Let me start by asking you a simple, straightforward question:
Can you identify a single event that came to define who you are today? Is there an event that happened to you or family or friends that altered you, altered the way you think or act? Take some time to mull over events in your life, your childhood, teenage years—events that may have happened during your formative years.
Mine took place on a cold and grey day in January. It had started like most other school days I’d experienced in my 15 years so far. Having gotten home late from the hospital in Liverpool, visiting my mum after her simple operation, late dinner and bed.
I woke up on time, showered, dressed and off to school—decided to walk to school and got there in plenty of time. Did my prefect duties, went over to my form room for registration and the start of one of my dwindling days in school...mock exams out of the way, results in and did OK, next major event would be my real time final exams that summer—or so I thought.
Miss Passmore, my form teacher, did her stuff, professional as always in her early 80s chic—which actually wouldn't be that out of place today. Then, over all the chatter and “here Miss" comments, I heard her call my name.
Like all kids, a million things went through my head—what had I done wrong? Although no star pupil, I kept my head down and did what was needed to get by. I turned up, fairly regularly although if I fancied a day off, I could usually wangle a sick note out of my mum.
I went over to her desk, not sure what to expect. She told me that the Deputy Headmaster wanted to see me immediately—adding to my worries that I’d inadvertently done something and not sure what it could be.
I left the form room and made my way up to Mr. Einon’s office. The man terrified me, and most of the school. A real old-fashioned disciplinarian, keen on the cane as a way of keeping pupils in line. Remember this was early 1980s in rural Wales—things were a little different to the way things are done now.
I approached the secretary, the stern look on her face seeming to soften when I explained who I was and who I was to see. She pointed to a chair across the reception area and picked up her phone. I sat there for an eternity, playing all sorts of scenarios over and over in my head—was it my attendance? My performance as a prefect? Had I done something I really wasn't aware of? I took in the framed artwork by various pupils over the years, the plants dotted around and in need of a dust, the institutional beige paint, the plywood doors, the generic furniture, and the industrial grade carpet...waiting and dreading the moment when I’d be called in to meet the man himself.
Her phone rang, and she whispered in reply to an unheard conversation from the other end. She replaced the receiver and I knew it was time. She nodded towards the door marked “deputy head” and told me he was ready for me.
I can remember the feeling as I rose from the chair, legs feeling weak, stomach lurching, and feeling so nervous. I’d seen him around the school, never had him as a teacher but had spoken to him once or twice over the 4 1/2 years at the school.
I reached for the door handle, pushed down, and the door opened. He was sitting behind his desk and asked me to close the door behind me. He gestured to one of the chairs in front of him.
I must have shown how nervous I was, as he told me to relax and that I’d done nothing wrong. Easier said than done, and I usually find that when people tell me to relax, I do the opposite.
Then, totally out of left field, he asked me if anyone in my family had been ill recently? Answering honestly, I told him there wasn't. My granddad had died recently after a long illness and my mum was in the hospital at that time but not due to illness. She’d lost a lot of weight and had decided to have a tummy tuck—nothing major, no illness.
He then told me I was needed at home and that he'd drive me. At this point, I wasn't sure what to think, he gave me no details, and having seen my mum the previous evening, I knew things were OK there so really hadn't a clue.
I grabbed my bag and coat as he made a move to rise from his chair. He put on his jacket, brown tweed, and led me out of his office. I trotted along in silence, playing things over in my head. Was my nanna ill? She’d seemed OK last time I’d seen her. My aunts and uncles were in fine fettle, and my siblings were all doing good.
The journey home didn't take long, I lived about 15 minutes walk from the school, and the entire journey was done in silence, letting me spend the time thinking about what he’d said and who it could be?
He pulled up in front of my nanna’s house, round the corner from my home, leading me to think it might have been her and I was going there to meet the family.
I opened the door and got out of the car, being polite and thanking him for the lift. From then on, everything was in slow motion.
I can remember opening the gate, walking down the path that ran past the front door (only for special occasions or visitors) and round to the back door, passing the now dormant fuchsia bushes.
Opening the door, my nanna was in the kitchen, the kettle was on her gas stove, and a large amount of cups and saucers were on the table—a large amount. It was strange that there was only her in this room as it led directly to the little room where they sat during the day. Like a lot of people of her generation, the “front room” was for occasions like Christmas, etc.—never used daily. So where was everyone and why had she been crying?
She put the kettle slowly on the gas ring. She held a hand out and tears started down her face. She suddenly looked old, tired and defeated. I wanted to hug her and make everything OK, didn't care what it was, we’d get through it.
Until she uttered those words:
“I’m sorry, son, but your mum has died...”
My world ended.
I don't remember moving or saying anything—my gran hugged me. A howl so animal, so gut-wrenching, heart-gripping came from somewhere deep within me. My dad was suddenly in the room, arms were around me, kisses on my face—and all I wanted to do was find somewhere alone, hug myself, cry my heart out. But not to be—family was everywhere, I found myself in nanna’s sitting room, tea being thrust in my hand.
Tea: the great cure-all. It didn't work, it would never work. Nothing ever would.
From that moment on, nothing would ever be the same, my family life changed forever—stepmother and kids, failed attempts at college, living alone, unemployment, and depression. A lifelong friend, depression is never cured, is never far behind you—regardless of how you feel today and whatever you take.
Over time, I’ve gotten a grip on some things in my life. I finished college, I’ve held down jobs for decent lengths of time, relationships have proved more difficult as I found it hard to open up and let people in. Family life changed beyond recognition and led to tensions. I’ve taken various forms of medication to alleviate the depression and currently don't take anything—my preference.
Nearly 32 years after the event, I still cry, I still miss her, and still wonder what life might have been like. Would I be where I am today? Would I be who I am today?