March 2018

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A Sunrise

The day I am going to write about happened a while ago now. On a Friday in early March all of Pip’s family, friends and fans gathered to celebrate her life. Unfortunately for a few frustrating factors relating to my far-flung location, I couldn’t be there in person and that felt really tough.

I hadn’t known what to do with the day, other than that I wouldn’t be able to be at work pretending I was ok, which the rest of the time I have got pretty adept at. The only idea I had of honouring Pip properly was to ensure that I saw the sunrise, and sunset, that day. Given that daytime savings hadn’t yet kicked in, the sky was pitch black when my alarm went off at 5.15am and I creaked out of bed and onto the deserted streets. I was heading towards an overlook that I often hike to, but quickly realised I had never done it at such an unearthly hour and as I scrabbled up towards the highest point… I began to think perhaps it was a risky thing to do. I kept my headphones on the whole way, slowly waking up with each track change.

About a month before we lost her, Pip had sent me a letter. It has sat on my bedside table ever since and I can’t imagine a morning where I don’t read it. The thing that gnaws away at me is the time it took me to write my reply. As so often during her illness, I found myself paralysed because I didn’t want to face up to what was happening or acknowledge that time was limited. When I finally finished it, and sent it, it was too late. The card I sent with it was this totally goofy illustration of a rabbit wearing heart-shaped sunglasses, stood in front of the Hollywood sign on a surfboard. Rabbit’s aren’t really an animal I have any sort of connection with, and as Pip was basically half-feline, she didn’t either. I’ve berated myself time after time for sending such a naff card and knowing that whoever opened it eventually, if it even did get opened, would not be Pip.

As I got to end of the path and I rounded the final bend, I honestly laughed out loud to see a rabbit right in front of me. I’ve been to this overlook over 50 times in the past 18 months and never, ever seen a rabbit there. In fact, I’ve barely seen any rabbits in LA or California, full stop. It just felt so reassuring and instantly eased my guilt at that bloody stupid rabbit card.

As I sat on ‘my’ bench (so-called just because I never find anyone else sitting on it, although I am sure the day will come soon where I realise I am one of many people who have claimed it for themselves) I finally turned off my playlist and couldn’t believe the rush of deafening bird song, the urgent pre-dawn animal calls and the steady roar of the distant freeway traffic. Then the sun started to crack through the darkness.

Of course it was the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. It honestly wouldn’t have mattered if it was grey, raining and muted – which wouldn’t have been such a stretch given the actual ‘winter’ we’ve had this year. But it felt fitting that everything for that moment in time was technicolor. The layers of mountains were illuminated in different tones of pink across the horizon. The sky was golden and ombre, with tiny tufts of cloud catching the rays.

The rabbit moved closer.

Unlike most mornings there, I didn’t need to clock watch and hurry home. Slowly but surely strands of light started beaming over the skyscrapers of Downtown. The sun started to pick out the rows of palm trees in the distance. The city turned from pink to orange to bright white.

The rabbit moved closer.

As the sun reached dizzying heights, I felt warmer. And I felt the denial and resistance at the truth I had been carrying heavily on my shoulders, begin to thaw away.

I felt so strongly that Pip was with me that day, and continues to be with me. Every day a specific thought or long-lost memory floods back, painting in some colour to the grey gloom around the situation. I recently walked into a car park and disturbed a huge flock of pigeons who were feasting on some stale bread. My steps sent them exploding into the air around me, and like when I saw the rabbit I almost laughed out loud. I had completely forgotten Pip’s fear of birds. When we worked together in London, she would have me walk a metre ahead on our coffee-runs – flapping and scaring any pigeons out of the way so that she could have safe passage. For someone as steely and courageous as she was, I always felt reassured by this small vulnerability but hadn’t thought of it for so long and I am sure everyone else in the car park was wondering why the pigeons made me laugh, then cry in quick succession. Although it’s probably not the weirdest thing they’ve seen in LA.

This week I had to go through a visa-renewal document online that was auto-populated from my last application. As I scrolled through the sections, the electric shock on my fingers as I tabbed to the “Supervisor” listing and saw Pip’s name. And the pain as I had to change it to someone else. And the times like that which make me buckle with grief.

What happens when you’re Bip, and then you’re just Bee. How do I hold onto the super-specific best version of me that she bought out. Pip was always someone who saw a side of me that no one else did. She saw bravery where a lot of people see softness. She held me to a standard that I wouldn’t have thought possible myself, and she had such a huge impact on the person I’ve become – not least because without her I wouldn’t be living in Los Angeles. I will do everything I can to keep to the track she started me on.

And maybe I’ll go and watch another sunrise tomorrow.