Isolated Written by Boudicca Pepper Story by
Lori Asha Performed by
After losing her Mum to cancer during lockdown Lori Asha seeks out distractions – but whilst avoiding one pandemic, she becomes casualty to another. Will she recognise the symptoms in time? ISOLATED finds light in the darkness and offers a vision of hope for a brighter future.
Sirens blare In Brighton’s city centre, wailing is usually drowned out by seagulls overhead but this one grows louder until the sound is penetrating my skull. As the ambulance pulls over, I consider whether I should do a runner. Paramedics asking invasive questions, while I struggle to comprehend the answers.
“Are your parents home? Or a boyfriend perhaps?”
Just last year, mum would have been cuddling my sister on the sofa with the cat in the middle. They’d be bingeing some coming of age film on Netflix, laughing at how much the rebellious main character reminds them of me.
If it weren’t for lockdown, I’d still be in Bristol. My ex-boyfriend, chasing me and my best friend, Yulia, down the road while we stumble over cobbtlestone and struggle to roll our fags. We’d let him think he was escorting us to safety, even though the real party always started when we got home.
My ex moved in with me during the first lockdown, because we couldn’t stand to be apart. It wasn’t long before we couldn’t stand to be in the same room. After his dad committed suicide, Ed began threatening to do the same. Despite all the darkness in the world, I still tried to convince him there’s still so much to live for. Once, an argument got so heated, he threw his phone at my face. Chipped off a chunk of my tooth like it was cheap nail varnish. I’m no angel, but I couldn’t forgive him after that. Each time I looked in the mirror, all I could see were the parts of me that needed fixing. How could I sing in front of people now? How could i smile?
As soon as lockdown ended, I moved back to Brighton to be with my mum and Jessie-Jae. My mum’s health was spiralling out of control, doctors told us she had psychosis from taking too many drugs. She warned us they were wrong and we wanted to believe her word over that of NHS staff, but addicts are better known to lie. I’d spent all of my lockdown wishing I could see my mum, but as soon as I got home she was put in a Covid ward, making it all the more impossible to visit. She sent me this message, “they don’t think I’m really ill Lori they won’t take me seriously.” If they didn’t believe her, the least they could do was send her home to be with us.
She’d been trying to get a cancer test for nearly a year, when they finally checked her blood. The nurse told me and my sister “your mum isn’t leaving this hospital.” My Mum was 44- years-old and we had 3 days to come to terms with her diagnosis and say goodbye. In that time we sang to her and repeatedly told her how much we love her. The final song we sang together was “Here comes the sun” by the beatles. When she took her last breath, I felt nothing other than relief that she was no longer in pain. Her hand was still in mine and I was determined never to let it go.
*************** Lori humming her song ***********
Funeral arrangements were made in haste, it was family only what with the pandemic spiralling out of control. Loads of people that couldn’t be there donated some money so we could give mum a proper send off. She was so so loved, by so many and It wasn’t always easy but I’m so lucky to be her daughter.
Christmas Eve. Instead of wrapping presents and singing Sean Paul with mum I was stuck on the phone registering her death. Weeks went by before we were top of the waiting list, too many people have been taken from us too soon this year. Grief kept chasing me like a pack of wolves, all the stages cornering me into a position where the only means of escape was to get out of my head.
Instead, I’m floating. For a while, it is as though nothing matters. Not the chipped tooth, not the pandemic and not the responsibility to look after my little sister. The only thing I care about is getting my hands on some more. More distractions. More pain relief. More happiness. Let my future self deal with the consequences.
*************** Muffled Drum and Bass ********************
Floor becomes the ceiling, the ceiling becomes walls and all four walls melt around me.
My stomach burns, I began spewing blood and coughing so hard it felt as though my lungs were collapsing. I was convinced I too had cancer and was going to die just as my mum had, I called myself an ambulance. In that moment, death didn’t scare me anymore. I considered what my life might be like if I happened to survive and I wasn’t sure which was a better alternative. Then I remembered what mum said to me.
“No matter what happens, I will always be with you Lori-Asha. Always. Just like I feel when you’re not good and knew you were pregnant. Please focus on your music baba and not just party.”
She was with me then, when the paramedic asked if my parents were home. In truth, neither of them were ever around much. However, my mum was right there with me when they took me to A&E. She watched as they put me on a drip and kept me in for 2 nights, while I reflected on the past year. She heard them say I have gastritis, anemia and a UTI from overdoing it. The nurse told me I had better start taking care of myself.
Unlike mum, I got to leave this hospital. I get another chance to live the life I want. Jessie-Jae and I are already orphaned. We need each other now more than ever before. From now on, I’m going to be the big sister she needs me to be. It may be impossible to change the past, but i know only I can control what I accomplish in the future.
Fear is never a reason to give up. Being scared is unavoidable, being brave is a choice. I’m still a singer, even without the live shows. Being an artist isn’t about the audience or the applause. Singing at mum’s bedside and her funeral is the most honest, heartfelt and beautiful performance of love I’ve ever shared with someone. I don’t need to look a certain way or sell out a stadium to know my voice can heal invisible wounds.
I’m going to go back into education to get a degree in medicine. Doctors and nurses are working overtime on the frontline to protect us all. If scientists can find a Covid-19 vaccine in a year, then surely the cure for cancer is still out there. There’s still so much healing to be done and I feel obliged to try. I’m not the victim in this story, I am the survivor. And that’s all happened in the past 365 days and I’ve never felt so lucky to be alive.
Lori Sings “What is this?”