of the year.  it will not have a nice dream about the future of the best thing ever.

i’m so excited about this dance and it will take place on earth. the best time-killer. 

a few more weeks of movement and thought school for the rest of the people. 

it will arrive the day before, then i will have to go.
(c) my iphone… this is its stream of consciousness (kinda spooky…!)

saying goodbye to the family home

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the words ‘good bye’ are said daily.  we have countless euphemisms for our departures: “cheerio” “see you later” “ciao” but the words “good bye” suggests a certain finality.

i have said these words countless times but, today, i uttered those words, with finality, as i said “good bye” to the house i grew up in.

today was the hardest day.  saying ‘good bye’ to such a ‘friend’ was the only time those words have strangulated.  it was the only time i have felt a sadness unlike any other sadness i have felt. as i closed the door, for the last time, i felt something close inside me.  it was final.  something was severed, just as my umbilical cord was cut many years ago.  i now had to breathe my own breaths.  it was the first time i ever felt alone. it was the first time i felt real loneliness. i felt at a loss for a loss that was not yet gone. i felt orphaned by the searing pain of familiar nostalgia and the gnawing ache of a new melancholy.

today was the hardest day.

home is where the heart is and our home was filled with love.  as i drove down our old street, looking for a place to park, i already felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness.

and then it hit me.  this would be the last time i would ever return to this place. this place called home, to which i had returned countless times.  this place was sacred. somewhere I knew would always be there for me from when i returned from my travels.  this place was my rock.  it was grounded.  earthed.  steadfast.

a light would always be left on.  it was a place i knew i could return to and be safe when I needed to feel. to feel loved. to feel comforted.  it was my home.  it was the only family home i knew.  this home was more than a house. more than mere bricks and mortar with a few roses planted by the door.  my home was sentient.  this home was my friend.  and now i had to say ‘good bye’.

i parked the car outside and composed myself.  i sat, gripping the steering wheel, and looked into the garden.  a garden where roses grew.  roses that my late father planted.  a garden where ghosts of little Kathryns played.  i could see them all so clearly.  i could see a seven-year old Kathryn, with long blonde hair, playing with her little black poodle and giggling happily.  i could hear her.  she was truly happy and oblivious to the black clouds that would darken her future skies.  i saw a teenage Kathryn sitting on the back porch steps, on a hot summer night, with girlfriends from school – music blaring out; and i could see her saying ‘good night’ to old boyfriends.  i could see her returning home and the joy in my mother’s face, beaming, as she reached out her hands to welcome her, whether that had been returning from a trip to Sri Lanka or a trip to the local shops… my mother, she was always like that. always happy to see me home, safe.

but today she wasn’t there to welcome me.  sadly, she is now in a care home.  dementia has her in its vice-like grip and i cannot do anything to pull her out of its clutches.  she is slowly disappearing from me and, in some strange way, saying ‘good bye’ to the home was like saying ‘good bye’ to her because she, too, was home.  i have no idea where that home is now.  but i have my own home, life, love and career and i am happy.  i am happy that she could see me grow up and become the woman that i am today.

but today…

…today was the hardest day.

with a sigh, and heavy heart, i got out the car and went into the garden, fumbling in my numerous pockets for my key, whilst trying not to spill the hot coffee i had taken with me.

that garden. that garden was where i played as a young child. it was in that garden that my father taught me how to skip.  it was in that garden i played with my rabbit, Benjamin. it was in that garden i would twirl around the clothes pole until i was dizzy and giddy.  it was in that garden that i would sunbathe and it was in that garden that i would often sit and read on warm summer nights, drinking in the heady fragrance of night-scented stock that my father had planted beneath my bedroom window.

my father.  i could see his ghost too. i lingered by the old garden shed and i swear i could see him in there, through the small dirty window.  i could see his weather-beaten face. he looked as though he was working on something.  as i recall, he would spend many happy hours in that garden shed, pottering around, making hand-sculpted wooden toys and odd boxes for me to keep my secrets in.  or he would be sharpening his tools, the lawnmower’s blades or cutting the neighbour’s kids’ hair.  he was always busy but he always had time for good people and animals.

i could see the ghosts of our dogs. i could see them running about the garden and jumping up to welcome me home.

there were no little dogs to welcome me today.

i climbed the steps and put my key in the lock and turned it open.

the sun-filled porch was warm and the air was musty and hot, like a hothouse.  my mother’s bird of paradise plant stood alone.  it took seven years to flower. i am glad she got to see this happen.

