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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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Not if I see you first – part one

I met my real Mum for the first time at Gatwick Airport.

I was in my early twenties and had already traced my Dad.   I think that is what  made me change my mind about wanting to meet my Mum. I’d always thought I didn’t want to meet her, but I had never felt that way about finding my Dad.  I thought about her in a less forgiving way, probably, unfairly, because she was the woman and men never seem to be held accountable for abandoning their children.

It wasn’t that difficult to trace her.  My adopted Mum had given me various papers and among them was the statement she had made to social services about why she was giving me up.  It mentioned that she had been born in Calcutta, India and had several brothers and sisters.

Her parents must have come to the UK at some time in the 1950’s.  Most importantly, this statement also had her maiden name on it.  Tracking down one of her siblings was too easy.  Their surname was very unusual as my grandfather was Dutch, so to find anyone listed in the area I was from was unbelievably simple.

It must of been one of my Uncle’s that I spoke to.  It was weird to say the least.  He knew who I was but there wasn’t really any emotion, it was all quite matter of fact.  It turned out my Mum didn’t live in the UK anymore.  She was living with her husband and two children in the UAE.  Dubai to be precise.  So, I had a brother and sister – well a half-brother and sister anyway.  As for the UAE, it might as well have been the moon.  I had never heard of the place.  Remember this was the early 80’s, I had never met anyone or heard of anyone moving to the Middle East back then.

I sent her a letter, but before I received one back from her, I received a letter from her husband – I’m not sure what he would be to me?  A step father?  Adoption makes you legally nothing to do with your birth parents so I don’t really know what he is to me – there was  nothing that could have prepared me for what I was about to read.  He said that Mum had never forgotten about me and mentioned me often, but if only I’d found her a year earlier.  He went on to explain that she had been in a car accident.  He even enclosed a clipping from the local paper.  Maybe he thought I wouldn’t believe him.  He said she has been seriously injured and had been in a coma for six weeks, and had to learn to walk and talk again, and she just wasn’t the same as before.

‘Same as before’ didn’t really register with me as I hadn’t known her ‘before’.  I also, in my early twenties, had little knowledge of what being in a coma does to someone.  My understanding of being in a coma was from Hollywood films.  The person wakes up and everything is fine.  Now I know it is not fine at all.  I wish I had the understanding and knowledge that I have now about the devastating effects of being in a coma when I had received that letter.  He said that she did want to see me, he just felt he should write to explain what had happened first.

The first few letters that went back and forward between London and Dubai were mainly made up of small talk.  She didn’t ask the sort of things I’d been expecting.  There were no questions about my adoption or childhood.  I suppose those were contentious subjects.  What was in the letters though was an invite to Dubai to come and stay with her, to meet my brother and sister and her husband David.

This was one of the most exciting things ever to have happened to me but my ex wasn’t that thrilled.  A very unemotional man and he just couldn’t even acknowledge what a momentous event this would be.  Maybe pissed because he wasn’t invited also.  He was a workaholic and not in a good way.  He saw looking after our two very young children – if I went away – as a hindrance and something that just got in the way of his work and football matches.  For that reason alone he wasn’t pleased for me at all.

My Mum said they would send me a ticket to fly out to stay with them.  As it got closer and closer to my travel date I began to get more worried as the ticket hadn’t arrived.  There wasn’t email back then.  There were telephones of course – land lines – but we strangely hadn’t got to the stage of talking on the phone yet.  With days to go and still no ticket, a telegram arrived.  It said there was a change of plan and she was coming to the UK instead.

I don’t know why or what caused this ‘change of plan’ and at first I felt a massively disappointed.  I thought about the suitcase I’d just bought.  I’d never even had a suitcase before.  I’d never been anywhere!  Strange how the mind works at times like this.

Eventually the disappointment turned into excitement and started to make plans for her arrival.  I put the kids into one room so I could prepare a bedroom for my Mum, but then a letter arrived from her and she said she wouldn’t be staying with me and was going to be staying with a friend in Bristol!  What!  Now I was upset, this was all changing from exciting times to disappointments one after another.

She gave her friend in Bristol my telephone number and her friend called me.  She explained that she had worked in Dubai with my Mum.  I understood her wanting to stay with this friend.  After all I was a stranger and she was still recovering from the terrible accident and coma. Her friend told me that she was meeting Mum at Gatwick Airport and did I want to come also.  Yes, Of course I did.

It must have been a week or so until her arrival day and I can’t even put into words the emotion and thoughts that go through your head.  That day couldn’t come fast enough.  I arrived at the airport and met up with her friend and then we both stood at the arrival gate.  It wasn’t a complete shock seeing her walk through the gate as when I first received that letter from David he had also enclosed a photo of her and my brother and sister.  Because of the photo I recognised her straight away, but she looked so much older and considering the photo had been taken shortly before the accident I can only assume the trauma must of aged her rapidly.   She rushed over to her friend and they hugged each other.  It seemed like forever that they were engrossed in conversation until she eventually turned and looked towards me.  ‘You must be Zoe’ is all she said.  No hug, nothing else, just that.  No emotion, no tears, no running across the concourse and rushing into each others arms like you see in films and those tv programmes where people get reunited with long lost relatives. Whatever I had been expecting it wasn’t anything like this.

For some unknown reason I mentioned about her being born in India.  To be honest, what do you say to a complete stranger.  I knew nothing about the woman apart from those adoption statements.  Her reaction was staggering.  She looked absolutely mortified and said ‘no I was not born in India I am from Trinidad and Tobago’.  I knew this wasn’t true but quickly shut up.  Years later I realised exactly why she lied and especially because her friend from Dubai was standing there – but another day for that story.

The three of us went to a coffee shop inside the arrivals hall where the animated conversation between her and her friend continued.  I was barely acknowledged.  Then off they went.  I got back into my car and just cried.  A lifetime of building up this meeting in my mind and I felt betrayed.  I felt abandoned all over again.  I’ve had things like this happen to me a lot in my life.  Things that bring you to your knees and you think it’s the end of the world and you will  never be able to recover – but you do – you pick yourself up and keep going.

A few days later I received a phone call from her friend.  Mum wanted to come and stay with me.  The excitement started to build once again.  Now, I thought, everything will be OK.  But, no, it was not.  Life isn’t supposed to be that easy.

Part Two another day.