Lucy K SHAW
Today my sister texted me, Do you know a Jamie Cooper? lol, yeah, I responded, from school.
I thought about Jamie Cooper for the first time in a long time. The most popular girl in my secondary school. Coops, some people called her. She was beautiful with olive skin and blonde highlights, the high priestess of the coolest girls, the desired object of all the sportiest boys, but against all odds, somehow, not a bitch. She would remember people’s names and say Hiya when she passed you in the corridor. I remember her denim jacket and the way she wore her oversized shirt tucked into tight, fitted and slightly flared polyester trousers.
I can’t remember what shoes she wore during the school day but I remember that once the bell rang, she and all of her disciples would slip into their trainers in order to walk out of the school gates, always carrying a plastic shopping bag containing their P.E kit and folders in addition to their matching draw-string duffles.
I thought my sister was going to tell me that she was working at the same school as her. Kate has been doing a teacher-training course in our hometown to pass the pandemic.
Anyway, she died, is what she wrote next.
Oh my god, what?
I searched for Jamie Cooper on Facebook and quickly found out that she had two daughters, about eight and six, no mention of a partner. She seems to have been ill before, had some kind of organ transplant. I don’t know how she died (or lived) or anything about what happened. She’s just... dead, suddenly. To me. I haven’t thought about her in a long time. Haven’t seen her in fifteen years, probably.
Never would have seen her again, I imagine, no matter how long we’d both have lived.
I dreamed about both of the dead girls last night.
The other one is in the news. I didn’t know her either. But she was from the same city as me, York. And she was also the same age as me, 33. Her name was Sarah Everard. She was walking home last week in London and then yesterday the police found ‘human remains’ in some woods in Kent. Then they arrested another policeman on suspicion of murder.
When you google Jamie Cooper, the first results are for a 16-year-old cheerleader from Georgia who died from a drug overdose last month in the apartment of a 25-year-old man.
I tried not to let their deaths affect me. Because I didn’t know the girls. Because it’s easier not to think about them. Because there is enough to worry about, all of the time.
But my sister and my mum told me they felt upset last night.
Then I started to feel it too.
I told Chris about them at dinner and described what I had learned on Facebook. It seemed like Jamie Coops loved being alive, like she loved being with her two daughters, that she had been a very happy person.
‘Really makes the case against the existence of a benevolent god,’ Chris said, which made me feel like we may never really understand each other.
I pulled a face.
I dreamed about Marie-Soleil too. My best friend from university. We haven’t spoken in forever. She dropped off the face of the earth/internet a long time ago.
In the dream, we met in the library in Montréal and walked up the mountain, then later we were in Paris, in a place that doesn’t exist in Paris. She was impressed by how much my French has improved. In the dream, my French was really good.
I woke up feeling glad I had spent time with her.
A list of things that make me feel good about myself lately:
—Remembering to buy household supplies such as dish soap, foil, trash bags, etc before they run out.
—Cleaning the bathroom.
—Taking out the recycling.
Yesterday afternoon, Chris and I ran a loop that we’d only done once before. The other way up the river. It’s not as beautiful but I was relieved to sacrifice beauty for something different. Up and down a lot of small hills. The sky was grey, thick with clouds, and we started talking about who would potentially care for our non-existent offspring in the event of our tragic, untimely deaths.
Nobody seemed particularly appropriate or qualified.
This was a sort of follow-up to a conversation we’d had a few days ago in which I said I don’t really feel like I want any children at the moment, but maybe it is something we have to actually think about soon, seeing as time continues to pass.
It doesn’t feel palatable, what I have written so far.
Now it’s 12:48am, another day, and I’m almost ready for bed. The last time I wrote to you, it was just after my period had finished, or in other words, the happiest time of my month.
This time I started writing in the build-up. And here I am now, in the middle.
The complete lack of activity in my life makes my menstrual cycle feel more pronounced. I’m so aware of it. Can feel it carving its way through time like a river. There’s no way to be distracted from the agonising pain and the dull passing of hours when nothing ever happens except death in the distance.
And sometimes a new podcast.
You can probably tell, reading this, that I haven’t seen anyone I know in months. I haven’t seen a friend since last summer. But I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Remembrance of Things Past. And I spent most of last week alone, listening to Alice Notley interviews. I’m trying to get into the zone to write something.
My thoughts are more jumbled than last month, though.
As I was brushing my teeth, I became involved in an in-depth internal monologue about daffodils, which I bought this morning at the market for the first time this year. (The people who run the flower stand are a couple, probably 10 years older than us. They always make a point of calling us les jeunes and giving us a free rose.) We buy a lot of flowers to make ourselves feel better.
I painted some daffodils last weekend. I made a card for my mum, because it’s Mother’s Day (in England) tomorrow. And already, today, she sent me a photo of the painting in a frame on her mantelpiece.
