A Journey With Myself
'What we are, and what we seem,
Is but a dream, within a dream'.
That's a wonderful paraphrase of Edgar Allen Poe, isn't it? I told it to Jamie, my seventeen years younger boyfriend of only five weeks standing, early on the morning of Monday, 6th July 1981.
It was about seven a.m. and the start of yet another perfect summer's day. And notwithstanding that we were both on early shift at the canning factory and both should have been clocked in some sixty minutes previously, we were instead enjoying a long, hot, early morning shag to conclude the night of wildly unbridled passion which had just gone before.
Because the previous afternoon, you see, we'd fallen in love.
Not mind you that I'd even have heard of Poe back in 1976 when I first heard those words spoken at the very beginning of that iconic Australian cinemagraphic masterpiece 'Picnic at hanging Rock' though they must have stuck with me: But then back then - I was 32 that year - I was on a different phase of Life's journey. A journey with myself. I don't know about you, but I've always seen Life in that context. A journey with myself. Even when I was an unhappy little girl growing up in quite horrible circumstances with my two younger sisters. Even then I still thought so.
But then if Life truly is a journey with myself, with definite start and finish points obviously, what then of those others also making their own journeys with themselves who then come into mine? All those others, major and minor, I've come into contact with while also traveling along the same particular stretch of Life's road so to speak? Hitch-hikers? Collisions of Fate? Or can we in fact influence our personal journey, put our hands to the tiller, and indeed change not only our own course but those of others too? I think perhaps we can.
So then: It's 1981 and Helen and Jamie are now sharing a cab within the greater trip? Or walking the same bit of road hand in hand. Making a sub-journey together, with numerous junctions along the way maybe?
At the time I decided that, and that I'd need to do something about it, my own journey with myself was not looking good. In 1981 I was 37. Forget what people say now, the early eighties were a hard time. High unemployment, a government seemingly hell bent on destroying the industrial base of this nation, angry punk rock music, and a constant, niggling worry for 'ordinary' folk over what the future might hold. And my own circumstances at 37 seemed every bit as dismal. Quite attractive even then in a buxom 5' 6” sort of way, but with a miserable job in the canning factory with the threat of works closure ever present, an unreliable boyfriend named Pete chiefly interested in watching football on the box and going out drinking with his mates, and a pokey little flat which my aged and heavily drinking mother had somehow or other also managed to wheedle herself into. And then this lad Jamie, just twenty, got 'redeployed' onto the seaming section where I was 'cos he'd pranged a forklift or something. I remember our then area leader, Wendy, giving him a right hard time on his first day with us. So the next day, I befriended him. A nice lad he was too, quite nice looking, quite quiet, quite shy of women - and - as I quickly decided, a new and unspoiled beginning for me. So dig out a short fake leather skirt, an old pair of 70's black knee length boots plus a neat little black jacket from Kay's, leave some blouse top buttons discretely unfastened, and really go for it! Five weeks later, and absolutely shagged ragged by then (poor boy but he loved it!) came the aimed for end result. Totally and completely in love with a still attractive, but also very considerably older, woman in need of a travelling companion!
Next thing, completely redecorate the flat. Out with old and all of its negative associations, and in with the new. Brave new world. Brave new phase on my journey with myself too, and throttle to the metal! “I brought you up, you ungrateful girl!” Oh yes, Mother did protest! Was there any real point in reasoning with her? Pointing out to her the sheer neglect myself and my sisters had to endure as kids? Her drunken violence, especially once our dad finally walked out on her for good, or her forcing us out to work at fifteen and then demanding our wage packets. “I brought you up, didn't I? If it hadn't have been for me ...” “The abuse my baby sister Sally suffered at the hands of one particular 'uncle' that time would never have happened.” So I just moved Jamie in anyway and carried on with what we really were becoming seriously good at! “It's disgusting! And at your age too with a young lad like him!” “At my age too ...?” At that time our relationship – its journey if you like – was at still at the point where we could barely keep our hands off one another. And so I goaded her shamelessly. At the tea table I'd run my fingers through Jamie's hair right in front of her and say things like: “It's a miracle that he's got the energy left to raise his eyelids, never mind anything else!” Jamie would blush with embarrassment, but she'd practically turn purple! “I've a bloody good mind to find out who his parents are and tell 'em what's going on ...!” “I love him. And he loves me. And his step-dad's kicked him out, Mother.” Four grim, hard fought weeks she held out for, before finally departing in high dudgeon for my middle sister Julie's. We've never spoken at all since.
