By Catherine Delaney from Portlaoise.
The ticking of the clock and the soft snuffles of my newborn grandson were the only sounds in the room. I couldn't believe I had just helped the midwife deliver him. I looked from his dark blue eyes into my daughter's bright green ones. We smiled at each other with that smile one mother gives to another. It was hard to believe my child was now a mother herself. She looked so calm lying there, a little wrecked but contented.
Looking at her I felt so proud and a little sad all at the same time. Proud because she had just given birth to this beautiful baby boy and I knew she would be a great mother to him. But in the corner of my heart next to that pride was a little pocket of sadness.
I knew that even though she would embrace this new chapter of her life, another part was going to be lost. This made me feel sad. I wished that she had more time to explore being a young single woman. To travel and live a different kind of life than the one she was now going to have to live. But sometimes you just can't fight fate and here we all were starting a new generation of our family.
At fifteen I was full of life and trying to live it in a hurry. I was always looking for that something else. I didn't know what that was but I was convinced I wouldn't ever find it in school. I don't know why I thought this because school for me hadn't been a bad experience. It did have some good times. I just always felt that by being in school I was missing out on something exciting happening in the outside world. School work didn't hold any interest for me and this made me switch off a lot of the time. English and PE were the only subjects I liked but even these were not enough to keep me there. I felt I had to get out. I couldn't waste any more time sitting in a classroom.
I had a part time job in our local grocery shop and when I was been offered more hours this was enough to cement my decision to leave school. When I asked my parents if I could leave school, they said no. They were angry with me for even asking. Mam tried to talk me round and Dad backed her up, no matter what she said. After much arguing and some pleading they realised I had my mind set on leaving and that was that. I was very excited about my decision but my parents were not, but I think they thought it was better to be out earning a living then at school not learning.
Stacking shelves was not a very exciting job. But when I put on that apron and stood looking at myself in the shop window I felt very grown up. I had finally grown in to my boobs and with my long mousey brown hair down I thought I looked much older than my fifteen and a half years. Shop work was better than school work. It is only as look back now I see I was too young to realise they were both the same. Work was work whether in school or in a job.
My shelf stacking was soon changed for a counter job in the chippers with higher wages and this was great for me. I could now buy new clothes, new makeup, and get my hair done more often. As boys were now a new exciting thing in my life I needed to look prettier. It was an enjoyable experience working in the chippers, although the smell of grease on my clothes and hair was not. The late night life coming in to the takeaway made me feel like I really was part of the grown up world.
I made lots of friends through this job and when some of them got places on an ANCO course (now known as FÁS) I decided get a place on it too. I wanted to be a part of something, I didn't want to be left behind. We were going to be paid to take part in the training. The course was great, there were a lot of young people on it - many of them early school leavers like myself.
I made some good friends and some close friends and this is where I met Jake. We clicked instantly. He was not actually on the course but had come up to visit his friend Tom. When I saw him it was like being struck by lightning. I was all loved up.
Jake had the whole bad boy thing going on, the long hair, the earring, the Doc Martins and the skinny jeans. He was my moody rebel. We were inseparable, unless we were fighting which we did a lot of. Jake gave me his Lebanon scarf which travelled back and forth between us, depending on whether we were on or off. That scarf travelled miles without ever leaving the country.
My parents didn't share my love of Jake, but I just thought they were just trying to ruin my life. I felt like they didn't want me to be happy. I was angry with them and the more they tried to part us the stronger my love for him became. I broke their hearts.
Jake and I existed in our own little bubble a lot of the time. In my head it was like a Mills & Boon love story. Then the Mills & Boon story hit a bump, Jake dropped a bomb shell - he was going to England with his friend Tom. I couldn't let him go, I had pushed my family and most of my friends away, he was the centre of my world. If he was going then I was going too.
Tom's girlfriend said she was going too so I took this as a sign we should go on this adventure. I had it all planned out in my head - we would go together and Jake and I would set up home and live happily ever after. The idea was set and there was no turning back.
