Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 22 February 2017


The Empath

(for B.)

I took sick this morning
but I was not surprised.

When I saw you there so ill
I knew then I was helpless
and there being no one to punish
I turned on myself in frustration
dragging my love with me
screaming, “This is not the way!
This is not constructive.”

And I said, “No,
but it is something.”

17 October 1989
B. suffered from severe migraines, migraines so bad that as soon as she felt an inkling of one she’d drop everything and head home. This approach was only rarely successful and she often spent days in her bed. Because of this she ended up having to quit university and could never hold down a job for long. And yet she was surprising positive and kept herself busy. But occasionally it got too much and one evening her mother called me because she was at a loss. Why me and not a doctor? Because the doctors had done all they could. They had no answers bar pills and they knew the drill: pop the pill, lie in the dark and wait it out. I don’t know what M. expected me to do but I dutifully—and, if I’m being brutally honest here, joyfully—threw on my coat and drove over. I’d never been in her bedroom before but it was very much as I would’ve imagined as best I could see in the gloom because the light wasn’t on. B. was slumped in a chair in the corner of the room which my mind has decided was an old-fashioned rocker but it probably wasn’t. She was in tears and in pain and very much in despair. I sat on the floor in front of her and held her hands in her lap and that’s all I can remember. I’ve no idea what I said although I expect the distraction helped if nothing else and then I left after probably no more than a half hour. I’m not sure if this poem is about that night although I can’t imagine it being about any other. It’s terrible being helpless when someone your care about is suffering.

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