There were still moments when I fell into depression. Old familiar mind patterns, such as: ‘I have no place in the sun’, ‘I don’t belong anywhere’, would draw me in a spiraling downward movement into a deep, black pit. I would have thoughts of suicide and contemplate ending it all by putting my head in the gas oven. Fortunately, another voiceless part of me recognized these thoughts as unreal, fuelled by self pity.
On the other hand I began to experience moments of pure joy, and this was before I had begun to meditate. I remember walking along the Avenue Armand Huysmans and seeing everything with intense clarity, the shapes of the buildings, the colours of the sky, the trees, the stone, and I remember thinking: ‘this must be how artists see.’
“Only connect” said T.S. Eliot.
Another time I was walking along the street, it was early evening, the air was still, and I heard the liquid notes from a piano pouring through an open window. Again, that feeling of joy, a moment of connection, I was one with the music - one with the universe.
I was still in touch with my old friend Katie. She wrote to say she was coming to stay with a friend in Brussels and would like to see me. Late one evening, long after midnight when I was in bed, the doorbell rang. I knew it was Katie and I felt angry, I remembered Paris, I was not going to let her in. The bell rang again a couple of times and then it stopped.
The next morning Katie rang again, nothing was said about the previous evening, and I invited her to come and have coffee. It was Saturday morning, my mother was having a lie-in, and we sat in the kitchen with our coffee. I was still feeling a bit cross. Katie began confiding in me, she started telling me about her father and how he had abused her when she was a child. I felt shocked to the core, I immediately forgave her everything.
“Let’s go shopping” said Katie. We left my mother in bed and went downtown. Katie wanted a swimsuit, so we went into a department store and found the right floor for swimwear. I watched, half embarrassed, half amused, as Katie walked around semi-naked trying on various costumes. Though in her sixties, she still had a very good figure.
We drove back home, relaxed and happy after our shopping expedition. We started to sing a song. It was True Love from the film with Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. The words were so apt. I remember the feeling of pure happiness which flooded over me as we sang. A memory of pure joy, love, friendship.
Time went on. My mother was still very alert, she was still shopping and cooking the meals, but she started to become very suspicious. She complained about our cleaning lady and accused her of stealing. I knew this was not true, but my mother then turned against this very kind, honest woman and I was obliged, sadly, to dismiss her.
One Friday I went into work as usual. When I came home I found my mother still in bed. Was she not well?
“Where have you been?” she asked, crossly. “Why didn’t you tell me where you were going?”
“But Mummy, I’ve been to work, of course.’
“But it’s Saturday today.”
The penny dropped. “No, Mummy, it’s Friday.”
I felt very upset that she thought I would go off and leave her alone all day.
I shall move swiftly on over the next few years.
We had to move again and I found another nice apartment, on the ground floor with a large garden, still very central. Brussels was wonderful in that way.
We did a lot of travelling: we visited Switzerland, France and Spain; we visited Italy, Rome and Florence. My mother was never happier than when she was travelling, she still disliked Brussels. On one of our trips we stayed in a beautiful ‘pensione’ in Fiesole, not far from Florence. The building was an old Medici villa and the ‘pensione’ was run by nuns, called the Blue Sisters. They were a nursing order and looked after a number of elderly residents, as well as paying guests. Set on a hillside, the situation was beautiful, with a view onto Florence in the distance and the golden roof of the Duomo.
It was 1976 and early in the year my mother said she felt she would like to spend part of the winter in Fiesole, and get away from Brussels for a while. I was quite happy for her to do this, and arranged for her to stay at the Villa San Girolamo during February and the month of March. We flew to Florence and took a taxi up to Fiesole. I stayed the night and the following day took the bus down to Florence. As I waved to my mother from the bus, she seemed sad and lonely. I felt sad myself, to be leaving her like this. I loved my mother, but we did not have an easy relationship. She had come to depend on me so much, and I always felt guilty about relishing my moments of freedom when I was away from her.
I heard from the nuns that my mother had caught ‘flu. I wrote to her cheerful letters about all my activities, mainly to do with the School, and rang from time to time. She was being very well looked after by the nuns but it was a shame she was having to spend all her time in bed.
Finally, around the middle of March, I heard from the nuns that my mother was being moved to a room on the ground floor. They felt she was well enough to return home. I flew down to Florence again and joined my mother at the Villa. I found her up, but looking quite frail. She was now 87 years old. I realized that she had been much more sick than I had been told. The doctor came to examine her and he declared her well enough to travel back to Brussels. I went ahead and made all the arrangements, including the use of a wheelchair.