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Laura Evans

A Self-Portrait

Laura Evans sketch

I can tell you the exact time and place when and where my life changed. It was in an interview room in a police station, at about 1.50pm, on Tuesday 20th January 2004. It happened the second my Mother hugged me and told me my Father was dead.

‘Are you alright, Mom?’
‘I am; your Dad’s not though…your Dad’s dead…’

The second I heard these words, and took in their meaning – as much as I was able considering the substantial shock that accompanied them – my world fell apart. At that precise moment I was thrust into a new existence, one in which I did not want to dwell. It is the point at which this portrait begins, for since that day, I am altered.

On Tuesday 20th January 2004, a person knowingly drove recklessly across a zebra crossing, killed my Father, and then fled the scene of his crime, leaving my Father’s skull, and my family, shattered. The person has never been found, or convicted, or punished for their crime, and probably never will. That is difficult knowledge to stomach, and it is wearying to carry around hate – it is not who I want to be.

To understand me now you must know this fact. I do not want to be defined by it, but it has impacted on my life and will continue to throw a shadow across my future. A portrait has the ability both to transcend time, and be wholly bound to a particular event. This portrait cannot be anything but a product of that moment.

*

I have been living in a strange new skin for just over a year, grappling with the consequences of that day. My whole being is damaged; I feel differently about the world and my place within it; and it is a huge effort to carry on having lost not only my beloved Father, but also my sense of self.

It is hard to explain quite what I mean – and certainly friends to whom I’ve tried to express this have assured me that I am not different – but I do not always feel like myself anymore. I live through feelings and emotions which were never part of who I am. Now, unfortunately, they are, and it has been a painful struggle to accept that this is so. It is something more than denial – it is a refusal – I do not want to be what another person’s wanton mistake has forced me to be.

Perhaps I would not mind except that what has changed within me is so hard to bear. My happiness has disappeared – I used to have an endless supply; now I take it as and when it arises, knowing it is but a fleeting, momentary emotional state. I understand and have experienced the urge to end one’s own life – and it is only love for my remaining family members that has stopped me; only to them do I owe my presence on earth. I have felt desperate sadness; carried an invisible burden which still lingers, and will not go – some would term this the wisdom of sorrow. I have been agoraphobic, nervous, terrified of cars and their ability to kill; I think of my Father’s death every time someone slams on their brakes. I am often tired, weak, having to use all my strength just to ‘be’. I have struggled to accept newfound horror and loss, incessantly questioned an unnecessary and pointless death. Worst of all, perhaps, I do not have enough love or strength to give to others. I have become less compassionate because, being so broken inside, I must deal with my own pain first.

This is who I have been forced to become – before my Father’s death, none of these descriptions could possibly have referred to me.

At first I wanted so badly to believe that the new version of myself was temporary, that the melancholy would subside, that I would soon be able to relax and joke as had once been easy for me. At the same time, I grew comfortable in the role of the grieving girl, for at least that made the horror real. My Father was dead, he was not coming back, and it seemed to make sense that the severity of pain I suffered was in direct relation to the magnitude of love I felt for him.

Amidst all this, I was confused – who had I become? And how could this new Laura live the life the old Laura had developed and cultivated? How could she possibly have the same friends, be expected to carry out the same duties, if she was not the same?

It has become more and more apparent, as time has passed, that I have not just lost a Father, and that the full effects of this horror are still yet to show themselves. My family as it was, the people we were, this is gone forever. All that we stood for and exemplified – we cannot be this, to ourselves or to others, anymore. The expectation is too high. We have done our heroic year, in just carrying on. Now we must falter and break under the pressure, and re-emerge as our new selves, whoever they may be.

It has taken me many months to realise that the two versions of myself – before and after the trauma – do not need to be separate beings, but are simply different aspects of who I must become. I must let both exist side by side, and allow each to take hold of me, as and when they emerge from within. This will mean some adjustments. My smile may not be so readily available; my warmth sometimes slightly cool. Some days tears may pour down my cheeks; other days my notorious cackle may echo around the room.

This portrait is significant because it represents that I am willing to recognise these conflicting elements as ‘part of me’ as opposed to evil invaders of my (once) happy soul. I must allow the sadness to co-exist with the happiness, rather than fight against its presence.

*

Before my Father’s death (and this is something of which I was not aware until I was forced to change) I always wanted to make people happy, to acquiesce, if at all possible. When I met someone, especially romantically, I was often so eager and enthused by what I found that I allowed myself to be accommodating, malleable – in the sense that I would ‘fit’ into their life, out of a desire to want to be a working, functioning part of it. I had the strength to give like this, and it tended to pay off.

