Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The first time

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.

It closes.

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.


  1. Darragh Doyle you brought a little tear to my eye. Me. Of all people. This is my favourite of all of your many posts.

    For the first 13 paragraphs (that sounds a lot but they are short)I was literally on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what the hell I had missed.

    Now I am off to read the whole thing again.

  2. Doyle! That's brilliant. That's so wonderfully written. I'm shocked (please don't take that as an insult - it's not meant as one).

    Really, I'm moved by your post. Cleverly put together with a beautiful 'punchline'. I likes it a lot!

  3. Lovely post Darragh. I warm to the way you relax about things you can't change.

    I got your tweet earlier. I hope you feel better now.


  4. Darragh

    There aren't enough adjectives to describe this fantastic post!

    I was with you the whole way on that journey and as Lottie says, on the edge of my seat.

    You paint an amazing picture with words.

    Thanks for sharing your story :-)

  5. amazing, what can I say, just amazing
    a tuc in my heart
    well done bud

  6. I love reading your posts like this one Darragh - incredibly and shockingly honest.

    A wonderfully written and brave blog post. Kudos as always (this time we're talking about the same post)

  7. It's Magic!

    Very well told in your own inimitable way.


  8. Hi. I will add another hug to your previous hugs owed for next time I see you. If you didn't live so far away you would have got all these hugs by now!! You made me cry reading that. Such a fabulously written post. Such a brave person, you really are an inspiration. I hope by sharing your stories that you can see how you are helping both yourself and us that read it, i'm honoured to know you.

  9. Wow, bloody hell Darragh you've done it again. Like Lottie I was on the edge of my seat, and in fact I skip-read it to get to find out what happened. I'll go back and read it again properly now.

    Beautifully written, and the impact is very clear. You fairly pack a punch there. :)

  10. Darragh, That post is amazing, I've actually got tears streaming down my face.

    So well written, and so touching.

    Well done.

  11. Such a brave story, and one that can't have been easy to share. I hope you'll write about whatever happened next.

  12. Thank you all. You know, I'm always suprised to receive comments on what I write, especially as humbling as the reaction is below.

    I wrote the journey above longhand in one solid flow in a small notebook I carry with me. I feared it was too long and personal with no chance of anyone sharing the experience so I'm grateful for your feedback.

    Shortly after the meeting I was invited to a radio interview to talk about my experience. I was so nervous that all I could use was the word "bizarre", as it was. What I didn't get to tell the audience was how much it helped, how just sitting in a dingy hotel in Roscrea with this woman, this stranger made sense. Felt right.

    Darren describes his experience on his blog. I'd highly recommend the post.

    @Lottie - thank you my dear. I hope the second reading made sense!

    @Darren - thank you sir. It's almost exactly as I remember it. The story just emerged.

    @hullaballoo - welcome and thanks for the comment! The acceptance of reality comes from the strong foundation that provides for the future. :)

    @steph - thanks for the visit and the feedback Steph. Your praise is appreciated. I'm glad it was worth sharing.

    @roam4free - welcome to yourself as well! Your words mean a lot. Thanks.

  13. Wow, that was really lovely and very well written - if it had been a book, I would have called it a page turner, but I'm afraid you'll have to settle for scroll-inducer!
    Brilliantly brave and touching, well done. Really hope things went well.

  14. Beautifully written and wonderfully told Darragh. I hope you will continue the story. I'm just down the road from Kinnitty! :)

  15. Darragh.

    What a fantastic and heartfelt post, I had tears in my eyes reading, and like Lottie and others I was sitting on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, 'was she going to turn up?', 'was she sending you's on a wild goose chase?'.
    Very well done on sharing this personal story.

  16. Well written, you have a knack for story telling.

  17. Back once again to reply :)

    @David - thank you sir. The honesty comes in part from the realisation that it's not always cornfields, breezy winds and highway to heaven. Sometimes these things happen in the most unexpected of places.

    @Grannymar - thanks as always GM. Your words always help me write from the heart. Hugs gratefully accepted!

    @Stella - ah my friend, thank you for those kind words. We all have our stories - I just hope mine helps someone/anyone else see that if I can do it, anyone can! I'm as honoured to know you as you me.

    @Sean O Dwyer - thanks man! Sometimes the art comes from the images evoked rather than shown. You showed me that!

    @Debbiemet - cheers! I'd hoped that people would take the journey with me and share the joy that I felt afterwards!

    @Raptureponies - thanks for the comment RP. Sorry I made you cry but hope they were tears of happiness moreso than anything else! :)

    @Coastal Aussie - cheers my dear! What came next? Well, that IS another story but it's a story that continues on. A nice story :)

    @casacaseycourtney - hello my dear :) Things did go well, and as I said to Coastal Aussie - a story for another day :)

    @Deborah - thanks my dear. Now there'll be no excuse for me not to pay a visit ;-)

    @Mary - almost exactly my thoughts on the day, believe me! Thanks for the good thoughts :)

    @dardardrinks - cheers sir, appreciated! As I say - if the story can help anyone see it's easy to do, then my job is done!

