You alright?

You alright Elizabeth? John asksJohn Brandon, the great governor of the Warrington Hotel, was the first English person to truly confuse me with a question.

“You alright?” he’d ask, his voice rising up lightly. He was from East London, proper Cockney. His “you alright” was was one of the few things I could actually understand him saying.

Except that I didn’t.

“Yessss…,” I’d answer, puzzled, as I arrived to work. “Why?” I always had the impulse to check the mirror to see if a gash in my head was spurting blood. Head wounds don’t always hurt right away.

“Good, good,” he’d toss over he shoulder and serve another customer. Don’t interrupt now– he was adding prices in his head.

Later, Colin and I sussed out the meaning of John’s question. He wasn’t asking me if I was all right, concerned for my health or emotional well-being. He tossing me the Cockney equivalent of our American throwaway: How are you? Only the Brits had refined it, natch. No open-ended, answer here: A simple yes or no will do.

Fine and Lovely

Chris asked me if I am alright. I am not sure what the answer to that is. Yes. I have my faculties. Yes, I’ve been traveling and I’ve seen the world. Yes, my family is well and healthy and I am in good, happy financial standing. As Jann Arden would say:

I’ve got money in my pocket,
I like the color of my hair.
I’ve got a friend who loves me,
Got a house, I’ve got a car.
I’ve got a good mother,
and her voice is what keeps me here.

But in the last three years, I’ve lost two babies. I’ve lost the last chance to ever have my own baby, and now, it seems, to give birth at all. I’ve lost the chance to even give my husband his children. And reassurances throw me like relentless waves against the rocks.

I’ve had my share of philosophy and I know. These items, on The Grocery List of Tragedy, are salt and bagels. 22,000 are dead in Myanmar, what do I know? But still it’s hard to get up out of bed some days. It’s hard to chat on the phone to my sisters and hear the voices of their children ringing in the background.

Cold Comfort
I long for the simpleness of “you alright” a bit.

After the doctor left us alone with our news, I thought it would be just fine to climb on a bit of iceberg somewhere in the warming polar ice cap, to float adrift in the quiet until it melted. It would be just fine, to wait about that long to speak again, to function normally again, to talk to anyone about IT, to answer the dastardly “How are you?” that would inevitably come. Oh how I longed, for a time, for sunlight through the Warrington windows and the Guiness pint glasses to fill one after another and John’s warm arm pressing into mine at the till.

When I younger, I used to batter my friends and my reflection with the anger and the bitterness of my pain. I don’t know what has changed–whether a door has shut, or a window opened– but lately I feel so close, huddled in. When my mouth opens with words, it seems the hurt turns to ash. I’d rather pin it like wet laundry to the line and sing quiet songs.

So , am I alright?

The answer is grey and spliced and hanging on the wind.

Come on Come on… It’s getting late now.
Come on Come on… Take my hand.
Come on Come on… You just have to whisper.
Come on Come on… I will understand.

— Mary Chapin Carpenter

Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home. 

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