I've woken up.
The room is dark, the pale light through the net curtains an indication of the early hour. I know I'm still tired but I know I won't go back to sleep. I'm nervous. This is it.
I choose my clothes for the day carefully. I don't want to appear too formal but not too scruffy either. I've brought enough clothes with me from Dublin to dress a hurling team. Sorting quietly through the bags so as not to wake Aoife asleep on the bed, I finally settle on black, one of those colours that always suited me.
I look at myself in the mirror. Actually I look at the photos around the mirror and how I've changed over the years. There's me at 3, at my communion, at school, on holidays, in church. All stages in my life I've got fond memories of.
Aoife rises and stands at my side, radiant despite just being up and dressed in one of my old school t-shirts. She's done this before, taken this journey, followed the process. She understands. She suggests a warm shower, not because I smell bad but because it will relax me and I need to relax. I'm nervous. This is it.
I groom as I've never groomed before despite having showered and shaved the night before. I study myself in the mirror. What does my appearance say about me? Who does it convey? Am I well represented by the effort I've put in. I note the lines, the scars, the creases in my face. I know I've been aged by illness, by stress, by life. Do I look strange? Bad? What shows?
My parents are up. The kettle is boiling as my dad calls up the stairs saying there's tae ready. I'm too nervous to eat, even to speak much. My mother is fussing with something. Aoife makes herself useful helping, pouring, slicing, collecting. Somehow it's all going on around me while I'm locked in thoughts of the past and the future. It's nearly time to go.
My mother comes over. A small woman, unsteady on her feet through a variety of health problems, I feel she still towers above me, all 5 ft 2 of her. She takes my hand and puts a small crucifix in it. "We've got you that" she says, "It will bring you luck." She grabs my neck to kiss my cheek. She knows my silence betrays the deeper emotion. I'm trying hard not to cry.
Dad gives me a hug. This simple country man from the wilds of south Kilkenny, a normally quiet, simple soul devoted to my mother and to making life as good as he can for his family clasps me close and says in a firm voice "When you were young we knew there was something about you. As you've grown I've seen it more. Blood isn't everything but you get your heart from her. And that's a mighty thing to have."
I catch Aoife's stare at me. She knows how close to cracking I must be. She's the first girl I've ever opened up to. The first girl I've loved. She claps her hand and says "Right so, we'll go." and soon we're in the small Opel Corsa ready to set off for Kilkenny.
I have to meet Elaine at 9. Elaine who I've only ever met twice before but today is as important as Aoife is. We've left in plenty of time but I'm still hoping dad will drive quicker. My mother makes conversation with Aoife while I once again rehearse the lines in my head.
I know what I want to say. I've practised it a million times. I've been rehearsing since I was 17, alone in my room, angry and frustrated after a row with my parents and realising "Hang on Darragh, you do know they're people too, right? And you know as tired as you may be with them that maybe you're not how they thought you'd be either?" That day changed my life.
We pull to the side of the road. The car has broken down. I kid you not. Of all the things to happen. I was going to be late for Elaine and of course I didn't have her mobile number. I laugh, simply because there's not much else I can do. I hope Elaine will wait. I've been waiting. Waiting a long time.
I was in the seminary when I first wrote to Waterford. It was a time of decision for me, a time of moving on, of me at 20 getting my life sorted. It was four years later before I received a call, just as I was boarding a flight from the offices of Quinn, Murphy and O' Brien. "Erm I'm going to Manchester" I said, "I've got a job there for a few weeks. I'll ring you when I'm back". I'd asked my mother to find out what it could be about but she only ever got an answering machine. I hadn't a clue why a solicitor's office would be ringing me. Who else could it be?
When I got back I called. "Ah Darragh" the friendly voice said "It's about your letter to Waterford. We were moving office and we found it behind a filing cabinet where it must have fell. Are you still interested in talking to us?" "Sorry, what letter?" "Oh, it's one dated October 1999". It's now August 2003.
I met Elaine at the Rivercourt in Kilkenny. It was a beautiful day, one in which the view of the castle was postcard perfect. We talked. Was I sure I wanted to know? Yes, I said. I'd thought about it. Had I talked to my parents? Yes, they've been supportive from the start. Are you angry? Angry? No. I don't think I have any negative emotions attached. I think I've dealt with that already. I know what I want to say, and that's simply...
The car starts. I breathe a huge sigh of relief as we trundle along windy roads to Kilkenny. "Ah probably just a dirty spark plug" says my dad as if looks at me in the rear view mirror. I smile, trying not to add to the stress. The closer we get the tenser I can see my parents becoming. It's a big day for them. They're nervous too.
