Wednesday, December 14, 2016


An Imperfect Life                            Chapter 18

 

Half sick of shadows

 

“Which Ball are you going to?” I was making beds with Staff Nurse Harvey.  At Christmas we had two Balls – one before and one after Christmas.

“I’m going to the first – my boyfriend Jamie is coming up from Oxford.  He’s trying to get a lift- otherwise he’ll have to hitchhike. 

“Nurse Barnes ‘as got a boy friend an’ she LUVS ‘im!’

“Sit down in your bed Tommie Sargent and stop that row – you’ll wake the babies.Oh that’s the last clean draw- sheet - I’ll go and get some more.”

The draw- sheets were very wide sheets which went under the child’s body.  They were wide so that the excess sheet was tucked in at either side of the bed and if the patient wet the bed during the night the draw sheet could be quickly adjusted without disturbing the patient too much. There was a waterproof mat under the sheet. In theory this shouldn’t happen as the children were regularly pottied and bed panned but children make their own rules.

“Won’t he be at home for Christmas,” asked Staff Nurse?

“Well actually he lives in London but it’s his Final year so he has to spend most of the time in Oxford – swotting - poor lad!”

Actually it had occurred to me that he rarely goes home at all these days.

“Nurse can we see ya when yer all dressed up.  PLEASE Nurse.”

“Stop shouting Maggie.  We’re not allowed on the wards when we’re in mufti.”

Staff Nurse came to my rescue.

“IF you settle down and IF you stop shouting I’ll have a word with Sister and see what she says.  No promises mind!”

I loved our dances.  Jamie said he was definitely coming and I looked forward to showing him off.  I was so proud of him and as usual we were all rallying round making sure we looked our best with pretty ball gowns, evening slippers and sparkly jewels.  Just as well there were two balls as some of the more desirable accessories were working overtime.

Off duty I had just washed my hair when I got the call.

“Barnes!  You’re wanted on the phone!”

 “Thanks.  Male or female?”

“Male!”

  It was Jamie.

“Pat it’s not looking good.  I want to come but I’m snowed under with work.  I’ll do my best but be prepared in case I can’t make it.”

My hair was dripping so I told him not to worry and said goodnight.

By now I almost hoped he wouldn’t come.  At least I would know where I was.

Then at the last moment he phoned and said he WAS coming but could only stay for one night and could I arrange for us to stay at the Millers?  I didn’t feel I could ask them at this late date so I ignored his request.

  As soon as he arrived – resplendent in his DJ - I knew it wasn’t going to be a happy evening.  There seemed to be a great wall between us and I felt sick in my stomach with an awful feeling of foreboding.

Over supper he said,

“I don’t think the visit in February is a good idea.” I stared at him blankly.

“I shall be so busy revising and catching up on practical work.  If you‘re there I wouldn’t get anything done.”

I was struggling  - trying not to look as miserable as I felt when he rocked me on my feet by saying he might go abroad as no-one would miss him.

 Those words reverberated in my head.  Did he really just say that? It felt like I had been kicked in the stomach and I was so choked with emotion I couldn’t speak for fear of screaming at him.  With hindsight I realise now that he was far needier than I had ever imagined.  Maybe he too had heard whispers – Maddie’s husband had caused trouble before - and maybe Jamie had had doubts and uncertainties.

 I remembered telling had him that one night - fed up with having none of my set around - I went to see a film ‘The Third Man’ with a junior houseman.  It was totally innocent – like going to the flicks with my brother.  Surely he trusted me?

  Ginny was on night duty and I’d promised to take Jamie round to see her.  Both of us were relieved to get out in the cold evening air.  We had to be discreet and met her on the ward balcony.  I was thankful it was dark because she said:

“Cheer up Jamie!  It won’t be long now before Pat comes down to Oxford and then you’ll have two whole weeks together.”

Neither of us said anything.

  When we got home to Rossendale everybody was in bed and I suddenly felt deathly tired.

I asked him if he would mind if I didn’t get up in the morning.  There didn’t seem any point in prolonging this misery – but his face crumpled and I moved towards him.

“Please come and see me off Pat”.

