Asumpta_PONDERS

swirl

Considering all that happened over the last twenty years, if I were asked whether there have been regrets in leaving my marriage I would be stuck for something to say. At a time when life with Bert had nowhere to go but downward, leaving him was the only way to go, but I realize when taking into account what was to follow, no one would understand why I still feel the right decision was made.

Should I ever be asked what actual benefits came from the experience of the past two decades, the most obvious response would be that children born to parents with nothing to say to one another no longer needed to endure, but beyond that, arriving at anything else to convince anyone that that third of my life was worthwhile would be just as difficult.
Other than my belief that the children were better off, getting in the way of any more positive aspects to come from my single existence were the events to occur after Bert and I parted company. It may have been one thing to be aware of the relief living independently brought, but quite another when that relief was mostly due to the gratitude felt in my former husband never discovering what those twenty years involved.

The main dread throughout, was that Bert discover the time since we parted had been spent confirming the pessimistic prophecy he made back in 1989 of what my fate would be if I left him and that the forecast he made, although bad enough, had only touched upon what was to come. From where I sit now (in that future I’d been warned about) looking back to the start of it all, that third of my life sped by so fast it seems no time at all since Bert made the prediction he did and hearing my brother Michael say everything is attitude, and always behave as if you’ve got a quid. It’s as though only months have rolled by since Michael’s philosophy (which simply involved lying well enough to be believed) was adopted by me and used to keep my secret safe over the period mattering most (whilst the children were being reared).
September 2009 marked the twenty year anniversary of ignoring Bert’s warning, but as by then three children had long gone their separate ways, it wasn’t before time more emphasis was placed on what lay behind the necessity to operate for as long as I had in the way I had than continued concern Bert discover the accuracy of his forecast. If the concentration once laid claim to was to be directed again toward more constructive endeavours than continue combating events coming at me from out of left field (which there seemed no end to) then the only way to achieve this desire was to rid myself of the lie of two decades and begin telling the truth about what occurred.

During those years before the children became adults it was hardly any wonder I was thought of by them as ‘vague’ and even ‘Bo ho’ had been mentioned; but how were they, or anyone to know if they hadn’t been told, my thoughts were taken up by the possible repercussions of a situation I’d got myself lumbered with. How would anyone know even today unless they’re told: The reason my brother’s philosophy had been required in the first place was because if Bert discovered what in fact those years held, then the children in turn would have been given cause to also begin looking at me sideways.
To date, only one person knows why so much time had been spent in limbo. Three years ago, twelve thousand miles seemed a safe enough distance to finally tell someone and that someone was my best friend Sue. By the time 2006 arrived, watching every word said was wearing so thin, if Sue hadn’t shown a willingness to listen, it had reached the point where someone closer to home would have had to serve the growing need to share my experience. In contacting my old friend, I’d had enough of forgetting what it would be like not to have my concentration constantly interfered with. I’d had enough too, of rolling with punches rather than have anyone know how those years to then, had unfolded. By the time I contacted Sue, as my youngest child was making their own way in the world, whatever Bert found out had already become of less concern anyway than whose credibility other than my own those seventeen years had also been spent protecting.
Before Sue began to wade through the emails sent her way the correspondence between us had diplomatically avoided any reference made to the turn of events on the last occasion I’d seen her. Since Sue’s second visit to Australia in 1998 (the first being three years before) and nothing to show for that particular trek ‘Down Under’ but plenty to tell the folks back home as to why she wouldn’t be returning, apart from anything else I had to report, I first explained that the reason little reference was made toward the situation encountered by her ten years earlier was because that attitude adopted in 1989 didn’t allow me to dwell on any negativity.

On both visits, had Sue been alone and not accompanied by her partner, John, this would have made for less awkwardness, as it was one thing to be entertaining an old friend amid the circumstances then existing, but quite another when that friend in turn was in the company of someone they were equally hopeful of impressing. Although Sue and John’s visits were for a period of only three weeks (the first going quite well in comparison to the next) how were either of them to know unless they were told; that on the two occasions Sue and I met since we were teenagers, anything too difficult to relate to was being placed into a compartment of my mind where it could be dealt with at a more convenient time.

It was Sue’s acceptance in hearing what I had to say which encouraged the bombardment of emails to follow. Although I’d always known she was the stuff best friends were made of, it was still foremost in my mind to tread carefully and not to further ruin a memory of the only regret left behind in England when, in 1965, together with the ten other members of my family, I emigrated to Australia. At the age of eighteen, having lost contact with Sue due to my destiny lying on the other side of the world, I nevertheless lost hope that we would meet again and no matter how many years went by, each April the 17th, I’d always remember this was her birthday.