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the back porch as we called it, even although, technically, was the front of the house, was a place where i would sit with my mother on lazy summer Sundays.  we would sip iced lemonade and play Scrabble, or we would talk until the small hours of the morning.

there were so many ghosts here today…

i opened the door to home.  the staircase was first to greet me.  a staircase that was not just a means of getting upstairs, or  downstairs.  this staircase was an old friend.  a place i would retreat to when i needed space from family gatherings.  a place where i could just sit and be alone with my thoughts.  thoughts often broken by the family dog licking my hand.  that staircase held so many ghosts…  as a child that staircase was a pirate ship, a jungle, an alpine mountain, the Empire State Building and a spaceship… that staircase was anything and everything that my childhood imagination could envisage.  my friends and i played on that staircase.  we would slide down it, head first… racing each other to the bottom. we would do this countless times until either my mother’s patience or the skin on my knees wore thin.

latterly, that staircase had a stair-lift.  that had now been removed but the scars remain:

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the carpet, discoloured; and holes in wall-papered walls where its fixtures once secured a safe means of aiding my mother’s mobility.

the dining room was bare.  the dining table and chairs were gone.  table and chairs.  table and chairs where once we all sat around together to eat many a family meal together.  ghosts of birthday parties.  so many candles and wishes.  so many Christmas dinners and crackers pulled. so many NYE parties, and so many times i sat at that table with my friends. so many ghosts here today – all seeking one more seat at that table.  i could hear laughter and voices from the past.  so much joy.  all that remains now is faded wallpaper and cobwebs, with patches intact where pictures once hung.

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the dining room now empty and forlorn.  a room where there once was so much love. so much laughter, and tears.  a room once filled with life and belongings now empty.  a room where, as a young child, i would play with my friends.  the old dining room table was not just a table.  in the wilds of childhood imagination, it was a Sherman tank… a spaceship… a tree-house… a cave…  or a place to hide when i hurt myself.  i used to run and hide each time i hurt myself, as i was scared of pain.  there was no table to hide beneath today. and i was hurting.

i took a deep breath and stepped into the living room. the ‘living‘ room. there was no life there today. it was empty.  boxes of stuff sat in the centre of the room waiting for someone to make a decision as to what best be done with them.  a lifetime of stuff, now in boxes waiting to be discarded.  my mother, the hoarder.

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before the wall unit took pride of place in my family’s living room, there was a piano. our family home was always filled with music.  always filled with music, love and friends.  so many family gatherings. so much joy and song.

this living room… this living space was once alive and filled with laughter; with love; with breath, now lay empty.  loveless.

the old gramophone was, as a child, the core of entertainment.  more so than the television. music was a big part of my childhood.  the house reverberated with music and song, and i am sure i once heard it sing along. but not today.

i decided to take the old gramophone home with me. i have nowhere to put it, as yet, but it pains me to see it end up on a landfill site somewhere… unwanted and discarded as junk. to me it was worthy of saving, of salvaging.  it was something i could cling onto as many hours of my childhood were had listening to scratchy old ’78s.  jesus. what will become of them?

i look out across the street. houses, where friends once lived and hear the music that we all once took great pleasure in listening to.

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and then there was the fireplace that my brother built, when he was learning how to work with stone and brick.  it quickly became the heart and electric hearth around which we sat.  me. family. friends.  i would sit by the fire, on a cold winter night, basking in the incandescent warmth of fake coals and play solitaire or read; or fall asleep curled up like my dog, faithfully by my side.