He put his arms around me and clasped me close.  I could feel his hands pressing my body closer and closer until I could hardly breathe.

“Yes, yes - alright Jamie I will.  Let me go please.  I’ll see you in the morning. “

  For once I was grateful for Gran’s snoring which drowned my stifled sobs.

  Mum was just leaving for work when I got up in the morning.  She took one look at my ravaged face.

“Eeh what’s the matter Pat?”

I shook my head – afraid to start speaking and she said:

“If ‘e’s ‘ urt ya yer Daddy‘ll kill ‘im!”

That’s when I realised that despite family and friends, ultimately we are all alone

This was my mess and I had to deal with it.

Normally we would go to Manchester on the Ribble bus but for some reason we got the train at Waterfoot.  The carriages reeked of stale tobacco and the bleak landscape – cotton mills and gas works shrouded in a freezing fog did nothing to lighten our spirits.  Neither of us attempted conversation.  Walking through Manchester as we neared the Bus Station Jamie spotted a fellow student in the queue.  He turned to me,

“Don’t bother to wait Pat – it’s so cold.”

“Alright.  Goodbye Jamie.”

  As I walked away from him – I’m sorry there is no other way I can describe this – I felt my heart break

 

I didn’t know what to do.  The thought of going home or back to hospital was unbearable so I phoned Mrs Miller and she invited me round.  During the day with the children I was fine but after we had put them to bed we were listening to some music – I think it was Mahler’s Fifth and the tears started to flow and I had to tell them what had happened.  Maria told me later that Hector had been very upset and I realised that I had to get a grip or I would drive everyone mad – including myself.

I decided to end this unbearable state of affairs and wrote to Jamie telling him I still cared for him but if it wasn’t the same for both of us it wasn’t going to work.  A certain amount of pride was involved.  I had a letter back reluctantly accepting this and experienced the length, breadth and depth of misery.

  The worst part was the awful guilt I felt.  Most of us have been dumped at some stage in our lives but there was this feeling that I had been given something rare and precious and through my selfishness and bad behaviour I’d ruined it.  Typically as my closest friends came off night duty I went on and – feeling isolated the moment came when I – alone on the ward- in charge of the poison cupboard key found myself unlocking the cupboard door and taking out a small brown bottle of phenobarbitone.  The tablets were quite tiny and the bottle was full.  I could swoosh then all down with a glass of water.  I hoped Mum and Dad would forgive me in time.  But Gran?  Never!

She would never understand how I could let some man get me into this state.  I felt some of her steel enter my soul.  A child cried out.  I put the bottle back, locked the cupboard and went to check on the child.

Around this time there was an outbreak of typhoid.  The food at a large firm’s Christmas Dinner had been infected.  The Fever Hospital was in desperate straits and I went to Matron and volunteered to go and work there until the crisis was over secretly hoping I would get sick and die and be rid of this misery for ever.  She was very sweet but would not allow me to go.

 Jamie had loved my hair long so I chopped it off.

  Then I heard some shocking news that gave me the kick up the backside I needed.

I was in town – shopping with Maddie when she suddenly said.

“See that blonde over there?”

I looked amongst the shoppers and saw an attractive woman with bleached hair.

“Yes.  What about her?”

“She looks like the woman Jamie’s been seeing.

When I had got over the shock I begged Maddie to tell me all she knew.  She was probably regretting having said anything but gradually she gave me snippets of information so that I could piece them together and get some understanding.

He had met her sometime in the summer before our Lakeland trip.  She was a sexy older woman, married to a barrister with a young child.  She fell hook, line and sinker for Jamie; she knew about me and was aware of when he came up to see me.  She was a strong woman, determined to have Jamie, and left her husband and child to pursue him

For his part Jamie – just 22, was very vulnerable as far as sex was concerned and aware that it would be at least a couple of years before we could be married.  He was in debt and I earned peanuts.  I don’t think he stood a cat in hell’s chance to resist such a temptation.  Friends who had met me remonstrated with him but whether Maddie and Paul did I have no idea.  They obviously had known - hence the odd hints they had dropped which had unnerved me.  At one time they had jokingly suggested I ask Jamie why he would never play the trumpet again.  He was living a double life, drinking too much through stress and got into a fight which resulted in a broken tooth.

