I’m not sure if the sirens have stopped or if it’s just that the doors to the bunker are so heavy that I can no longer hear them. That last view of Mum running towards the doors is troubling me. That can’t have been Nat, I must be imagining it. Anyway, Nat would be completely different now, three years older, just like me. I’ve certainly changed in the past three years.
I’m much taller for a start, taller than Mum and almost as tall as Dad. This seems to excite Mum and Dad beyond my comprehension. They’re always saying things like, ‘I’m sure you’ve grown overnight’ or ‘You’re almost as big as me now’. Personally, I don’t really notice, nor do I particularly care. My hair has got darker and I wear it shorter than when I was a kid, too. So, if the positions were reversed, would Nat recognize me now? It would be like one of those photofits that you see on the TV, where they age people who have gone missing. You take a look at the photofit and you can kind of recognize the original person in there. But if you saw them in a crowded place, would you really be able to spot them?
I can’t be sure, and anyway, it’s ridiculous; Nat died three years ago, I was there. It must be my mind playing tricks on me, I’ve been alone in this dark corridor too long. I’m scared, disorientated and exhausted. No, it wasn’t the sight of the person that was with Mum that made me think that it was Nat, it was not a visual recognition.
Nat and I were twins and we’d always had a connection. The day I saw Nat carried away in the ambulance, that connection had been broken, like a laptop losing a wireless signal and desperately trying to reconnect. When Nat died, the signal died. I can’t be sure who it was outside those doors with Mum. One thing I do know with complete certainty though: when I spotted that person with Mum in the distance, something very strange happened. For the briefest moment, that connection came back online.
I can’t quite remember when I started having ‘difficulties’ at school. After Nat’s funeral, Mum and Dad were keen to get everything back to normal. Of course, there was no ‘normal’ anymore, not without Nat. It hit me hardest I think. I may be wrong, but seen through my thirteen-year-old eyes, everybody else seemed to adjust quite quickly.
I suppose you can’t cry all the time; at some point, you have to get back to the things that you did before the death. Even though you carry that empty feeling inside you. I knew Mum and Dad were sad, but it was hidden by the routines of daily life. Piling dirty washing into the machine. Putting the used plates into the dishwasher. Cutting the grass and weeding the flower beds. Trivial, stupid things force grief aside and demand to be done. And so it was in our house.
But I was struggling. I can only describe it as ‘searching for a signal’. That’s how it felt without Nat. When Nat had been around I’d been fine, I felt perfectly okay. But when Nat died, I was left searching desperately for something that wasn’t there anymore.
I know all twins will tell you that. They’re incredibly close, they sometimes know what the other twin is thinking and feeling. Amazing how humans work. But this was different, it wasn’t just about closeness. I didn’t have the words to explain it at the time. Now I do. It really was as if we were fused in some way, locked together, dependent. ‘Symbiotic’ is the word I found in the online dictionary, it describes it perfectly. And so when Nat died, it wasn’t so much one death, it was more like two.
Trouble At School
I had real trouble adjusting to life without Nat. They handled me with kid gloves at school. Or at least for a while they did. Just like washing plates and cutting grass, real life has a habit of getting in the way. In a class of twenty teenagers, there was only so long I had to get over Nat. The reality was that they needed me fully functioning as soon as possible, there’s only so long that you can put up with a problem child in a busy classroom. So all the time, I felt as if I was desperately trying to re-establish this connection.
It wasn’t just sadness, loss and grief. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, and I just thought it was what everybody else in the family was going through too. To be honest, I didn’t cope with it very well at all. Sometimes it would drive me mad. I just needed to get that connection back with Nat and I’d be fine. So, if other kids caught me at the wrong time, I’d just go crazy with them. A bit of stupid teasing, some playful pushing, a daft comment. Sometimes, when I was struggling with my ‘disconnection’ with Nat, I would just lash out.
Before I knew it, the hushed conversations had begun. Mum and Dad were being called in after school to chat with my class teacher. When it gets really serious, the head teacher is involved and Mum and Dad are having those conversations during the working day. And before you know it, you’re being introduced to a man with an unusual tie, called Doctor Pierce.
The Holiday Itinerary
I wasn’t unusually troubled by that logo at the time because I was more interested in the details of the holiday. It made no difference to me, of course, but this holiday had to be taken in term time. That was okay for us, because Harriet could skip nursery and David would be able to come out of school for a week. Mum and Dad had pulled this one off before, and so long as you called it an ‘educational visit’ and made a big thing of the incredible learning experiences involved, the head teacher usually let you get away with it. Mum and Dad didn’t bother mentioning the long morning lie-ins, the evening DVDs and the trips to our favourite burger restaurant. Always best to miss those bits out when talking to the head teacher.
We seemed to be pretty free to do as we pleased for most of the time. But they were very insistent about that trip to the bunker. In fact, although it was written in a really cheery way, it was made pretty clear that if we didn’t make that bunker visit, there would be a ‘penalty’ to pay. I scanned words like ‘publicity opportunity’, ‘sponsor involvement’ and ‘extra spending money’ – enough to know that if there was one thing that had to happen on this holiday, it was getting to that bunker at the appointed time.