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but now the fireplace is cold. it offers no real warmth today.  i could turn it on, but it’s not ever going to be the same.  things have changed. my life has changed and like this house… this home, i feel it emptying of something irreplaceable.  is this preparation for her death?  is this symbolic?

this living room. this living space once filled with breath. once filled with laughter and love now lay empty. as i turned to close the door, i took one last ‘snapshot’ of memories but all that remains now is lampshades, covered in dust – the only tangible reminder of those who lived here lies in the minute particles of their skin as they slowly shed their mortal coil; and indentations and footprints upon the carpet – impressions of what once was there – a coffee table, sofas, armchairs… the shuffle of countless footsteps.  footsteps that once danced, but now are crippled.  these impressions will soon be gone and a new family will make this home.  fuck.  i hope they can make as many happy memories as i have accumulated over the past forty years.

but the ghosts don’t want me to leave. they are liveliest here.  they beg me to stay.  i watch them dance and play, and walk around and through me,  just as i have walked through this house.  this home.  am i a ghost now, too?

this was once the liveliest of spaces. now it feels the most empty of all the rooms; except, perhaps, for the chambers of my heart.  i linger and hear distant voices: my mother singing; my father’s laughter; old Hank Williams records, crackling.  someone, please return the stylus to the start because i, too, feel so lonesome, i could cry.

and cry i did.

i hear someone play the piano… badly.  i see the ghosts of old friends and family, baby nieces and cousins from Shetland.  i see conversations dance before me;  i can smell the sound of the old projector of when we would have family gatherings and plough through troughs of old photographs and super8 home movies.  i can smell the perfume and feel the smiles of beloved aunts.  i see so many bad choices of wallpaper.

there have been many tears, over the past forty years and more.

so i closed the door and broke down.

it feels like a loved one has died.  for so long, this house was the only home i knew.  it was where i learned to walk and talk; where i learned to read and write (thank you, Mum – for equipping me with these skills before i started school);  where i also learned how to take a photograph, roller skate and jive;  how to ride a bike (thank you to my eldest brother, home on leave from the Royal Air Force, for his patience and determination); and how to skip and knit… and kiss.

it is where i learned about life, love and loss.  it is where i now learned about myself, that i am, perhaps, not as strong as i once thought.

i exhausted myself of tears, wiped my face with trembling hands and picked myself up off the floor and continued on my quest to say goodbye to this loyal friend; to say ‘goodbye’ to this house and the ghosts of former Kathryns… the ghosts of all tomorrow’s parties.

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before heading upstairs, i ventured into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of water.  but there were no glasses. no cups.  no cups overflowing with love and hot tea.  and so i sipped the cold water from my cupped hands.

our kitchen was small, but functional. and always clean and tidy.  and there was always the fragrance of fresh laundry hanging in the air.

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upon returning home, from anywhere at any time, my mother would most likely be found in the kitchen.  she loved to bake and used to bake the most incredible scones and cookies.  i remember, as a child, following her around like a greedy pup – waiting for her to let me scrape out the remains of the cookie dough.  i can still taste its sweetness.  sadly, due to illness and depression, she hasn’t baked in a long, long time but i can still smell that warm aroma of toasted sugar and chocolate.

i look out through the net curtain to the house across the street where one of my closest friends grew up.  Linda.  we were the same age and looked similar:  two little skinny waifs with long blonde hair and huge eyes.  hers green, mine blue.  she was my soul mate and to this day, although we don’t see as much of each other as we perhaps should as life is short, when we get together it is like not one day has passed since we last hugged each other.