  It puzzled me that they took it so lightly.  As far as Maddie was concerned I was just her kid sister - not to be taken seriously.  Jamie had sworn me to secrecy and no-one knew of his proposal and my acceptance.

  It took me a while to absorb all this information and slowly I began to get angry.

I was angry with this woman for deliberately setting out to seduce Jamie knowing he had a girlfriend; I was angry with Jamie for being weak and allowing me to think it was all my fault and I was angry with myself for being such a stupid, deluded virginal idiot.  The anger was cleansing and eradicated the self pity and despair.  I thought of the strength of Mum and Gran.  No man was going to ruin my life.  I had been happy before and I would be happy again.  I decide to remove all conscious thoughts of Jamie from my head and try never to take anyone or anything for granted again.

  Meanwhile I was going to get on with my life- finish my training and plan the future.

 

17 comments:

AndrewM said...

It's an emotional rollercoaster!

I want to tell you to go to the pub and drink beer.

That fixes everything.

Pat said...

AndrewM different times. 19year old girls didn't do that then.

Exile on Pain Street said...

Did you time this entry to coincide with the holiday season? Clever girl. Is this where you're taken every time you hear Mahler’s Fifth? Beautiful entry, Pat. Was genuinely sorry to see it end.

Thank goodness for Google or I wouldn't know what swotting is.

Pat said...

Exile: it was pure happenstance; I wish I were so well organised. I suddenly realised - with his birthday and the Ball it was the same time of year. I thought I would never see him again and I didn't until 30 years later and then we were together for 34 years until he died. No grumbles - I was blessed.

Kim Ayres said...

Oh Pat. It can't have been that easy writing about this and bringing up all the emotions again - although at least you know you resolved it all in the end.

angryparsnip said...

I have to go back and see when this all started to go wrong. Of course with hindsight we can see his getting angry or upset with you was because of her.
What a huge mess.
Wonderful and yet sad post today.

cheers, parsnip

kenju said...

Excellent. If I didn't know the ending of the story, I'd be very mad at him.

Exile on Pain Street said...

I'm sure I've mentioned this to you in the past and, surely, you must have come up with this on your own, but I believe the creators of 'As Time Goes By' owe you royalty payments. You are Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. You are!

Granny Annie said...

Well kenju guess you answered my question. I am hopeful for a happy ending. Still I am a bit angry at Jamie.

Ms Scarlet said...

This is so true about anger, I'm glad it came to your rescue. I'm also glad you put the poison back in the cupboard!
Heart break - it is agony, and you capture it well.
Sx

SDC said...

That age old double standard. The woman he'd hook up with for physical needs, but wouldn't marry because she's too wiley and experienced. (or did he?) Then there's the naive, gentle, girl who he would marry because she's inexperienced and therefore able to be trained and molded to his liking, although he probably did love you. But you knew. On some level you knew this. And I know things turned out wonderfully later on, so this is all filling in the blanks.

Pat said...

Kim: yes I have to brace myself but it gets easier when I remember the later decades and it was healing that as I wrote it Alastair patiently listened and supported me.

Parsnip: over the years I have come to accept that it all happened for the best. I had a lot of growing up to do. It wasn't the right time for us and I'm so happy that there was a right time eventually.

Judy: I can understand that Judy.

Pat said...

Exile: there are similarities for sure but I don't know enough about their past life - apart from the fact she was a nurse - to compare.

Granny Annie: you're allowed to be angry at Jamie - as long as you forgive him in the end.

Pat said...

Scarlet: I'm glad I did too. I don't know that I could ever do it. I hope to go out like Al. In a flash.

SDC: yes he did marry her but I have to admit I was comforted by the fact that it was after I married. They had three children who are a great support to me now.

Mage said...

I'm so sorry he was so juvenile. Yes, you grew up...and so did he, but at the time it was awful. So glad you came out of it all as such a wonderful person.

Pat said...

Mage: how I wish that were true.

LL Cool Joe said...

Ooh this was interesting to read, but painful too. Well I felt your pain. They say things like this always happen for a reason.