Take My Pulse

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

4th September 2015
Moments that made my heart race, a word sketch for my grandaughter Hazel

Dance floor hazy with underage cigarette smoke, me singing along to 'Crazy for You', thinking that's just how it is, I can see you across the floor through the smoke, chatting to your mates and then... and then... walking towards me! I'm imagining it, I must be. But no, our eyes lock and my hear races so hard I am breathless. I was 15 and I'd been in love with your grandfather for five weeks and six days, ever sicne he started at our school. He came close to me and, chewing his lip in that way he did right up until the day he died, he said, 'Mel, wanna dance?' I think I swooned. I was shakey all over and as he drew me close I was convinced he could feel my heart beat. It turned out I could feel his, too, trying to drum its way out of his chest. Our bodies met in a thundery nervousess. He trod all over my toes and his mates wolf-whistled as we stepped awkwardly by, in our version of a grown up dance, a sort of rocking from side to side stumble around the dance floor, trying to avoid couples who'd stopped dancing and were simply snogging. To think of it now still makes me go weak at the knees. I hope you have had many many moments like this, Hazel, but perhaps with a man who's a better dancer than your grandfather was - my toes were black and blue when I got home. My face was flushed, too, and right away my mother knew something had happened.

We hadn't meant for it to happen and I thought I was going to have a heart attack when I told Mum. Your mother, Hazel, was conceived entirely out of love. She just came a little early, that was all. We were both students by now, and we decided to be brave and try and be students with a baby. We managed it, but both our hearts raced too often and too hard, and not always from happiness. The work was hard; your grandfather had two part time jobs to top up our student grants and we were frequently stressed. When your mother was a baby we tried to give her a gentle and calm upbringing in the tiny flat we rented, but with both of us stretched to the limit it was hard. Nevertheless, Hazel, we managed it. I kept in my head those women of the past who'd had families of eleven or twelve and a job and nappies to wash and I held on and we did it. I only got a third, but your grandfather - neither of us knew how, achieved a first. How incredible it was to watch him collect it up on stage. They called him a 'bright light of the future', and he was. I wish you could have met him. I thought my heart would burst with pride. I watched him approach the stage, my heart thudding just as hard (for as well as being clever, your grandfather was clumsy) in case he fell, as it did when we first danced together, eight years before. How long those eight years seemed and yet now, when I look back on 80 or so of them, they passed in a blink.

Your mother was ten. We were celebrating what everyone called Y2K and half wondering if the world would end. I watched your mother fling herself amongst legs and bodies at the village ceilidh, darting between grown-ups. We loved where we lived, close to our parents but far enough away for us to be independent. We were still so young! Your grandfather and I danced all night, with tiny breaks to let my bruised toes rest and to drink some of the punch the pub had provided. As midnight approached he grabbed your mother and me into a huge hug and I felt my pulse pick up, to match the countdown being shouted around us and I thought, I am here, right here, right now. We are all here. It's hard to describe what I felt. We were standing on the edge of a new century!

I watched your mother walk down the aisle and my heart nearly burst with pride. It's a cliche but she was beutiful. What woman does not look beautiful on her wedding day? Happiness shines though and makes a bride glow from the inside. She was young; like me she found your father early in her life. I tried to tell her to play around a bit (don't be shocked, you should have been told, too) but she looked at me and said that if I knew when I'd found my soulmate, at only 15, then she knew at age 22. Fair enough, I said, hoping she was right. Divorces were on the increase and I wanted her to be as happy as your grandfather and I had been. If I counted the happiness in heartbeats, he said at your mother's wedding, I'd have... but he'd lost the bit of paper he'd scribbled the numbers down on so he simply smiled and said, reaching for my hand, a lifetime of heartbeats. Anyway, you know the story, they were happy. And then they had you!

Your birth, a mere thirty years after I sang 'Crazy for You' and wobbled around the dancefloor, trying not to get stepped on and trying to keep my heart in my chest, is a memory that will never be dulled by time. Your mother was staying with us, two weeks overdue, crotchety and huge, moving from bed to sofa and back again because the pain in her back was so bad. I'd never seen a baby being born, so when your mother went into labour and it was obvious that after keeping us waiting for so long you were determined to get out as soon as possible, all of my knowledge came from television programs. It was terrifying. But just as the midwife barged thorugh the front door, I caught you. A slippery little mermaid, blinking up at the world. I held you first, just as it now looks like you will be holding me last. There's a perfect kind of symmetry there.

2015, later
If it hadn't been for you, Hazel, I would have died of a broken heart. I don't know if I've ever told you that before. He held you, once, before a massive heart attack wrenched him from me. I was a first aider; we had first responders with a defib in the village, but he died anyway. His big beautiful heart had nothing like enough beats in it to keep him going. If a man lived to be 80, his heart would have beaten 280,000,000,000 times before he died, give or take a fee thousand. Someone was going to get extra beats, I remember thinking. I didn't know that someone would be me.

When you were 22, the world was unstable. You know all the details. Your heart, you said, could not take the misery it saw all around, people handing on inhumanity to other people, generations blowing each other up, religion confusing what should be a love-filled ride from birth to death. My pride at what you begun has never diminished. 'PeaceBeats' has gone from strength to strength, and now employs thousands of people, all over the world. At such a young age, the fact that you knew where your destiny lay was incredible. Your parents I I did all we could to help but we could hardly keep up with your brilliant mind. PeaceBeats is responsible for saving refugees, giving peaceful demonstrations which have humbled, time and time again, those doing the fighting. The bravery of your employees: lying down in front of tanks, pushing their way into news conferences to speak to those terrible men and woman who kill in the name of a god, organising food drops into warzones, personallly carrying children across fences, creating ecozones where now live the world's last endangered animals... all the things your dream has acheived. It amazes me and my heart wants to burst with pride. I am glad I could do my part also. There was a statistic given recently - I read about it in the Independent - stating that you had helped bring fourteen nations to peace, saved millions upon millions of lives - they cannot count how many and they counted your worth in many little ways. Anyway, I'm jumping ahead to the present. There are more moments first.

The water crisis nearly took us all. Even PeaceBeats (whom I believed to be capable of anything) couldn't help. But I am tiring, Hazel. I have to hurry.

I never thought I'd live to be 100. I didn't know I'd inherited your grandfather's extra beats - and your mother's too, it turns out. I didn't know a heart could take the pain it's had and still carry on. Inside I've died many times and I thought my heart was broken. Times when I've wanted it to stop it has irresolutely carried on, obstinate and strong. Far stronger than I who surround it. It still beats inside me, an old woman who can no longer speak. It's been an honour to know you, Hazel and I hope there are many more heart beats in you, there is still much work to be done.

I wish I'd had more time to write this story; it was always a job I put off and put off. It's too tiring to hold the pen anymore but I hope I have left you with some good memories. You never had biologival children but those whom you adpoted as as much my family as you are and they have their families. Our story will live on, in different hearts.

When you come tomorrow, don't be upset, do not cry. I've chosen when I want to go. I can no longer walk or speak and I can be useful no more. I've missed your grandfather every day for more than half of my life. It would be good to see him again, to hear him laugh and to feel him stepping on my feet. Perhaps we'll dance across the sky and you can look up and see us.

All I would like you to do is be the one who 'ushers me out'. I held you when you enetered the world and I've decided I want you to hold my hand when I leave it. Feel my pulse slow and then stop, and simply hold my hand, so that I know I am safe, right up until the end.