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i see the ghosts of these little blonde girls, playing on roller skates or bicycles or running with kites.  i see ghosts of them as teenage girls, standing on her doorstep and discussing what to wear to the next high school dance.  i see it all: pages of those old teen diaries coming to life and i reminisce, with a smile.  but where has the time gone?  it seems like only yesterday.

i remember the Belfast sink by the kitchen window and how, as children, many of us in this street were bathed in the sink.  this was mainly for convenience, i think… i hope!  i remember the teasing of friends as those who were allowed out later than my own curfew would stand by the window, and laugh and point; and me gesticulating wildly and shouting back at them, laughing.  they would only laugh until it was their turn to be the spectacle in the window. oh precious memories.  my friends and i still joke about these moments to this day.

food was a big part of our family life and social gatherings.  for many years, and much to the chagrin of my mother, i had no interest in food and she, my father and brothers tried everything from cajoling me, bribing me – even ridiculing me – in their attempts to coax me into eating.  i had become a worry.  a talking point.  i received a scolding from a red-faced aunt.  still, i couldn’t care less about food.  i wasn’t interested.  my cousin once highlighted to me that i once went through a phase of only eating food that was white.  jesus.  what a little freak!  i would only eat haddock fish, boiled potatoes, pickled onions, milk, cauliflower or lean chicken breast.  it was a  major concern.  so much so, my mother took me to the Doctor who duly examined me but seemed more preoccupied with the length of my eyelashes and my precocious stare than my incongruous diet. it was a relief to all when i became a teenager and becoming more interested in food.  food and boys.  i realised that the two can be fun. and so i learned to cook in this kitchen.

it was here that i also learned about the loss of another kind of friend.

i remember the dove grey and sky blue chequered pattern on the tiled floor. i remember finding one of our family dogs, Bonnie, lying dead there one Sunday morning.  she had been ill – more ill than the Vet had realised.  i remember the pain in my heart and the sound of my own shock and grief.  i remember curling up beside her – just as i had done so many times before by the fireplace – cradling her cold and lifeless body in my arms and seeing a trickle of blood weep from her little black nose that i loved to kiss.  i remember the sound of my heart breaking.

and as i close the kitchen door, i hear that sound again.  as fresh and raw as it was that Sunday.

and so i ventured upstairs, one step at a time.  it’s strange, but the wood of the banister felt unusually warm to the touch – almost like skin.  it felt as though this house… this home… still had a pulse.  it was like she was still breathing, and breathing with me.  as i climbed the stairs, which seemed to be endless, i noted stairway walls anointed with the oily marks, from repeated hand placements; and the faded frames of blank images, where once pictures hung, often at odd angles. unambiguous; these empty spaces will remain, until my home’s new occupants paint over them.  they are, today, the only proof  of our lives here.  they still, in a strange way, adorned the stairway – or gateway – to the quieter spaces in this home. spaces where meditative rituals took place: the brushing of hair before bedtime; the bathing; the faint mutterings of my mother’s prayers and the dreams. what dreams may come now is anyone’s guess.

i pause and take a deep breath, then step into my old bedroom. immediately, i am greeted by the same funky pink plastic lampshade i chose when i was seven years old. a lampshade i once so sorely wanted – now faded, jaded, dusty and discoloured.  that pink shade saw many a dream and was a comforting pink cloud of solace on many a sleepless night. a pink cloud of optimism, at a time when my grief for my father completely overwhelmed me.

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it was here, in this room, on this bed, that i was when i first knew real darkness.  it was here, one Sunday morning in May, that my mother came to wake me to tell me that my father had died.  it was as if someone took the sun from my sky.  it was as though all the light from life was sucked out.   as though the fires inside were extinguished.  those screams of anguish and grief, i could still hear them.  they were deafening.  they are now recorded in the very fabric of this room.  they still deafen and defy.  if i were to touch those walls, i would still hear those screams,  screams like those from a wounded animal.

my old bed, still covered with the furry horsey blanket -a gift from a favourite aunt, looked small.  and yet, at some points in my life, this was my island, my haven – a place to retreat to and listen to the radio or to write in my diary, or a place where i would go to just to think… or disappear.

i removed the clutter from it and lay down on the bed with a box of old diaries, i kept as a teenager, and thumbed through them. teenage tales beneath a pink cloud brought a little light and humour into an otherwise dark day – despite the sunshine outside.  i felt a smile break my fall.

