My word. What a journey.
When I was fifteen, many years ago, I fell pregnant in a tight community in the Welsh Valleys. It wasn’t the done thing. My mother must have been devastated, though we never spoke of it. Instead she marched me off to the doctor’s to confirm her suspicions.
‘Yes, Mrs Jenkins. She’s definitely pregnant. About five months, I reckon. Have you thought about what you’ll do about it?’
I wasn’t ever part of the conversation. And then she sent me hundreds of miles from home to see out my pregnancy in secret. As I say, it wasn’t the done thing back then. When I gave birth alone in a bare hospital room, pretty much abandoned by the nursing staff, my daughter’s adoption had already already been arranged. Without my say. Without my agreement. I wasn’t asked, of course. I was fifteen and did what I was told. Growing up in a family in which my mother frequently ‘sent my father to Coventry’, who was I to argue. Who was I to speak out.
We all process out trauma in our own individual way, of course. But for me it’s been through my writing, my solo show on the subject having travelled the world now – South Africa to San Francisco, Sweden and Prague to New York – and with many a tear shed on the way. Not just by me, I might add.
But today I find myself discussing with a venue manager the possibility of bringing the show to his theatre space. I share my story with him. He asks about my daughter. Did we ever meet. Did I return to school. How did I cope. I answer everything as best I can. Just as I do after my show each night, when audiences want the real story fleshed out. He listens. He agrees to the show being booked. He offers to buy me a tea.
Moments later a man approaches, tentative. He’s overheard some of the conversation but didn’t get it all. He asks me what the show is about. I begin to explain.
‘When I was fifteen I had a child who was taken for adoption…’ And I continue. But he seems agitated. I ask if he’s okay.
‘I was taken from my mother and adopted,’ he tells me, his eyes full. ‘There were three of us, and we were all taken away when I was about six months. They separated us, so I never knew about the others when I was growing up. Then when I was thirty I suddenly discovered I had two sisters. It was terrible. I never knew.’
He went on to tell me of his mother’s emotional and physical abuse from the man he assumes to be his father. And then he tells me of his own emotional, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of his adopters. It’s a lot to take in. I don’t let him know how it makes me feel, and at least I have the comfort of knowing my daughter was raised by good, loving parents.
He tells me his mother had died back when he was in his teens. He’s still looking for his father. Or rather, he’d like to. He doesn’t know where to start.
‘Have you spoken with anyone about all this?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘You.’
‘I mean, somebody professional. Some support. There are people out there who can help you. There is help.’
Even as I say this I reflect on the fact that I was in therapy for years, and still I’m only part recovered. Maybe that’s how it is. Always. For some.
‘Have you?’ I ask again.
‘Where do I find somebody?’
I look into his eyes.
‘If I help find somebody…do you think you’d like to talk to them?’
I’m aware I don’t want to push. This is his path. His choice. His life.
‘That’s really kind of you. Will you really do that? For me?’
‘Of course I will.’
‘Please. Yes. Yes, please.’
I weep afterwards. After I’ve left him. While I sit, cold, in the car, shivering. After he’s brought over a mince pie for me to have with the tea I’ve ordered. After we’ve shaken hands, and I’ve held his in both of mine for a moment, and then for another.
I’ve never been keen on mince pies. I don’t normally eat them. I don’t really like them. But I ate this one, as he sat there taking bite after bite from his, chewing it over and over, eyes fixed on the plate, one knee shaking with nerves. And I have to say, that bundle of sweet fruit wrapped in short pastry and sprinkled in fine sugar…that pie tasted sweeter than any I’ve ever had.
That night I wrote him a poem he’ll probably never see. But I wrote it anyway.
I watch as you catch a falling star and put it in your pocket.
You’ll keep it, you say, for every day.
Rain or shine.
Weightless, it settles between the seams, carries you,
Warming your thin skin, melting the ice.
And you lighten.