Imprinted in my memory also had been Sue’s parents address; that lovely English house known as St. Elmo which sat in a quiet country lane with no immediate neighbours and only fields to be seen beyond the back garden. It was this address to which a post card was sent on Sue’s forty third birthday in 1989. Twenty five years after leaving England and Sue behind, although I wasn’t too hopeful of a response, it was impossible to resist at least trying when faced by then with the need to recapture the most pleasant memory before marrying. It took about three weeks before, surprisingly, I heard back. That post card which simply stated: ‘Is it too late to contact an old friend?’ had been passed on. Even though Sue’s parents were no longer living, it was fortunately the case that those who now lived in St. Elmo had continued the kind hearted ways remembered of the family who’d lived there before them.

During my marriage, I’d often thought ‘how nice it would be to renew an old acquaintance,’ but the way things were with Bert this was only ever a dream. As there’d never been any actual meeting of the minds between us (especially since standing together at an altar) it was hardly likely I would think to invite Sue into an environment where my husband either shunned any friends I made completely, or said something to them for effect like; ‘There’s only been two people who’ve never farted, Sumpt (that’s me) and The Queen.’

There were too many risks involved in the circumstance I found myself when married to tarnish those memories held dear ‘of a grey two storey house with white painted window frames standing along a narrow road in Kent where many a tranquil time was spent before the age of eighteen.’

I’ll never forget receiving Sue’s letter and being overjoyed in seeing exactly the same hand writing I remembered. If I were ever asked when counting down the weeks until I would be free of a sour marriage, what was high on my list of what there was to look forward to, my answer would have definitely included; hearing from Sue again and being in a position to see her with no outside interference to detract from a friendship standing the test of time and distance. What I couldn’t possibly have foreseen then, was that seventeen years later I’d be sending emails to that long lost friend in an effort to explain why that innocent desire went as wrong as it did.

Had it not been for the purchase of my latest second hand car in 2006, I can’t think how long it would have taken for me to wake to the actual time that had passed since it all began. Had I not been faced at that point in time with the faded outward appearance and worn interior of a 1989 Ford Laser (the same model driven when new) which acted as a physical reminder of how many years had in fact gone by, then it’s impossible to know how much longer Sue would have waited before hearing from me with more to discuss than the weather. The habit I’d fallen into since taking my brother Michael’s advice of ignoring the passing of time along with anything too difficult to relate to, would however, after the purchase of that car was made begin approaching its use by date. This wasn’t only because by then the children were older so less likely to be influenced by anything their father had to say as my change of heart was mostly due by then, to the way in which the situation I’d been lumbered with had developed. There just seemed more urgency after taking the controls of a small red car far more faded on the driver’s side than the other, to be more mindful than I had been of conclusions which should have been arrived at sooner. When that tired old Laser came into my life, there was more reason to accept that Bert had been more perceptive than he’d been given credit for and less reason for my silence to continue serving a more convenient purpose than the one for which it had originally been intended.

Though it was too soon by 2006 to admit to anyone but Sue that during the worst of my experience I even made-believe what was taking place was happening in a life belonging to someone else, the clock began ticking that steamy summer day (recorded as the hottest on record) when I travelled ninety kilometers by train with a one way ticket in my purse to collect a vehicle with no air conditioning and fourteen years older than my daughter’s Peugeot. Fortunately by then (thanks to that attitude I’d adopted) I was so used to manipulating the truth to suit any particular circumstance, that after the purchase of this car was made, all needed were a few canvases, paints and paintbrush’s for that Bo ho image held of me anyway to gain more confirmation.

The suggestion made to Sue was, that in order for my tale not to become confusing it be told in a series of episodes. As each stage of developments to 2006 had, in one way or other involved vehicles (the most recent to come in my life an example of what I was driving at) it was also suggested that the emails I was about to send be constructed around the relevant car of each eventful period. And as this would include the cars Sue and John had personal experience of, especially on the last trip (as if either of them would have forgotten) these episodes would then also serve to explain why the omissions in ten years of correspondence had been necessary.

Those emails were the result of the need to find a willing ear if I weren’t to begin tearing my hair out and not intended for any purpose than to break a long silence. Those episodes contained only a few pages of diarized instalments outlining the events up to 2006 and were not comparable with the volume of writing achieved since. When Sue received that explanation of what was going on behind the scene during the two visits made by her and John, it hadn’t been anticipated that two years later I’d be given cause to compile those events in far more detail. It would take what occurred just before Christmas 2008 to bring this determination about, as it would be then that the reward for nineteen years of silence would result in my recall of events being referred to as; Things that never happened at all and that I was Delusional in suggesting they did. If I weren’t to descend toward the madness into which I felt I was being pushed that December; if what had occurred was to be given the airing I felt it deserved; there was no other way to achieve this end but to begin documenting those ‘imaginings’ still so clear in my memory.

