We're home from hospital (hurrah, huzzah, and much additional rejoicing), we have our own beds, and I have the opportunity to indulge myself with a long phone call to Friend.
My friend is slowly watching her mother slip away as Alzheimer's alters her personality, and struggling to remember the mother she used to know so well, who is currently being replaced by someone who is nearly, but not quite, entirely unlike herself. It's hard.
Hard too is my friend's struggle to contain her own embarrassment at some of her beloved mother's kinks and quirks; traits being magnified and shattered under dementia's kaleidoscope. Trying to reach beneath the surface and decide what's important; is it my friend's embarrassment, or is it how embarrassed her mother would have been to see her doing some of the things she is starting to do now, or does none of this matter as long as her mother is happy and not hurting anyone else?
It turns out my friend has had good practice in this, and in working things out, she has given me another precious memory.
When, at 26, I gained an 11 year old daughter, I immediately stepped out of sync with friends and family. That my daughter was severely disabled lessened the gap for some, but created an impossibly wide one for others. It was the start of a general reshuffling of relationships; an unsettling time, but one which has made my life today do much deeper and richer than I could ever have imagined.
Friend is one of the few pre-Goldie friends who made it through to the after years. She has no children of her own - I don't think there is a link! But tonight she reminded me of her own baptism of fire into this brave new world of mine.
Goldie and I lived in a terrace house, close to the town centre. Friend was visiting, and it was a beautifully sunny summer's day. I had dressed Goldie in a newish outfit (not purchased by my); white jeans and a sparkly white T-shirt. With her hair red gold in the sun, she looked particularly angelic, and she was definitely up for a walk into town.
We did whatever we needed to do in town, and then went to the Abbey Meadows to feed the ducks and find an ice cream.
With hindsight, giving Goldie a chocolate ice cream was possibly not the wisest plan.
But she loved it. Arms waving, fingers trembling, hair shaking, she spread that ice cream far and wide, eating enough to give herself a sugar high, and smearing the rest over clothes, body and chair, with a glee which only Goldie could ever truly produce.
Friend looked on in horror as white jeans gathered ice cream drips and dribbles, and bits of cone found their way into eyebrows and ears. And Goldie sang and shrieked, rocked and danced in the sun, attempting to grab anyone close enough to join in the fun.
It being summer, the paddling pool was open. It was warm enough, do Goldie and I dunked ourselves, fully clothed, in an attempt to rinse off the worst of the chocolate goo. This had the rather unfortunate effect of spreading dilute chocolate ice cream across parts not formerly coated, whilst plastering Goldie's golden halo to her face. Oh, and dissolving the sun cream in watermarks across her face.
It is here where Friend's experience and my own begin to diverge. Because once reminded, I can picture Goldie at this point. And she is radiant. She has seized the day, and her face is alight with pure joy. The chocolate and the wet and the general chaos are just echoes of the day, proof that she has extracted every ounce of enjoyment from the experience.
Friend sees a loud mess. Being pushed by an adult also no longer even pretending to be in any way groomed or organised.
Goldie sees an opportunity. And as Friend tries to work out how she can possibly avoid associating with either of us as we walk back through town to our house, and as I think about what we still need to buy for tea, Goldie hears the silence and decides to entertain us.
Now Goldie loved her stories. By which I mean, she loved Her stories. Particular versions of particular tales, always told in the same format with the same dramatic pauses. She had them off by heart. I still have them off by heart. And on this occasion, Goldie decided to retell the story of the Three Billy Goats Called Gruff.
This was one of Goldie's useful tales. Stand in front of her in a shop, blocking her view, and you might find yourself being told "be off with you, ugly troll...much fatter than I am." But today another part of the story held her interest. And to Friend's utter mortification, as We walked through the crowded town centre, chocolate and grass stained, filthy but very happy, Goldie held her long hands out in front of her, waves her fingers in front of her face, stimming on the pattern between light and shade on such a wonderfully sunny day, and celebrated the fact the billy goats could go "Trip trap, trip trap, over the ricketty racketty bridge, into the meadow, to eat the sweet grass." Only, being Goldie, she mumbled most of the sentence, meaning the only audible parts of her speech were "Trip!" (mutter mutter incomprehensible) "Sweet Grass!" (wave hands, rock, screech, repeat).
It was, then, a defining moment for Friend, who had to attempt to step out of her acute embarrassment and into seeing Goldie as a girl totally happy in her own skin. She could, as so many others did, have quietly opted out of our lives, or found ways to keep up our friendship without being humiliated in public. But instead she opened her eyes and tried to enter into Goldie's world. A little bit. And still very thankful this was happening in our home town and not hers.
It is, now, one of her fondest memories of Goldie. And it's helping her to review the way she sees her mother. I hope it helps.
And as I write this, although it really wasn't planned this way, I realise that today is May 31st, and that it was on this date 13 years ago that Goldie moved out of her children's home and into my life. I think it's fitting we should remember a happy Goldie day on one of our happiest days.