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.