In the old, old stories the protagonist often embarked on a long, long journey; a quest for meaning, for answers, for a sense of purpose. A few years ago I had my odyssey.
Up until the age of 11 I lived with my gran and grandad. My gran was very protective. She’d lost her own son, Billy, when he was 3 years old and the same thing wasn’t going to happen to me. When all the local kids were playing on the green in the summer evening, I was in bed, the bright sunshine trying to push through the closed curtains. Even during the day I wasn’t allowed to play with “those” children so I recreated epic battles with my soldiers in the tiny walled garden or on the couch next to my grandad.
At the weekend I stayed with my mum. I loved going there. I had near total freedom to do what I wanted; drink milk straight from the bottle; take my meals up to my bedroom; go out whenever I wanted; stay out until after dark. It was glorious. I’d see my mum between adventures; she would smile, tell me a joke, and then tell me to go play. I rarely went in the Living Room.
I spent most of my time either in my bedroom or out with my friends exploring the most dangerous parts of the urban sprawl I grew up in – particularly the Waggies; the wagon repair yards, full of huge abandoned sheds and long neglected rolling stock . As I grew older that didn’t really change. I think my mum preferred it that way.
When I started secondary school I moved into my mum’s house permanently but I didn’t see her much. I’d get up early, catch two buses to school, and then let myself in when I got back. I’d hear her come back from work and she’d shout me when my tea was ready. I’d take my meal back to my room and carry on with what I was doing. At weekend it was much the same.
Various men came and went and then one stayed. I desperately wanted a dad but he wasn’t interested. I became a ghost in a house I didn’t belong in.
On my 18th birthday I was thrown out.
Nearly 40 years later I got a phone call from my mum. She hadn’t long to live and she wanted to see me.
We had kept in touch over the years. She’d come to our wedding, there had been Christmas visits and birthday phone calls but at this point we hadn’t seen each other for six years; partly because she now lived in Ireland, partly because neither of us wanted to.
So I planned my Odyssey. Every detail. It was something I needed to do alone. I even had a soundtrack – Hotel Ambient by Moby. This would be my time for answers. The final reckoning.
I drove to Stranraer in Scotland, took the ferry to Larne in Northern Ireland, drove to Letterkenny in Donegal and stayed in a hotel.
The next day I drove to Fintown, a tiny village on the banks of Lough Finn, to a white house nestled in the arms of the Bluestack Mountains.
I spent 10 hours with my mum and we spoke of nothing of consequence. When it was time to leave I went for the usual awkward hug and she clung to me and cried. There was nothing left of her. Eventually I drove away.
For most of the journey back I was numb. Karen insisted on meeting me at Stranraer (even though it took 6 hours and four train rides). I’m so grateful that she did. We drove home to the music of Moby.
I didn’t get my answers. There were no explanations. Just an end. And maybe that’s OK.