It's five past nine when we pull into the car park. No Elaine. Uh oh I think, has she left? It's a Saturday, she's not supposed to be working. It's just before Christmas and she has small children and shopping to do. Maybe she's sick, maybe she won't do it, maybe she's - Aoife tells me to shut it, to relax. Maybe she's just late. And she is.
Her car pulls into the car park and she gets out and gives me a big hug. She has a brief chat with my parents, reassuring them, saying she'd be in touch and then with me in the passenger seat, Aoife in the back, we're off.
The questions start. What do you expect, Darragh? What are your thoughts? What do you hope will happen? All questions I've been thinking about, none I have answers to. So she tries simpler ones. Tell me about growing up. Tell me about your family. Tell me about finding out. Aoife rolls her eyes in the back, giggling as she knows the one thing I'll never be short of words about is myself.
It's destination Tullamore I'm told. That's where the meeting is. As we pull into the drive of the Tullamore Court hotel I can see it's a complete glass facade. I can see almost everyone in the lobby. People in business suits, in casual wear, tweed, plaid and wax jackets aplenty. I glance at my clothes. Would I fit in? Would I look alright? Do I look too conspicuous? Would I be mistaken for a waiter? Or a priest?
Elaine had stepped outside to make a call. I can't get through she says, I'll go in and see. She leaves Aoife and me in the car, but nosiness gets the best of us and we get out. Aoife grabs my hand and watches me scan the people inside. Is it her? Is it her? Who is Elaine talking to now? Is that her? I'm nervous. This is it.
Elaine comes out. "She's not there" she says. "Go in and have a cuppa while I find out where she is". I'll always remember how much my hand shook as I tried to lift a spoon of sugar to my cup. I was in a heap. Ah, sweet caffeine, how you'll help soothe the nerves.
Elaine returns. "She's not coming here. She couldn't get a lift. She's at home in Kinnity. It's a good 40 miles away".
I laugh out loud. I can't help it. It's been such a build up of letters, phone calls, meetings and then this morning. The crucifix I'm clutching is branding my palm. "It's out of my jurisdiction, Darragh, so I can't drive you... officially. I'm not covered. However if you want to go, we will..." There's no question at this stage. I almost sprint to the car.
Closer to Kinnitty, Elaine senses I've passed nervousness and am now out the other side. Terry Pratchett describes something similar in his Discworld books - being "knurd" - so sober you need a drink to make you normal. I feel exactly like that. I could do with a pint.
Kinnitty at 1 pm is almost a ghost town. Situated on crossroads in deep Offaly, I spot the obligatory small town standards of post office, church, shop, garda station and pub. And that seems to be it. Aoife gets out of the car. "Good luck" she says, "you'll be grand. It'll all be fine". I'm so nervous now I almost don't believe her. I don't know what to believe any more. I'm just waiting for the next thing to go wrong.
We drive up a narrow winding mountain road. Elaine's questions have dried up, limited now to seeing if I'm okay. We pass tiny cottages, farmers yards, laneways left and right. Ah, so this is where she's from. My mind is screaming "What have you got yourself into this time?"
"We should have been there now" she says, "I'm going to call her". She dials on speakerphone. I want to get out of the car but too late "Hello, hello" the voice comes, in a deep counthry accent strangely suited to the surroundings. Ah, so that's what she sounds like.
"Hello Mary Ann, it's Elaine again." "Oh hello Elaine. Where are you?" "Well we're on the road, we've just passed a big lumber yard on the left..."
"Oh you've gone the wrong way! You'd now have to turn yourself around and come back the road. Take a left at a big blue barn, continue up over a bridge and I'm just at a graveyard." I'm bemused to say the least. I had no expectations but wasn't expecting that.
We turn the car and hurtle along, sharing a laugh at all that had happened. She rings again. We describe where we are now. "Oh you were right the first time. Turn around and come back".
Ah now, c'mon. Seriously? I begin checking the car for hidden cameras, convinced this is a sequel to The Truman Show, awaiting Mike Murphy to appear telling me he's from RTÉ. I pinch myself to make sure I'm awake. Nothing would have surprised me.
We drive on and I'm lost in thoughts again when suddenly Elaine pulls over. What's up now? I think. She gets out of the car.
The back door opens.
Suddenly sitting in the back seat is my mother. My biological mother. And this is how we've met for the 'first' time.
"Hello", I say
"Hello", she says.
She smiles at me. My mother smiles at me.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
I've woken up.