PORTFOLIO OF WORK
I’ll tell you what I remember.
Some of it, anyway and I’m hoping you’ll remember, too.
You’ll remember it differently maybe, but this is what I know.
Yes, I’m OK. I just need to…no, really, I’m OK.
It’s the darkness I remember most of all.
I was always afraid of it, yet I always searched for the shadows, for hiding spaces, craving to be the unseen. I must have spent hours sitting on the stairs, listening for a door to slam. Or, peering through gaps in doorways, waiting for something to break.
For someone to break.
Then, at night, I would pull the sheets right over me to shut out the light. To shut out the anger, the pain. I wanted to cover myself with very darkness I was afraid of.
Then after all the noise, the crashing and screaming and shouting, there would be silence.
Empty. Cold. Brutal.
And astonishingly beautiful.
I remember seeing you once, when you thought I wasn’t looking. Jet black tears streamed down your face from worn out red eyes. You looked like a clown, with all that runny mascara and blue eye shadow.
But you were never funny.
Nothing was ever funny.
We never exchanged words after the rows, did we? Looks, there were plenty of those, but never words. Nothing explained.
On those precious, wonderful days when we were alone! I think we might have actually been happy. Me and you.
You used to smile on those days. I remember thinking that your smile was always fragile, secretive, too scared to come out fully into the world.
But happiness never lasted long, did it? A few moments here and there, that’s all we ever had, to hold on to. Just tiny fragments of your time I used to grab hold of and cling to, wanting them to last forever.
But they were only ever fragments.
I always knew that.
Do you know I felt sorry for you?
Do you know that? Angry too, that you allowed it to happen, time and time again.
You know what? This might surprise you. This might give you some comfort.
I’m not angry anymore!
At least, I don’t think so.
I don’t know. I really don’t know. Maybe I am, sometimes.
Yes, of course, you were sorry.
You were always sorry, weren’t you? Sorry for me, sorry for him. Sorry for yourself.
Are you still sorry?
I remember it all so clearly and I can tell by your expression that you remember it too.
How can you not?
What I remember more than anything was the day you said ‘goodbye’.
You could have said anything.
You could have lied, or said nothing at all, but you said ‘goodbye’.
I remember the word hanging in the air, like a sparrow hawk. Then it swooped down and buried itself deep inside me.
Just a simple word that people say all the time. A word without meaning and full of meaning at the same time. But not a meaning I could understand.
It sounded so strange coming from you, like it was coming from someone else.
I held onto the thought that it wasn’t your voice for a long, long time.
That it wasn’t what you really meant.
It was too final.
You could have said another ‘I’m sorry,’ or ‘I just want to sort out my life.’
Or, you could have said, ‘I love you.’
Yes, you could have said you loved me.
You could have said nothing.
But you said, ‘goodbye’.
Is that how you remember it, too?
You won’t know anything about them of course, but I remember all the places I lived in, after you’d gone. Most of them were OK, actually.
Yes, I thought you’d like to hear that.
Nice families, trying really hard to make life normal for me and I don’t suppose I was easy to deal with most of the time. I’m ashamed of that, now. I’ve traced a couple of the families, just to say ‘thank you’, to show that I do appreciate what they did for me.
I never stayed very long with any of them. Everything was always going to be temporary and I knew that. I understood that. They couldn’t hang on to one child for too long, couldn’t become too attached. So, they kept me moving and it was probably for the best.
Yes, I thought about you a lot.
Of course, I did.
I always wondered what you might be doing, where you were living, whether you had gone back to him, whether you had a new family.
Whether you were still alive.
Oh, I have to tell you this. You’ll love it!
I used to sing in the school choir you know, act in plays, that kind of thing. Yes, me! That shy, nervous little girl that hid in shadows. I had quite a talent for it, they said.
I used to look at every face in the audience, just in case you were there. I knew you were never going to be, of course, so I would pick someone out to be you, someone I thought was watching me. I performed for them and when they clapped at the end, I imagined it was just for me, because they were so proud.
Then, at the end of the play they’d be waiting outside and their kid would go running into their arms. I knew it was never going to be you that was waiting for me.
Please don’t say you wish you could have been there.