In the past year, however, I made the mistake of continuing to try and live this way – giving too much, and leaving nothing, or very little, for myself. At work, and at home, as my family and I boldly attempted to revert to some kind of normality, the majority of my energy was spent encouraging others, which left me too emotionally drained to focus in the same way upon my own damaged self.

I continued to try to live the life I had previously owned, without realising I was no longer equipped, or capable, of doing so. Desperately trying to return to my old self, I revelled in happiness (tremulous though it was) and did not prepare for the crashing lows which inevitably followed. Without having stored reserves of energy to deal with this drop into despair, I was left very low, without hope, without the strength to pick myself up when sadness overwhelmed me.

As I am carried along by new and unpredictable feelings, my attitude has simply been this: if I can ride a wave, I will enjoy the high; if I flounder and choke on the waters, I will try to crawl my way back to the surface. My ability to cope with these extreme lows coincides partly with how much strength I have to offer myself.

It is with absolute heartbreak that I recognise I am no longer able to give to others as I once did. I am too tired. I must allow myself time – to grieve, to be alone with these difficult thoughts. Giving openly and without limits, for now, is detrimental to my emotional wellbeing. I have realised that, if I am to give, I need something in return. The sadness I am burdened with has the power to sink me; I need the exchange of giving to keep me afloat.

I am on the cusp of entering into a new relationship – I may have found someone with whom there is a possibility of sharing a hopeful future – and I am conscious that I must have the strength to put myself first. I have realised that it is time for me to be a little less flexible – to be more demanding – to ask someone to ‘fit’ into my scheme, my timetable, rather than bend to make things easy for others.

What I ask from others now is help to buoy me along the waves of despair which frequently threaten to overwhelm the precarious happiness I sometimes have the pleasure of living through. I have never before been the person who demanded such support – I was never before reliant upon others to be happy; in fact, I often took it upon myself to make others laugh, to make them feel good about themselves. Now I must take from all those who offer their support to me. It is, at present, the only way I am able to carry on living.

*

It is very difficult to write this portrait because this is not the whole me! The horror and darkness of my Father’s death are not the length and breadth of my existence, nor do they dominate my thoughts of him. I both laugh and cry when I think of my Father. There is so much to make me smile; only one irrefutable fact to make me sob; and it is quite possible to do both within seconds. Love and sadness are so delicately interwoven when I think of him.

My Father taught me, both in life and after his death, that love has the power to transcend everything else. I cling fast to this belief, for it is love that has helped me to conquer some of the pain I feel – love for my Father, love given to me by others. Love does not die; it finds ways to stay with us, even if in a changed form.

I continue to seek out close, intimate relationships with people because I believe in the power they have to heal and inspire. I am no longer able to be as open and giving as I once was in the way I interact with people, yet I refuse to become closed, and put up barriers which will deny me the chance of feeling what it is to live – whether painful or joyous.

There has been a definite (tiny, but perceptible) shift in my emotional heaviness since January 2004. Sometimes now I feel the lightness of touch I once knew, and in revisiting it, realise I was never before aware of the weightlessness of happiness.

Hope is another quality which I have rediscovered, never before realising how beautiful and vital it is. Before it was just always there inside me; I had never experienced anything to make me question what it is to be hopeful. Having had my own hopefulness destroyed, I started to wonder where, in fact, hope came from. Hope does not just exist. It is given. You get hope from others, from the world around you, from the sights you see, people you meet – and that is also why it is so fragile. There is so much to despair about in this world, and not everyone is willing, or even capable, of giving hope. It is frightening to think that I must rely on others to give me hope, in order to keep on living, because that’s quite a precarious state to live in. However, having said that, I do feel a strange kind of hope regenerating inside myself – an almost strangled hope for better times. I want also to believe that my hope for the future will be rewarded with actuality.

I am content with not knowing what the future will bring. The suddenness, and pointlessness, of my Father’s death, has cemented this view. I will follow my own path, with one aim in mind, to journey towards some kind of happiness. I will try to get as near to a state of happiness as I can. It will never be the innocent, pure joy I knew before I saw horror, but I may find it, in a new form. For now it is all I can do to brush up against its contours, sometimes to feel its elusive presence, but I hope that one day it will be possible for my appreciation of joy to be more sustained and long lasting.

Contentment, companionship, love – there is a possibility that these qualities are going to come into my life in a way that is fresh and uncomplicated. A new part of my life is about to be written, a part not so linked with painful, emotionally complex scars. Whilst it is quite impossible to forget the pain and loss I feel, I look forward to a new era, one where my sadness does not dominate. It is love that will lead me there.

‘My daughter is in love, which is not a bad thing. Love motivates ideas and positivity.’
(My Dad’s diary, November 1st, 1998)

May 2005

This is the second self-portrait Laura has written. Read the first one here: How at 21 'the truths of my childhood are beginning to crumble'(August 2003)