In the August of that same year I fell pregnant with Kerry. Well, let's face, it was hardly down to lack of trying! And that was a truly wonderful event, and of course yet another goal achieved, and another all important milestone passed. As soon as we found out Jamie and I got married. It was a simple civil wedding, and in the end my two sisters plus his mum – although only after no small amount of I suppose in the circumstances understandable persuasion - attended. I wore a hired primrose coloured three piece outfit with a matching shoes and yellow bouquet, and I still have the photos packed away somewhere. The management at the canning factory graciously gave us a ten pound voucher, and my mates on the seaming section all chipped in towards a deep fat fryer. We spent a pleasant enough six day honeymoon staying at an end of season guest house in Eastbourne. “You're a newly wed couple, you say? Oh, well ...” The mattress on the bed in our room wasn't exactly of the Silent Night variety I do seem to recall though, so I think they came to believe our claims soon enough!
I was just turned 38 when Kerry was born, and believe me she wasn't an easy delivery! Jamie was right there throughout though, clasping my hands and mopping my brow and when he held her for the very first time he was just so overjoyed! “You are my little girl! My beautiful, gorgeous little girl!” he kept informing the squalling infant! “And you're my beautiful big girl!” He was still only 21 remember, and his heart was firmly in the right place.
Then, with another co-traveller in company, priorities change. Maternal hormones soar, and libido for a young husband wanes. That's not selfishness nor conscious decision. That is nature. It was the start of a more difficult time for us. We fixed up the flat's spare bedroom, the little box room which Mother had formerly had, as a nursery. Jamie painted a frieze of Disney characters all around the walls. But babies are so demanding as to leave one drained of all energy for anything else. I had to quit work of course, with no certain guarantee of a job to return to after maternity leave, and even assuming Sally or Julie could be roped in to help with looking after little Kerry. At a stroke money which had never been plentiful now became tight. But I reminded Jamie, often, of how I felt about him too, and that seemed to help for a time.
When Kerry started primary school in the spring of '87 I managed to get myself a job there as a lunchtime supervisor. At the same time I enrolled on a course for computers. Get in on the ground floor maybe! I was then 43, and beginning to show my age in various places. The economy was in full boom however, and prospects were looking bright. We put the flat on the market, found a buyer in three hours flat like you could in those days, and acquired a quite decent little terraced house to move up to. The canning factory got taken over by someone else, but after a period of considerable anxiety it was announced that production would continue there for the time being. Some new staff got moved across however, and Jamie became involved with one of them. Her husband who also then worked there found out, there was a confrontation resulting in Jamie hitting the guy, he got himself dismissed over it, and then the same week he left me for her.
The new house had to be sold, and then back to a flat again for Kerry and me, only this time just rented. I kept up with my course however - no it wasn't easy juggling motherhood and a part time job at the school still as well! - until my baby sis Sally came to join me with a youngster of her own – Tyler – having also been walked out on by his dad. But with her there to look after both children during the day, it left me free to gain further milestones along my journey. My journey with myself you could say really took off at this point, and those difficult milestones began to fly by. She who travels alone travels fastest perhaps ...
And now? At 63 years of age I'm about to retire from my position as a computer engineer with the Local Education Authority. Kerry is currently working in a supermarket but come September she's back to Nottingham for the second year of her own degree course in computer sciences. Last year she met her boyfriend, Tom, on campus there. I've met him and he seems a nice young fella. Tells me his father and mother are both veterinary surgeons. Sally and I moved up from sisters to life best friends, and Tyler sits his A levels shortly this year. Sally and I bought the present house between us. With my retirement lump sum we'll be able to pay the final bit of the mortgage capital sum off. Jamie comes to visit although he's remarried and re-divorced again now, and we remain very good friends. I do have a new man in my life, for some years now in fact, and things are good there. We'll be off to Italy for a holiday, along with Kerry, Sally and Tyler, this August. But I've no thoughts of ever marrying again. Young Jamie was, and will always remain, the one true and all consuming passion of my life!
Which really means that soon enough now I'm going to be finishing my journey in much the same way as I started it – with myself. But you know what? It's been one hell of a worthwhile ride, and it's not quite over even yet!
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