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i opened the old built-in cupboard and was immediately transported back in time. a time where i collected Ladybird books and erasers.  although the cupboard was now empty, i could see my white ice-skates hanging up, and i could momentarily hear the slice of blades on ice; i could see, in my mind’s eye, my books – all lined up neatly; stacks of magazines, scrapbooks and old Polaroids.

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i could also see a complete collection of ‘Family of Man’ magazines i collected a child. i was precocious. how many 9 year-old girls do you know that have such an avid interest in anthropology at that tender age?

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a gentle breeze carried voices of children, playing outside in the sunshine, through the house.  i followed the voices into the toilet and was touched by the sight of a picture of the sun my mother, in her early stages of dementia, had drawn and stuck fast to the toilet wall with sellotape.

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it made me laugh out loud.

i ran my wrists under the cold tap and shook my hands dry, blotting  the excess water on my jeans as, for once, there was no fresh towel.   the children’s voices seemed to be getting louder. i followed them into the bathroom where i found the net curtain billowing softly in the breeze of an open window.  the bathroom felt cold and airy; the blue dolphin patterned wallpaper, faded and peeling.

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the old 1970s bathroom cabinet was open and empty. it once held a collection of toothbrushes, all in various states of fray; tubes of pile cream and minty fresh toothpaste, squeezed until every last drop was used, as though they had been passed through a mangle; bottles of clear Avon nail polish, with the caps screwed on squint and stuck-fast; a tub of cotton buds;  a tin of Germolene ointment; and a box full of discarded dentures.  like i say, my mother – the hoarder.

the upstairs landing, once filled with the fresh smell of pine-scented steam from hot bubble baths and the sweet stench of baby powder from habitual dustings. but now, only a strange smell of stale toiletries and cosmetics lingered there.  no fresh smell of pine. and no steam.  both the house and i had run out of steam.

i felt weary. exhausted.

standing at the entrance to my mother’s old bedroom, i caught my own reflection in the dressing table mirror.  i looked empty. i looked lost. i looked dead.

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i could not bring myself to enter.  i could still smell her perfume.  i realised then that i was beginning to mourn her, even though she was still clinging onto life. but that smell of perfume.  Youth Dew.  it was her signature fragrance.  it is not a scent i care for, however, at this point in time it was the most beautiful aroma. it filled my lungs and evoked many happy memories of special ‘mother-daughter’ moments in this little room. this room used to be my room, as a young child.  a room where my mother would sing me to sleep, or lie beside me and stroke my face until i fell asleep when i was ill. it was a room once filled with toys and dolls.  fuck.  how i hated those dolls. i used to ask my mum to chuck them in the cupboard each night as their dead eyes scared me.  feeling brave, in the throes of that memory, i opened the cupboard.  i was relieved to find it empty.  no dead-eyed dolls glaring back at me.  just empty space.   yet in the mirror, it was my own dead-eyed doll expression that would now haunt me.  taunt me.  scare me.  scare me of my own mortality and the harsh realisation that our parents are not immortal.

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my mother’s wardrobes were now empty.  this was a task i could not bring myself to undertake but never voiced my concerns.  my sister-in-law took it upon herself to remove all my mother’s clothes and donate the best of them to the charity shops that my mother believes are worthy.  i cannot begin to say just how much i appreciate my sister-in-law’s interception.  it was a very mindful and kind thing to do.  a task that i think, in hindsight, would have broke me completely.

with a heavy heart, i sat at the top of the stairs and cried so hard that i thought i would never be able to stop, cradling myself in my arms.

this was the hardest day.

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Words & Images (c) Kat McDonald 2017

dedicated to my mother.  they say home is where the heart is.  she has my heart. she is, and will always be, my home.

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for my birthday, i had a tattoo done of a little drawing she did of her and i… she says she doesn’t recall drawing it on my leg. [smile]

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i intend to have her ‘doodle’ made into a necklace for her to cherish… as a ‘mother-daughter’ thing.