For two days before we left I gave most of my time trying to decide what to bring with me. God looking back now I was so immature, all I could focus on was what clothes and makeup would I bring? How many pairs of shoes could I fit in to my bag? Sometimes I could barely hold in the excitement. I was nearly bursting at the seams to tell someone my news. I stashed my bag in the hedge at the end of our road; I didn't want anyone to find it in the house. Sneaking down the road that night to hide it I was terrified someone would see me, and want to know what I was up to. Later that night lying in bed there were a million thoughts running through my head. Most of them were silly ones, like would I wear my jeans or skirt tomorrow? Would Tom's girlfriend bring her own makeup - she wasn't borrowing mine? Had I put my good knickers in my bag? I could hardly sleep with the excitement bubbling around inside me. There was fear too – would my mother hear I was planning to run away? My biggest fear, I think, was that someone would discover my bag hidden in the hedge and steal it. This, more than anything, kept me awake most of the night.
The much worried about bag now safely in my hand, I stood on the station platform nervously waiting for the train. I was hopping from one foot to another and was killed looking over my shoulder. I kept thinking my mother was going to appear at any minute. This fear had my stomach in knots. Jake, Tom and his girlfriend were making a laugh of me. I tried not to show how much fear I felt but it was hard. All I wanted to do was throw up.
The train journey was not too long thank god and the boat journey was smooth. But all through it I kept looking over my shoulder for my mother.
Arriving in Euston station was a bit of an anti-climax. The excitement, the fear and the journey all caught up with me and I burst in to tears. All I wanted to do was turn around and go back home again. This was all too much. Tom's girlfriend put her arms around me and told me everything was going to be okay. While I dried my tears and felt very stupid, the fellas went to get us something to eat. We sat and ate our food. Jake and Tom got some change for the phone and made contact with their friend whose place we were going to stay in.
Sitting there watching all the hustle and bustle I was saying to myself "Dorothy you're not in Kanas any more". It took me a while to take it all in. Everyone was moving and they seemed to be in a big hurry. Nobody even took the time to say hello. I felt very alone sitting there, like I was invisible. I was hoping my happy ever after was going to get better than this.
The bedsit we were all going to share with Tom's friend was only the size of my box room at home, It smelled like stale beer and dirty socks. It was awful. I wasn't very happy there, I hated it. The room was in a big house where we shared the kitchen and bathroom with four other couples. I hated going to the bathroom, I never felt safe. The lock on the door was only a small latch and when someone came up to try the door it always seemed like it would give way.
The adventure didn't make me feel so excited any longer, just anxious and scared a lot of the time. But, me being me, I would never admit to that.
We eventually got our own bedsit, just Jake and me. Then it began to feel like it used to be. I spent all my time tidying up our room even though it never got untidy it was so small. Shopping for little bits and pieces and food were great fun. We shared the house with three other couples one of which was an old indian gay couple. This was my first time to ever see a real life gay couple. They didn't talk much but smiled at me every time I went to the kitchen to cook. It kind of creeped me out a little.
Domestic bliss reigned for a while then reailty caught up with us. My Mother had found us. Thank God it wasn't her in person who turned up at the door, but having the police was just as bad. I was terrified I thought we were going to be arrested. My Mam had contacted my Uncle. His daughter had friends in the police and between the lot of them, they had found us.
That phone call to my Mother was one of the hardest I've ever had to make. I was scared to death. My heart was beating ninety. My hands were sweating so much I could hardly hold the phone to my ear. She went between shouting and crying, and in the end I was crying too. It made me feel so embarrassed to sit there and have my Uncle and Aunt witness my tears. To them I must have looked like a stupid little girl causing all this trouble. It was agreed between my parents and Uncle and Aunt that I would stay with them for the week and I could go and stay with Jake on the weekends. I was very angry and upset with this arrangement, but I had no choice. If I wanted to stay in England with Jake, then this is what I had to do. It broke my heart to be apart from him. I had left home, was living life like a grown up and still my parents were telling me what to do.
Jake wasn't happy about this either, but he carried on with things. He carried on a bit too well for my liking. It felt like he didn't mind too much that I wasn't there during the week. He still went places with his friends, while I was out looking for a job. By this time I was getting the feeling that being a grown-up was starting to SUCK.
It was only after I went for an interview for a job at a Seven Eleven Store, did I realise this was just more of the same. More of what I was doing at home. I didn't get the job. Mind you, thinking about it now, I'm not surprised – I looked more like Keanu Reeves from the film The Matrix in my cousin's long navy Crombie coat coming through the door. The poor man in the shop must have thought I was going to pull out a gun and demand the cash.
