I remember three things clearly. That I had brought two bright blue jumpers in the Oasis sale that morning, I had a horrible cold, and I travelled on the train in first class.
It is strange that 14 years later that it is this information that remains ingrained in my brain. Yet I can’t remember the name of the 15-year-old boy who threw the fatal punch that killed my father.
I was in Birmingham when I got the call. It was just 11 days after Christmas and I had already returned to work in London after the holidays. I had come to visit my boyfriend (now husband). He’d lost his dad that November after a short battle with cancer and had given up work briefly to be with him. About to start a new job, I figured he could do with the moral support on the journey back to the capital after months at home.
The call came at around 5am. It was my boyfriend’s mum who shook me awake and told me that my sister was on the phone.
And I knew. Straight away. Something truly awful had happened. I also knew that I did not want to pick up that phone. Not ever.
My sister (God bless her) launched straight in.
‘Alison, it’s Dad. He has been found dead in Darley Drive. You need to come home now’.
‘Okay’, I whispered back. Hearing enough, I handed the phone to my boyfriend who was hovering in the gloom.
His mum waited nervously by the door. ‘Now my dad has gone and died,’ I announced a little indignantly. ‘I need to go home’.
Home was Liverpool and there was suddenly a flurry of activity as lifts were hastily arranged. Neither of us had a car. And this was not the time for trains.
I’d like to say that dramatic events followed, but there were no scenes of wailing, flinging on to the floor, no cursing the gods. Not a sniff of questioning or soul searching. He’s dead. Why? Where? How can this be?
Instead a young girl went back to her room and debated with great seriousness which of the two bright blue jumpers she would wear for such a momentous day.
News like that does not sink in. Instead it swirls around the sides like one of those penny spinner charity boxes.
I didn’t feel bereft or destroyed. Just puzzled with a growing sense of dread.
Packed up and waiting for my boyfriend’s sister to arrive, I suddenly laughed. What am I doing? I have totally got the wrong end of the stick. My sister didn’t say that Dad was dead. What a fool.
‘Call her back. Call her back quick,’ I begged my boyfriend. ‘I think I’ve got it all wrong’.
And oh my love. He did. Then he smiled softly as he took me in his arms. He – who had just been ripped apart himself not two months earlier. ‘It is all true Al. I am so sorry.‘
The tears came then. Along with the first of many gut blows that left my abdomen searing with pain, yet feeling hollow at the same time. It was like my stomach was a thousand steps ahead of my brain. Preparing me for the psychological pain to come – a pain nothing physical has ever come close to.
The two-hour journey was a blur except for the moment we stopped to use the toilets. The papers were being delivered with stories on all the latest world events. I stared at them for a while – how could life just go on?
My boyfriend got it immediately. ‘I know. It is so massive that you wish it was all over the papers and on the news.’
That is the funny thing about wishes. Some do come true. In fact the first news report came on the radio not long after we spun into my home town and moments before we passed the place where he died.
As we reeled at the mention of my father’s name and the commentator spoke of suspicious circumstances, my eyes fixed on the crime tent that marked the spot.
What was going on? I had assumed an illness, a collapse, a natural cause.
There was no script for this one. Whatever I thought I knew about loss I didn’t. That shared experience months earlier with my boyfriend’s family would not help me now.
This was mine alone. Seconds later we were outside my parents’ house – a glaring reminder of how close he got to home. A short walk to safety.
Cars lined the way and a group of men, young and old, stood around outside talking in hushed tones. Many smoking, some openly crying. Many I recognised, some I didn’t.
I rang the door bell. I knew that once that door opened life was never going to be the same again. That it was just the beginning
I stood there looking at the girl reflected back in the porch window. The girl who just yesterday was predominately care free, had felt around the edges of grief but was never engulfed. The one who would now long to wake filled with banal every day thoughts instead being dragged through to consciousness on the tail of a nightmare.
As shadows formed behind the door, I took a second to say goodbye to that girl. The girl I would never be again.
The door opened and there was a sea of people before me. So many people filling the hall.
Everyone I loved.
All had gathered hours earlier. Tears for now spent, encased in an eerie calmness and much, much further down the track in assimilating it all. The focus had switched to waiting for the last of the fold to return. All eyes were now on me.
Me in my bright blue jumper.