Not if I see you first – Part two. Midday train to Portsmouth

If you have not read part one this won’t make much sense!

To me injustice hurts more than anything else. Not getting the chance to explain and rectify a misunderstanding. Others thinking things of you which are just not true, and no chance of redress. This to me has always been the hardest thing to accept. That overwhelming feeling of unfinished business that haunts you. The ‘what if’s’ and the scenario played out in your mind a thousand times.

I was at that station at the correct time on the correct day but have never had the opportunity to prove it.

After the disastrous first meeting with my natural Mum at Gatwick Airport and the disappointment that she wouldn’t be staying with me, I was thrilled when her friend phoned to say Mum wanted to come and stay.

I had only passed my driving test recently and I couldn’t contemplate the long drive to pick her up.  Also with two small children and a husband at work – who no way would ever stop for a day to help me – the only other option was for her friend to put her on a train. There wasn’t a direct route to my nearest station so we agreed the best thing would be for her to stay on the train from start to finish, getting off at the end of the line.  What an earth could go wrong?

I had frantically prepared my home.  The kids were put into one bedroom to share so I could get a room ready for Mum.  The shopping was done.  The meals planned.  The excitement at level 10.

On the day I left my youngest child worth my Mother-in-law and took my three year old daughter with me to the station.  It was about a thirty minute drive from my home and I left very early and gave myself plenty of time.

In the early 1980’s you could buy a platform ticket for meeting and seeing off people.  I bought my ticket and stood on the platform holding on tightly to my daughter’s hand.  As it approached midday I could hardly contain my excitement.  This was a momentous occasion for me.  This was something I had been waiting for a very long time – the opportunity to get to know my Mum.  The train arrived and people started to get off the train.  It wasn’t too busy and I would be able to see her clearly without a problem.  Everyone left the train – she wasn’t there!

A panic shot through me.  My mind was racing.  This couldn’t be happening.  Then it struck me – there were two stations in Portsmouth.  Fratton Park (Portsmouth) and Portsmouth Hard (as it was called back then).  Oh my god, could she of got off at the other station? I spoke to the guard and he informed me that another train was due in soon and maybe she would be on that one.  I waited.  She wasn’t on the next train either.

In a blind panic I started explaining to one of the station staff that my Mum had been very ill and I was now seriously worried about her.  I begged him to contact Fratton Park station and ask if they could see her waiting there.  He almost laughed in my face.  He must have thought it wasn’t a big deal and found it all amusing.  I went on to explain that she had been in an accident and had a brain injury and had been in a coma and maybe was at another station in a confused state. He did ask the other station to look out for her but they told him there was no sign of anybody hanging around.

Early 1980’s so no mobile phones back then just telephone boxes.  I phoned my ex-husband, which of course was a complete waste of time.  By now I was in floods of tears and asked him to drive to the other station and have a look for me.  He actually worked in Portsmouth but still would not help me.  He suggested that she probably got a taxi and went to the house.

I drove back to my home with every minute of that thirty minute drive seeming like a week.  I was just totally numb.  When I finally reached my house a neighbour immediately ran out of her house.  She told me that a woman had been knocking at my door and seemed very distressed and then got back in the taxi and left.

This couldn’t be happening.  Where was she now?  Where would she go? I couldn’t search, where would I start?  She had gone and could be anywhere by now.  I phoned her friend in Bristol to explain what had happened but what could she do?  We were both helpless. This was one of the worst days of my life and I didn’t think it could get much worse – but it did.

A couple of hours later I received a phone call.  A woman was screaming down the phone at me.  ‘How could you be so cruel, why didn’t you go to the station’. She went on and on and I couldn’t get a word in.  By now I lost it completely and was crying hysterically.  I pleaded with this woman to listen and believe me.  I explained I was there.  I explained there were two stations and she must have got off at Fratton Park which was in Portsmouth also.  No amount of explaining stopped her screaming at me.  It turned out this woman was Mum’s Sister, my Aunt.  Mum had gone all the way to Croydon to her Sister’s house in that taxi.

I can’t even explain how much this all hurt.  The pain was unbearable.  The confusion and the racing mind.  I felt so responsible but I didn’t do anything wrong.  I was there.  I was at that damned station.  I waited.  I desperately wanted to take my Mum back to my home to stay.  I desperately needed this opportunity to get to know her.  To spend time with her.  To ask a million and one questions to fill the gaps and the massive longing feeling I’d carried around with me my whole life.

I plunged into a terrible depression.  I could barely function.  I made an appointment to see my Doctor who immediately prescribed anti-depressants.  I picked up the prescription and drove home.  The next day I tipped the pills down the toilet and snapped out of it – somehow – I don’t know how, but I had two small children to look after.  They didn’t deserve to have a Mum in a state of depression.  They didn’t deserve to have to suffer just because my selfish Mother had abandoned me as a baby.  That was the past.  My children were the future.

A few years later I did see her again.  She was now divorced and had left Dubai and was living in Canterbury.  A strange choice as she was not from that area and all her family were in Croydon.  We drove down to see her.  It was stilted and awkward.  It got to lunch time but she didn’t have any food to offer us and my children needed lunch.  It was completely lost on her that we had driven hundreds of miles to visit and might need to eat something. We went out to buy some food and took it back to her flat.  It was all so cold and unwelcoming.  This was more to do with her accident and the brain damage and coma than anything else, but it still made everything so difficult.

What can you say to someone so damaged?  You can’t ask the things you wanted to, that would probably be upsetting or contentious.  The whole thing was useless and left me feeling empty.  I was searching for something to make me feel better.  Something to make me feel complete.  To understand.  Maybe even someone to show an ounce of affection but that wasn’t coming either.

I felt dejected.  I felt like I’d been left all over again.  I felt cheated.  The 80’s were full of TV programs showing these wonderful reunions with adopted children and their natural parents.  It was everything you expected it to be.  Hugging and crying and a wondrous moment, not a meeting at an airport where you were barely looked at or acknowledged.

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