The Displaced Nation

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LIBBY’S LIFE #44 – Past imperfect, perfectly tense

LOST: One sense of coordination. Last seen, fleetingly, Monday at 9am while driving on highway. Disappeared entirely at 9:05am at red traffic light, which I acknowledged to be a nice crimson colour but otherwise ignored and sailed straight through to the other side of the crossroads. Screeching and honking noises from other cars, and loud, choice, sexist epithets from a bloke in black F150 pickup truck.

Something similar happened four years ago, I remember; something involving a small Peugeot, a removals lorry, and my roundabout technique — the rules of which I had inexplicably forgotten, despite having learned to drive ten years before.

In the last month of gestation, it seems, coordination leaves me, and I wander along in a fog of delayed reaction. After Monday’s near miss, which left me trembling and repeating “Oh my God, oh my God,” for two hours, I have decided I’m not safe to be on the road.

Thank goodness for friendly neighbours like Maggie who don’t mind driving me places. She’s taken me shopping, she’s taken Jack to school for me — she’s my personal chauffeur whenever Oliver isn’t, in other words.

Which brings me to the subject of Oliver.

Ah. Oliver. Oh dear.

You see, I had an email this morning. And I don’t know what to do.

* * *

Ever had an idea that seemed really brilliant at the time, but 24 hours later it…wasn’t? I suppose you have; we all do. Most of the time, though, you don’t act upon those ideas. But every now and then, impulse trumps reason.

That’s what happened last week, when I was awake at two in the morning with only my nesting instinct and laptop for company. Why I didn’t just find the baby toys I was looking for, scrub them with disinfectant, and go to sleep like a normal person would — actually, a normal person wouldn’t be awake at two in the morning, disinfecting toys, but that’s beside the point — I don’t know. Instead, I am now wondering what on earth possessed me to make contact with Oliver’s long-lost father when Oliver himself has never shown any interest in doing so.

Dean Patrick, that’s his name. I’d seen it on Oliver’s birth certificate. It was easy enough to type it into Facebook and see what came up. Not many results. At least, not many results with a date of birth around the right year, a location in England, a hometown of Norwich (Oliver’s place of birth) and privacy levels set low enough that a probable daughter-in-law in Massachusetts could stalk his photo albums.

There was only one like that. One was all it took.

Here was a man, I thought, who was either unconcerned about his online privacy, or not very savvy about it. But because of this cavalier or naive attitude, I knew I’d found the right person. I stared for ages at someone who could have been Oliver in thirty years’ time. The same fine, blond hair — receding more than Oliver’s — the same fair, sun-reddened skin, Oliver’s slightly sticking-out ears. In this picture, one of an album called “Devon 2011” Oliver’s father stood on a sandy beach, holding the hand of a small boy, a little older than Jack, from whose other hand dripped an orange ice lolly.

My favourite grandson, the photo caption read. Four people had clicked the Like button. Underneath:

You go, Grandad! commented a woman: Tania Patrick.

Sister? Mother? Daughter? Sister-in-law? My counterpart, another daughter-in-law? Another ex-wife, on friendlier terms with him than is Sandra?

No matter; I was sure all those people existed. On Dean Patrick’s friend list was a host of other Patricks: Tania Patrick, Janey Patrick. Lewis Patrick, Vince Patrick. Henry Hank Patrick. But he was “In a relationship” with Polly Owen.

I didn’t send Dean Patrick a message. Not directly. A week ago, I still had enough brain cells to be subtle, if not enough to restrain myself from being terminally stupid. I figured that in a large family like his, and with an Irish name at that, one member ought to be into genealogy. Sure enough, a search on GenesReunited turned up the same names in a family tree owned by someone called Tania. I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I thought that might have been the same Tania who encouraged him to “You go, Grandad.”

So I sent her a message instead.

At four in the morning, sadly, the sleep-deprived brain is incapable of straightening out skewed logic such as: “Where’s the harm in it? She can only say No.”

If only she had.

* * *

A few hours and one nap later, of course, I was in a state of mild panic, asking myself what the hell I had done. This panic increased with every passing day, as I imagined relationships rocked and marriages wrecked as a result of my interference; it culminated in a full-blown anxiety attack this morning when I opened my email inbox to find a reply from Tania Patrick.

Oliver noticed my agitation when he returned from Seattle, but thankfully put it down to surging hormones, pre-birth nerve, and my close call with the F150 pickup driver. He doesn’t know about the email I received from Tania Patrick — and how can I tell him?

Yet I must tell someone. Today, when Maggie picks me and Jack up, I will unburden myself to her, in the hope that her bohemian attitude to life will lend some sense of justification to my actions.

* * *

The doorbell rings.

It’s not Maggie.

“She’s sick,” says Anna Gianni, waving a set of car keys in front of my eyes. “That sniffle she had turned into bronchitis, and she doesn’t want you anywhere near her and her germs. I’m your chauffeur today, ma’am.”  She peers more closely at me. “Is that all right? I’m quite safe. You don’t have to worry about your son being driven around by a maniac.”

I shake my head, the tears that have lapped at the surface for nearly a week now ready to spill over a carefully built dam of self-preservation.

Anna says nothing, but holds her hand out to Jack, takes his booster seat from me in the other hand, and proceeds to strap him and booster into the back seat of her black Mustang. I sit in the front seat and say nothing.

We drop Jack off at Helen Flynn’s nursery, where he rushes off to play with another little boy without a backward glance, then we get back in the Mustang.

“Home?” Anna asks, turning the ignition key. “Or time out in the restaurant? Thursday’s quiet.” She twists round to see over shoulder as she backs out of the parking space. There’s silence between us while she waits for traffic to pass so she can turn onto the main road. It gives me time to think.

“Restaurant,” I say, exhaling in a rush at the same time, and staring out of the passenger door window so Anna can’t see my eyes shining a little too brightly.

Inside the empty Maxwell Plum, Anna commands me to sit at a table. I do so, and study a watercolour painting on the wall. It’s of a young man, dark-haired, Italian-looking. I’m about to get up and take a closer look when Anna returns to join me, carrying two cups of something frothy.

“Decaffeinated,” she says, putting one in front of me.

I pick up the spoon and draw patterns in the froth. “Have you ever,” I say, “done something really, really stupid? Like, so stupid that you can’t imagine why you ever thought it was a good idea?”

Anna leans back in her chair, apparently amused. “I’d hardly have reached my forties without doing that, would I?”

I coffee-doodle some more. I tell her about contacting Oliver’s father’s family. I tell her about my email this morning from Oliver’s half-sister, who claims to be over the moon that her half-brother has finally got in touch, because it was always a source of regret to her father that his only son never wanted to see him.

Anna smiles, but she looks sad.

“You need some perspective on this,” she says. “Let me tell you about my brother-in-law. Max Gianni. It might help.”

I listen.


Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #45: Mum’s the word

Previous post: LIBBY’S LIFE #43 – Alone again – naturally

Click here to read Libby’s Life from the first episode

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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigit

2 responses to “LIBBY’S LIFE #44 – Past imperfect, perfectly tense

  1. Marion March 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Now I know why I got hooked on the soaps (well one particular soap, General Hospital — Luke and Laura!!) when I moved to the US. Katie, bring on the next episode. We’ve all done stupid things (some of us, like me, never seem to learn from past mistakes). Libby, I want to give you a hug!!
    Take Care and Keep ‘Em Comin’

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