Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Adelle Stripe

Adelle Stripe | 2nd December 2016

..In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back on the past twelve months and share their moments:

Last year was a year I wanted to forget. After my mother died, and the dust had settled on a particularly traumatic summer, my aunt gave me a box of jewellery and make-up that belonged to my mother containing her silver charm bracelet, diamante costume clip-ons, rings, necklaces and cosmetics. She always wore the most expensive types. Her key to looking young was plenty of sleep, no smoking and investment in the best eye shadow money could buy.

It is now 2016, and each day since then I have worn my mother’s make-up. A trace of her on my face. The old powdery mascara has just run out. I cried when I threw it away. I have spent the year clinging to each lost conversation with her, wearing splashes of colour around my eyes that don’t suit me. Cobalt, peppermint and rust. Her eyes on mine. Letting me see through the grief of it all.

Her voice was the first voice. Her protection all I had ever known. On my 40th birthday this year I woke up thinking about her. Waiting for the phone to ring. For her to sing Happy Birthday to me in the style of a drunk cabaret singer. But the call never came. Instead of sitting around feeling sorry about it all, I listened to her talking – my now imaginary mother, who only exists as a memory. She said put your make-up on, wrap up tight and go for a walk. Blot your mascara and get some fresh air.

This year has been full of walks, too much writing and running away from sadness. It is still there, just beneath the surface. Our last weeks together burned into me. And the sound of her lungs that tweeted a hundred singing birds beneath her ribcage as they finally gave up the ghost. Each breath I take is a grateful one. Knowing that I can take long strides onto the brow of Scout Rock and watch the sunset over Stoodley Pike. Walking like she never could. Appreciating the slow autumn and the berry-laden branches, the colours she would have loved.


This summer, to mark a year since her death, I took off my clothes and walked into Gaddings Dam. The water was still and lukewarm. I swam breaststroke and took deep breaths through the cold current under the surface. She taught me to swim, to talk, to read, to think, to care, to experience life. She was a champion swimmer in her youth who swam in the North Sea every morning. I closed my eyes, smudged by the remnants of her eye shadow, and stretched my arms into the deep, imagining that she was there alongside me, holding my belly from beneath.

Adelle Stripe on Caught by the River / on Twitter