Hey, imagine if we were on that telly programme, where they put together long-lost families. We’d hug at this point, wouldn’t we? We’d cry and sit uncomfortably for a few minutes, holding hands across the table and you would say you had made the biggest mistake of your life and I would say I understand and that it doesn’t really matter anymore, only the future matters. Water under the bridge and all that. Then, at the end of the programme, there’d be a caption at the bottom of the screen saying we’d kept in touch and that you were looking forward to meeting your grandchildren.
Yes. You’re a grandmother.
Twice over, in fact.
Do you remember when we went to the seaside for the first time, on our own? It wasn’t very long after he’d left and you told me that everything would be OK. And I believed you. I really did. You looked so happy then. Happier than I’d ever seen you. We ran screaming across the beach and into the sea and I lost my breath as the cold water hit my chest. Do you remember? You stood there laughing, throwing your head back and splashing water all over me. You said, whatever happened I would always be your little girl.
That was the happiest moment of my life.
Of yours too, I thought.
And then, the next day.
No, I’m fine, I really am.
Just give me a moment.
Funny, I never thought of you as growing old. Sometimes, on good days, I pictured you in my mind running on the beach, splashing about in the sea. But most days, when I thought about you, you were standing in that grey, bare-walled room, saying ‘goodbye’.
You wore a blue coat and a thick, red scarf with a feather design. You wore black trousers and those little red boots that matched the scarf. It’s funny that I remember details like those, but I can’t remember the look on your face. I don’t even remember if you were crying.
At first, I thought you’d come back, to take me home, the next day, or the next week. Then a few months went by. I used to ask if they had heard from you, but all I ever received as an answer were smiles and they would walk away from me, as if they were scared to tell me something. After a couple of birthdays and Christmases had gone by, I knew you wouldn’t be coming back.
I don’t know if they ever tried to find you. I never asked them.
You’ve done very well to find me though after forty years. I’ll give you that.
My God, how long I’ve waited for this day! To see you again.
I never, ever thought I would.
You’re greyer than I imagined. Ha!
And, you still wear blue eye shadow!
You think I’ve done well? You can tell? Well, I have and yes, I do look good. I take care of myself. I have a nice home, a successful career, two ex-husbands, two lovely kids. Your grandchildren.
Do I understand?
I’m sorry, are you really asking me if I understand?
Well, I understand it wasn’t easy for you. I was there, remember? I know what he did. Well, the bits I saw. I can imagine the rest. No, you didn’t have it easy, I know that.
But, do I understand why you went?
No. I don’t. I’ve never understood.
You couldn’t cope?
What, after he had left us?
I thought it was what you always wanted.
Was it me? Was I the problem?
Did you cope when I had gone?
No, I’m not blaming myself, not now, not for any of this.
I was the child, remember!
Actually, I did at first. Blame myself. He’d left us, you’d left me and I was the common factor. Then, one day I realised, so were you!
And I stopped being so hard on myself.
It’s only when you have kids of your own that you begin to see these things more clearly, isn’t it? I look at Je…, my two and I know I could never leave them. Yes, I know my life has turned out differently to yours, I’ve made sure of that, but I could never imagine leaving them. I could never image saying ‘goodbye’ to them. Never.
To answer your question, no, I don’t understand. I never will understand.
I do have a question I’ve always wanted to ask you and I want an honest answer. He was my Dad, wasn’t he? My real Dad, I mean. I’ve often wondered. I try not to think of him, but sometimes I catch a scent of someone as they pass by, or I hear a voice and it reminds me of him.
Do you think he ever tried to find me?
You say you haven’t seen him for years. But, did you see him? After me, I mean? Did you go back to him when I had gone?
No, I’d rather not hold hands.
I expected that. People do in these situations, don’t they? At this point the camera would zoom in on your face and linger there, for maximum emotional impact. It would make great TV. I would throw my arms around you and burst into tears too and tell you that I love you.
I don’t, actually.
Cry, I mean. Well, only at stupid films, but never about real life. I used to, a lot. But not these days.
These days, my life is good.
I think I’ve said enough. There’s lots more I could say, lots of questions I could ask you. I mean, I should ask if I have any brothers, or sisters…NO!
Please don’t tell me. That would make this, this moment very difficult.
I always hoped I’d see you again. I never wanted to find you, but I always wanted you to find me and now you have.
I’m so glad you have.
I’ve waited for this moment for so long. Just me and you, after all these years.
And, you know, whenever I have imagined this meeting, this one, precious moment, there is only one word I ever really wanted to say to you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me this opportunity to say it.