I'm still working on the second draft of my book - about my time spent with mum during her final illness. I've just got to last spring, when she rallied enough for us to go out a few times for drives. On one of them, I drove back home on a country route and we stopped off at a riverside pub for a shandy. I hadn't been there for years. It was a cause for a little reflection about my life...
I went in to get the drinks. It was a long time since I'd been there, too, and the place had changed a lot. I remembered coming there with my first girlfriend, back in the early '80s, when they held a regular night-club. Two young things we were, hopelessly in love - so we thought. It shook me to realise it was over thirty years ago. Another thirty from here, I thought, and I'll be mum's age. Which meant mum would have been my age back then. A woman with a son in his twenties, going out with his first girlfriend. It gave me a sharp perspective on my own life. Here I was, 58 at my next birthday, unmarried with no children, living alone, still doing low-paid work, looking after my mother in her dying days. I wondered how many men from my generation that applied to.
Over the years, I'd done some searching on the internet - Facebook, and Friends Reunited when it was still operating - and looked up a few names I remembered from school. Not friends, because I didn't really have any. Most of them were married (some were on second or third marriages) and had grown-up children and grandchildren. They had good jobs and owned houses. They were all, in many ways, where we generally expect to be at this stage in life in our society. Some were even retired already, and had moved to properties they'd bought abroad. One of them - a guy I remember as a particular bully, who forced me to give him money on a regular basis (I used to steal it from dad's pocket or mum's purse) - looked like he'd done especially well for himself, with a huge country house and expensive sports car. Maybe he was having his own kind of mid-life crisis, I'd thought. Mine had come and gone long ago, once I realised that the longed-for publishing deal (something I'd dreamed of since I started writing at 10) probably wasn't going to happen now, and I wasn't going to advance along any other kind of career pathway. Not that I'd ever particularly wanted to. I'd never found anything interesting enough to hold me for long - except care, where I was never going to earn enough to feel financially secure. It didn't bother me. I was happy with a simple life. I didn't have an expensive and demanding social life to fund. I could live on a minimum-wage salary. I could have earned more in less demanding work, but it wouldn't have given me the same satisfaction.
The other thing, thinking about that first girlfriend, had been my abject failure with any kind of relationship. I'd never been entirely happy in one - which wasn't to say that I hadn't dreamed of finding something special. I thought it had happened twice in my life, and had been wrong both times. It wasn't their fault, really. It was part of the way I was wired. I'd long since become reconciled to the fact that 'alone' was my natural condition, and the one that I could handle best psychologically and emotionally. But it didn't stop me from looking at people like Russell: happily married for over thirty years to Lynn, in a nice paid-for house, comfortably settled, with an active and vibrant social life, and frequent holidays abroad, and everything else. I suppose I'd once aspired to such a thing, but I'd long come to realise that it was partly what I'd been conditioned to expect. Did I really miss any of it? I couldn't say, never having really experienced it. But at times I couldn't help wondering if my condition had pre-disposed me to miss out on so much. At least I knew, now, that I had a condition at the heart of my 'dysfunction' in these respects. It was better than feeling I'd somehow failed at life. And I'd found my niche, and was reasonably content with it. And, of course, it had meant that I was able to do what I was now doing. Like life had prepared me for it. The right conditions. The right place. The right time.
I went back to mum with the drinks and we touched glasses in a toast.
"Good health!" mum said.
The one thing I really wanted to give her, more than just wish her. The one thing that she would never have again.
You must be disappointed Tom that this post has gone unnoticed. Anyway Happy New Year and hope you manage to finish the book to your satisfaction soon.
Take care Laddie.
Thanks for your comments... and not at all. I post the stuff, and I'm always surprised if I get a comment, to be honest. But it's a delight, too. Thanks. In some senses, it feels like explaining things to those who already understand, anyway. Be something if an NT audience could find it of interest.
I'm nearly finished the second draft. I have a week's annual leave at the end of January, so I may use that time for a final read-through and polish. Then it's about deciding what to do with it....