Thursday, 31 January 2013

Thicker than water?

It's dark. Wintry for April. They predict it will snow. My Father stands on the doorstep, cheque book in hand. He scrawls my name across the top in his swirly loopy writing, and then brandishes at me.

'Happy sixteenth' he smiles.

I take the cheque for £25 and kiss him goodbye on the cheek without mentioning that five days ago I was in fact 14. After all, the card he gave me on my 12th birthday said 'Happy 14th.' It doesn't matter I tell myself.

But it does.

I go back into the kitchen, start to make myself a sandwich, when I hear Al's car pull in the driveway. I feel relieved that he and Dad haven't crossed paths; my father always wary of the man who does a better job of the one he is supposed to do.  It's a Friday - I haven't seen him since Monday, when he dropped me off at school.

He comes in undoing his tie, and smiles when he sees me. He fixes himself a drink, but before he starts to drink it, he tells me he has something to show me - my sandwich can wait. I follow him outside to the double garage. The little cul-de-sac where he lives is quiet. I watch him disappear under the garage main door and then light floods out into the darkness. I shiver slightly, wondering what I'm doing there. He calls out to me, and I step off the porch and peer inside.

There I see the most wonderful sight my 14 year old eyes can imagine. A beautiful white bookcase, made up of cubes - 4 squares, then three, then two then one. (I'd spent a day designing it several months back - as was my hobby in my teens. I'd draw and design furniture all the time - bizarre chairs and elaborate desks that I dreamt of one day owning).

But there it is. Beautifully made - my drawing come to life. I squeal. I race over to it and run my fingertips on the cold smooth surface. Then I throw my arms around him, full of questions: How did you make it - did your friend Tommy help? How long did it take? How did I not notice?

He just smiles and wishes me a belated happy birthday.


By Christmas, Mum is packing. I refuse to. There is nowhere for my bookcase to go in the tiny house she has bought. I can't imagine living there, or ever loving that house as much as I love the home that Al created for me. The room he decorated; the carpet I picked and he put down; the furniture he made. It's my room. The only bedroom I never had to share with my mother. It means everything to me.

The following year, on my 15th birthday, Al has fashioned a beautiful mirror on the wall - surrounded by lights - the type you see in the movies: backstage in a theatre or a circus. Lights so blinding that you have to blink when you turn them on.  I had sketched out the desk beneath it to my requirements: 3 drawers, shelves, a secret compartment, an L shape desktop, so I can stare out the window as I work on my GCSE art... Then I work on my A level art at that desk, and my essays home from Uni.

I started staying at Al's house at weekends, when my Mother starting seeing him; I was 11. We moved in when I was 12. We moved out when I was almost 15. (She didn't speak to him again until they made up as they both stared at my wedding cake 16 years later). Meanwhile, I went back to staying there every weekend until he sold the house when I was 23.  I was the kid with 3 homes. 3 phone numbers. The funny stories to tell about the crazy parents - yet when I look back now, they aren't so funny any more.

The day I went to pack up my room, in the summer of 1996 will forever be ingrained in my mind. I went alone. The house was quiet, empty. He was out. I walked into every room, savouring all my memories and then slowly made my way up the stairs - hating every step - to the room above the garage. A fine layer of dust had settled on my bookcase. The spiderplant was miraculously still alive. The ancient wooden covered TV still spluttered into life. The black and white wallpaper felt dated - very 80s - replete with my posters: Fatal Attraction and Prince 'Parade' (that my friend Anthony bought me for my 13th birthday). I carefully rolled them up. Took my Oscar Wilde books from the shelves of the bookcase; carefully and meticulously took down a collage I had built up over 6 years on my middle wardrobe door: concert tickets (Michael Jackson, U2), Obsession perfume pictures, photos, trinkets, stubs to movies,  - my entire teenage life on one door. I emptied the wardobe of some clothes that no longer fitted, leftovers from a different era - all shoulder pads and florescant colours...

The tears fell. How could they not? It had been my safe place, my little oasis, the most protected and loved place I had ever known in all my life. Al was selling up - starting a new life with his partner. It was time to say goodbye to the house that I shared with him, and his daughter  - at weekends. But it was so much more than that to me. I wrote him a note to tell him what it had meant to me.
He still has it. Then I said one last goodbye, got into my car and left.

Occasionally when I am in Ireland, I drive by the house. Somehow, I never let it go.


Oddly  - and I'll never be able to put into words why - I don't even know why - but writing this post has caused me to shed more tears than any other I have ever written. I can't find the words to say what this father figure - this man who calls me his 'adopted one' means to me. I doubt I ever will. He was there for me when others weren't. He is still there for me. He always will be. He is not my father - never even became my step-father - they never married. He isn't related, his daughter is not my sister.

But they are my family. He gave me a home.

And to me, blood isn't thicker than water -  and family is what you make it.



Anonymous said...

Wow tears in my eyes!!I remember that house well,and the good times there.One weekend making silly phone calls asking was there any walls (Irish surname Waugh sounds like wall) in their house to the respondents confusion saying oh if no waughs then how us ur house still standing!!We thought it was hilarious.And the many repercussions of purple rain in ur bedroom!Crummy Mummy memories are precious thanx for those lol xx

Anonymous said...

Love this post Suz. And love you as one of my closest friends. And always will.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post x

Anonymous said...

Wow honey, all choked up too. You turned out to be the most incredible woman, friend, mother. Credit to those who loved, raised and nurtured you. Al sounds amazing. I'm sure you're very proud of each other xx

A said...

Beautifully written.

Anonymous said...

You have such a way with words Suz ....I was there standing next to you when you saw that bookshelf ...well felt like it.

Thanks for sharing.

Sarah x

Anonymous said...

A moving and beautifully written post.
Amy xx

Crummy Mummy said...

Thank you so much for all your lovely comments - it is really kind of you all - friends and readers. It was one of those posts that wrote itself. Love CM xx

DCL said...

This is beautiful. You are a very lucky girl. I hope he gets to read this.

Katy Regan said...

Beautiful and thoughtful. I'm glad you had Al and Al had you! xx

Kristen said...

It is so wonderful that he feels that same way that you feel about him. Hope you will send him this post someday:)