I take the ability to make something beautiful for granted, but I am pleased with myself for having the competence to put it in the mail.
Her first Mother’s Day without a mother.
I don’t even know the French word for daffodils.
I know the German word, Narzissen.
In York, there is a medieval tower on a grassy hill in the centre of the city. Every spring the hill blooms into a sea of daffodils. We must have all seen this, growing up. Me and Sarah and Jamie.
I can’t believe I am writing all of this about flowers.
But really it’s about my nana. She died last April. Six days before her ninetieth birthday.
She was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and they told us that she had weeks or months left to live. But then, suddenly, it seemed like days, and I rushed back to England. This was in late January. And we spent the next two months visiting her, first in the hospital and then in the care home, before we all got locked down.
It was a privilege to spend that time with her. Really it was. We brushed her hair and moisturised her hands, listened to her stories. I remember saying to my mum that Nana would never see daffodils again. I always associated them with her. April birthday. A sign that good times were coming.
But she did hold on long enough. We filled her room with them, and she loved it.
What must it have been like for her when the visits stopped though?
She didn’t understand.
She asked us if there was a war.
It feels like so long ago.
This time last year, I was visiting her almost every day. And then the lockdown happened, and we never saw her again, until the funeral.
10 people, outside, for 15 minutes.
This is the kind of thing that people are talking about when they tweet about collective trauma and how we are yet to even begin processing what has happened to us, I imagine.
My nana deserved a proper funeral.
Sarah Everard deserves a proper funeral.
Jamie Cooper deserves a proper funeral.
To type those sentences feels cataclysmic.
Saturday morning. Church bells ringing for 10 O’clock.
I start teaching at 11.
I have been teaching seven days a week for the past few months because it feels like there is no point in taking breaks. What else am I going to do?
I’m going to need extra money when we can hang out with people again, so that I can buy things that I don’t really want.
I get up before Chris and sit on the sofa and read something or write something. I finish The Years by Annie Ernaux, and The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley and Greyhound by Aeon Ginsberg. I flick through a book of David Hockney sketches for inspiration. I slowly work my way through The Freezer Door by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. I paw at The Cipher by Molly Brodak but can’t bring myself to open it.
I listen to the audiobook of Tribe by Sebastian Junger, some nonfiction book about veterans reintegrating back into society after combat.
On Sunday mornings, loud African church music pours out of the disused pharmacie opposite our building. Live music. Religious services are one of the only things still allowed to happen. They have someone drumming and someone playing an electric organ. Many, many people inside singing, screaming hallelujah. If we have the windows open, it’s like we’re in there.
But I close them so I can teach my students.
I enter my little portal to China.
Sky tells me his teacher caught a boy and a girl kissing at school this week. He’s 13. He says he doesn’t have a girlfriend yet, but ‘I want.’
I tell him to expect that romantic relationships may reconfigure frequently in the coming years.
He draws a diagram of several stick figures and draws arrows between them. Maybe this boy like this girl but this girl like this boy and this other boy like this girl too?
Yeah, exactly, I say.
And what if... can this boy like this one? He says, pointing to one of the male stick figures. Testing the waters.
Oh yeah, definitely, I tell him. That will happen too.
Grace tells me that she and her best friend Star are tutoring their other friend Elsa, because Elsa is falling behind and they can’t let that happen.
Alina says she already knows the story of Little Red Riding Hood and it’s too scary. She wants to talk about cakes today, for some reason.
Lydia is in a restaurant with her entire family, eating hotpot.
She says it is very yummy.
Barbie has a new short haircut and looks really cool.
I say, you look fourteen! (She’s twelve.)
Eden is in a bad mood but doesn’t want to tell me why. No why!!!
Amy introduces me to her pet moths which she found in her family’s sack of rice and relocated to a plastic bag. I ask if they have names.
She says she hasn’t asked them.
Chris has a big deadline tomorrow. He needs to translate about seven thousand more words of an eighteen-thousand-word document he has been working on over the past few days.
When it goes like this, I take on all the other tasks required for two people to live comfortably.
This often used to include packing both of our suitcases and figuring out how to get from one place to the next. But more recently it just means cooking and washing dishes again and again.
We operate symbiotically, moving around our small apartment like pieces on a chess board.
Or at least, it feels that way to me.
I have no idea how to play chess.
Lucy K SHAW is the author of THE MOTION (421 Atlanta), WAVES (Second Books) and HOW TO BE A PERFECT BRIDE (Ghost City Press); TROISIÈME VAGUE (Shabby Doll House) is her most recent book. SHAW founded the online arts & literature magazines, SHABBY DOLL HOUSE and ~PROFOUND EXPERIENCE, and runs the ~PROFOUND EXPERIENCE OF POETRY BOOK CLUB (which you are welcome to join if you want to).
For more information on TROISIÈME VAGUE, and to order a copy direct from the publisher, see here.