  18. Beautifully written post Darragh, you have a wonderful way with words.

  19. Last time I read something that held my interest like that, was a little known book by Dan Brown. Da vinci something or other :-)

    I do realise that what I've just said could be an insult if you are a literary snob, but Mr. Brown knows how to please his audience, as do you Mr. Doyle.

  20. What a wonderful story and stunningly written. This is the first time I've been to your blog. What an incredible introduction.

  21. @Aidan - thanks for the visit sir and the compliment. :)

    @Le Craic - far from being a literary snob I delight in your comparison of me and a quadrabillion best selling author. I'm glad the audience appreciates it :)

    @conortje - well thank you and welcome here. Your visit and comment are most appreciated and add to the general fun I have from this place :)

  22. Darragh, I really enjoyed reading that story. You're so ... honest and open. When's the next installment? You have the Maeve Binchy knack for spinning a yarn. I was completely engrossed.

  23. that was incredible!

  24. @pixievondust - thank you for the compliments :) Next installment is in my head for now, not sure what part of the story to tell or how!

    @donna - thank you, though the more I tell it the more I can see just how bizarre it all was. I appreciate you leaving the comment :)

  25. Darragh, as the father of 3 adopted children, I am really touched by your story. I wonder how your adoptive mother and father felt about the meeting? I know that they must have had mixed feelings, but given your earlier blogs about how they raised you, I can see that you were loved greatly by them, so I am sure that although nervous, they were delighted for you too! Great story.

  26. My dad had a very similar first encounter with his biological mother and you've really hit the nail on the head with this post.

    A really lovely, well-written post.

  27. I would like to thank you for sharing this with me. In an indirect way, it has meaning in my life. Keep the installments coming.

  28. Absolutely Perfect!

    That was pure magic Darragh.

    I have sat in a car doing the opposite to that trip. What you wrote, it was like you were in the same car as us.

    I really like your way with words and images, and your timing is perfect.


  29. Darragh,

    What can I say ....

    I was there every step of the journey with you! I was sitting beside you in that car, feeling those emotions and willing you on, every step of the way.

    It helped that you were travelling to a place that is very much a part of my life, and that I recognised each place-name you mentioned. Indeed, I could actually visualise these places which made for an even richer mental picture for me.

    Your writing is very inspiring, and I could read it all day without getting bored.

    Have you ever considered writing a book?

    Thanks again for this very uplifting experience - I am very much the better for reading it!


  30. Darragh,
    I wish I could write like that. Fantastic.

  31. Pat A late reply I know - apologies - my parents were dead supportive and proud, would have driven me to the meeting and come in if they could have! They continue to be so.

    Ruby: One of the best things about blogging is that often the things that you think are indvidual are shared and common and experienced by more than you. Thanks for the compliments.

    Gerard: You're most welcome. Am planning next update at the moment.

    Elf: Awh, thank you! Would love to hear what your experience was - that must be some story. Maybe over a pint next weekend? ;)

    Betty: Thanks!

    John: I know we;ve emailed about this but thanks again. The compliments keep the drive going and I'm very grateful for them. Re the book - would that I had the time!

    Michael: If you'd asked me before I started writing it if I could write a post like that, I'd have said no way. But I gave it a go and there you are. It's what Pat Ingoldsby always tells me - don't think about writing - just write! Thanks though :)

  32. Bloody Nora - I.m reading all the nominated blogs for the best post at the awards next week - I'll be an emotional wreck by the time I'm finished. Best of luck dude - see you over on Twitter

  33. That was a good comment by the way - I meant your post is emotional :-)

  34. Ruairi: Thanks so much. I'm planning to read all of them this weekend so will probably be wrecked along with you!

  35. This is an amazing story. My first love , many years ago , was adopted and this brought back all those feelings when he took a similar journey. really looking forward to your next post.

  36. My god that's an incredible post.

    (I realise I'm a bit late commenting but I'm just going through your older posts now :) )

  37. Hello Darragh,
    I really enjoyed reading this post. I too am adopted - originally from Indonesia. Thank you for sharing your experience. It definitely is food for thought. Ciao K

  38. Darragh, (darragh’s little sis)
    Well what can I say, I read this all the time and am crying by line 5, am so sensitive..
    Darragh you are my inspiration, and you always will, you show your passion for life, your enthusiasm, your confidence, your sensitivity, your openness, your love , we have grown up together good times and in bad, but I have loved every moment, every single moment, I even loved the moments that you were late for our school bus, every bloody morning, I loved when you listened to you Elton john music and me with my techno, god how we wrecked ma n das head..How times change, we are much older now, still finding our souls, searching, and wondering... Great writing and do write a book… love Andrea

  39. I ma truly touched by your tale. A searingly honest account of a highly personal event. It brought a tear to my eye and better, much better - a smile to my face. Beautiful.