Good News


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I didn't go into school the next day. Mum and I had had an arrangement where I could take a day off school every month if I promised to never fake illness and keep getting good grades. It suited everyone pretty well. In the first few weeks after she died, when dad and I slept every night in my room, I explained the system to him. It was the only night where I was holding him and not the other way round.  

 

Dad woke me up with a cup of tea before he left for work. It was cold when I finally got out of bed. 

 

The whole day stretched out in front of me like an empty timetable. No one teaches you how to occupy a whole day with nothing, but I was a natural at it. I ate breakfast at midday, honey coated miniature dwarves and elves called Sweet Fantasies imported from South Korea, we imported all of our cereal from South Korea, and then settled under a blanket with three books, my laptop and phone, a magazine and the television playing reruns on mute. 

 

My heart wasn't beating as hard today and it felt calming to sit alone for a few hours. Soon enough, dad would come home and Ella would come round, maybe with Josh, and then the whole world with its responsibility and noise and plans.

 

But after three bowls of Sweet Fantasies, being calm and alone can turn to being bored and lonely, so I did something I shouldn't have done. Something dad had made me swear never to do again. I opened up my laptop and googled 'good news London', then 'good news', then 'happy news', 'good news USA', 'local happy news articles', 'job offers', 'people surviving cancer', 'someone turns their life around', 'underdog wins', 'awesome turn of events'.

 

And the stress that had been building with being alone for too long started to dissipate. To float away into the cushion beneath me or the blanket resting over my legs. 

 

The next few hours passed without any bad thoughts. I lost myself in the good news. Printing articles from Bangladesh and France, cutting out smiling photos of rescued miners, highlighting quotes from elated parents or partners, skipping past the hints of tragedy in the story. 

 

I knew where dad had hidden my good news scrapbook. I knew that he wouldn't have thrown it away even after I told him how ill it was making me. It was in the same place where mum used to hide my Christmas presents.

 

No one had touched the costume box since I was six or seven, except to hide presents or sweets or my scrapbook. Underneath pirate outfits and obtuse fairy wings I could feel the hard edges of the book. Reaching, leaning further and further, I thought how nice it would be to plunge in, to envelope myself in all the make believe and nostalgia from before, but then I had grabbed the book with one hand and was out. 

 

Back downstairs, the blanket strewn on the floor, I started glueing in the best photos and quotes. I worked fast, not wanting dad to catch me breaking our one rule. I didn't think about how terrible this would make me feel tomorrow or maybe as soon as I returned it to the costume box. I just lost myself in good news.

 

I don't remember when I picked up the habit. It was as if one day I was sad that mum had died and the next I was happy because I spent all my time with these stories and my scrapbook. At first dad encouraged me, would even sit with me for hours while I talked about earthquake survivors or families reuniting. There were about three weeks when it seemed as if dad and I were going to reclaim our lives. But he quickly realised what was happening; that I had stopped eating, was taking more days off school, woke up and went straight to the computer, no longer spoke to any of my friends; and when he took the scrapbook away, that was when it got really bad.

 

I wasn't just depressed about mum dying, I was depressed because all the good news that had been my crutch had just stopped, been cut off in an instant. 

 

Dad bought me a tennis racket and signed me up for summer camp, taught me how to use his old-fashioned camera, drove me to a different friend's house every day, but I did nothing, didn't even try to smile. Just mourned the loss of everything.  

 

My heart started to beat like crazy all the time and Ella would have to squeeze my hand to remind me I was still alive. Dad took me to different doctors and therapists, they came back with the same thing every time.

 

It's normal to be like that after the death of a loved one. It will pass. Try not to worry as much. Relax.       

 

So I tried. I tried and I tried some more and harder. I tried not to think about my scrapbook and thought of nothing else. I tried not to cry myself to sleep and slept on a wet pillow. I tried to relax and contracted every muscle in my body. 

 

And then I started to have those heart attacks that weren't heart attacks. 

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