Since my old friend woke each morning for a week to read those instalments explaining what had taken place up to 2006, the correspondence between us continued on (with the odd update) for two more years. Since Sue took on board all of what was reported with less surprise than expected, the decision was still made not to burden her further after the revelation delivered in December 2008. Whilst some hope was still held even at that late stage that what had begun in 1989 would end on a positive note, it was in finally understanding no room for optimism had ever existed that in any spare time to be found, efforts at painting (or any other interest) were put aside as paragraphs instead were read over and over. This wouldn’t alter the image already held of me so far as my children were concerned, but how long it would be until Sue was contacted again was then as uncertain as it had ever been.

The story I felt compelled to tell revolved around those I accompanied to Australia in 1965. At the age of eighteen, I was the second eldest of nine born to Jim and Francis Murphy and this was the way it would remain as no more children came into the Murphy household after arriving from the coalfields of England onto sunny shores. There were six boys and three girls; the eldest was Patsy who was a year older than me. Michael was next and was eighteen months my junior. Michael was followed by Seamus (or ‘Shylock’ as he would be referred to by me in later years). Then came Marcus followed by Eamonn until finally another girl, Marie Pacelli. Celli (as she became known over the years) was ten years my junior and the only Murphy child to be named after a pope. Gerard was born eighteen months after Celli and John three years later. Sixteen years separated the eldest from the youngest and all but Celli had Irish names or were named after saints. What I had been christened (Asumpta) held special significance as I was born on the same date Our Lady rose into heaven (the feast of the Assumption).

It would take the events of the past two decades for me to question if the date of my birth played its part in the situation I eventually got myself lumbered with. Even though I was forty three in 1989 I would still ask myself many times afterward, if what occurred was due to conditioning in my youth or irrespective of any influence, could Bert have been correct when he said that by nature I was falsely generous.

My parents had been in search of a better existence since arriving in the coalfields of northern England from southern Ireland in 1948 and it would appear as they set sail for the land of opportunity sixteen years later they had finally succeeded in their mission. In the mining community they were leaving, unlike the majority who had inherited their place in the smog, they had managed to buy a house, a car, and even a caravan; this achievement saying as much about how hard Ma saved what Dad earned as it did about how hard he worked.

The church was a five minute walk up past the tenements where our house stood on the main road and was packed every Sunday and holy day which served to make me feel very important every 15th of August that came along. Dad was the only Catholic we knew who was never seen inside the church but his children would be there with his wife every Sunday and his wife would also be there every morning and back again for benediction on Sunday evenings. Dad had no time for religion so was never there either when Ma would get her children to kneel and say the rosary as she told them, a family who prayed together would stay together, that the love of money was to root of all evil, that it was harder for a rich man to get into heaven than it was for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, to never a lender or a borrower be and never to take back with the left hand what is given with the right. It was when Ma was away at mass and Dad breaks from shifts in mines coincided that he would take whatever frustrations associated with his lot out on his children, as it was when his wife was away praying for their betterment he took seeming delight in cancelling this effort out by setting one of them against the other in any perverse way he could find.

It never occurred to my parent’s to go back to Ireland on any permanent basis as a place with green fields and clear air was there only to return to for holidays. The family I’d been born into was fortunate in this regard also, as compared to the majority in the mining town they were leaving (who never went anywhere) with three times as many children than in the majority of households, not only did they trip off on a regular basis to a caravan kept at the seaside in a car (which in later years was replaced by a mini bus) but with family connections still back in ‘the old country’ travelling across the Irish sea on many an occasion was considered just part and parcel of a normal existence.

After sixteen years spent in the coalfields, when the time finally arrived to step onto the soil of an adoptive land where the sun shone regardless of the season, there was little doubt my parents had come to a better place, as in comparison to the oppressive damp sooty place left behind Australia was a sunny frontier offering the promise of a new beginning. And so it was with a clear blue sky stretching from one horizon to the other they looked to a more rosy future ignoring with the optimism of children, the baggage they had brought with them.

By 1989, as a related group of eleven, there had been a few ups and downs with any turmoil experienced easily put down to Dad’s inability to adapt to the light after leaving the dark of the mines. The ‘grog’ which was an accepted part of the culture into which we’d arrived no doubt had a part to play in the decline of his optimistic purpose, but looking for solace in the local club could have had as much to do with the church still being within reasonable reach by his wife. Consequently, the dream of a new tomorrow soon began to diminish as it wasn’t long after arriving in the land of milk and honey that Dad had ‘mates’ coming out of his ears as Ma continued to tread the daily path along a hot dusty road in the opposite direction.
Other than neither parent being able to make the required adjustment if a better existence was to be realized, little else occurred after arriving in the sun of a serious enough nature to result in any permanent distancing between the nine other family members. This was to change come 1989, and it would be the events stemming from my parting with Bert that in one way or another would see decent overtake any previous consideration shown among siblings.

Of six brothers, Michael, Seamus and Eamonn take up most input in my tale. Both my sisters, Patsy and Marie Pacelli share an equal amount of space. Of my parents, it was only Dad who held no surprises.