Going back to my Uncle's house I felt very deflated and feelings of home sickness were starting to creep in. I did miss my family. I tried to pretend I didn't and I put on a good show for everyone. But most nights when I went to bed I would lie there and wonder what they were up to. Were they even missing me? What were they saying about me? Would they be talking about me at all? I think I knew then what I was going to do.
It took me a few days to build up the courage to talk to Jake about what I had decided. I didn't want to wreck things between us. I did love him.
Friday on the Tube heading down to see him I rehearsed what I was going to say to him. Switching from one idea to another my stomach was in knots again. It was hard to admit to myself what I wanted, but it was even harder to tell it to someone else. Jake met me at the Tube station which delighted me. We usually met at the bedsit. Maybe deep down he knew something was up. We hugged and kissed but I couldn't relax until I had said what I needed to say. So much for rehearsing what I was going to say I just blurted it out. "I want to go home". Then I took to crying. Now that I had said it out loud the home sickness squeezed my heart so hard it was painful! I just wanted to go right there and then. Jake stood there for a few minutes saying nothing. Then he took my hand and we started to walk. I kept looking up in to his face, trying to see what he was thinking but got nothing. We went back to the bedsit and had something to eat. All this time he still didn't say anything. I thought "this is it he is going to break up with me, we're over". Preparing myself for this I waited. Then Jake looked at me and said "if this is what you want then we will go home". God I was so relieved.
Everything just seemed to move so fast after that. We packed up our stuff, it wasn't a whole lot. We told Tom we were going and he tried to talk us in to staying, but our minds were made up. He wished us luck. It was only while we were at my Uncle's house as I was packing my stuff that I stopped to think. In my excitement of going home I had forgotten how we had left. This is where I thought the shit is going to hit the fan.
Oh Lord why did I have to think of this now! I pushed it to the back of my mind and finished my packing. I said good bye to my Uncle and Aunt they told me I was doing the right thing.
The boat journey home was a nightmare. There was a bad storm – I didn't know if this was an omen of what was to come. I was sick but then so was everyone else. When we landed in Dublin I was so glad to see solid ground I could have kissed it. We had to wait for a bus to take us to Portlaoise and it was then the nerves really took hold. I was shaking so badly and feeling so sick all I wanted to do was cry. What were my parents going to say to me? Where was I going to go if my parents didn't let me in? Maybe I wouldn't have to worry about that if my Mother killed me first.
Arriving in Portlaoise and walking down to where I lived felt like walking to my execution. Where had all that excitement I had in England gone? It had gone south like my stomach I thought. I told Jake to leave me at my gate, which he did, I might add. It must have taken me ten minutes to walk up to our front door. Another ten minutes to knock on it. I was terrified. I don't think I had even knocked on it when it was whipped open! There stood my Mother. All I could do was burst out crying. "I'm so sorry Mam" I blubbered out between the tears. For a minute she just stood there, then she pulled me in to her arms and said "you're home you stupid girl, thank God". That was all the sympathy I got. After that it was lectures and giving out for days. I felt guilty for what I had put them through. But God I was paying for it now. Everything that went wrong in those first few weeks was my fault. But I was glad to be home.
I didn't see much of Jake for the next few weeks, this was probably due to the fact that I was grounded by my parents. It didn't change how I felt about him and I think my parents realised that I wanted to be with him and there was no changing my mind. After all that had happened my parents definitely didn't like him now.
We had been home for two months and I was beginning to get my life back on some sort of track. It felt strange to be home at first. All my friends kept asking me what did I run away for and what was England like. I felt very grown up telling them all about it. That feeling wasn't about to last. My life was about to change.
The first few times I got sick, I thought nothing of it. My Mother, however, was very aware of it. One Wednesday morning after being very sick she said to me "I want you to go to the doctors". I laughed and said "What for?" not thinking I needed to. The words she said to me brought everything crashing down on top of my head. "I'd swear you're pregnant". My whole body just froze. My mind shut down, no way not me. I couldn't be. Not me. This thought was the only thought bouncing around my head as I made my way to the doctors.
As I was sitting there in the waiting room I'd swear people could smell the fear coming from me. I had to wrap my hands and legs around the chair just to keep myself there. When the doctor did the test he told me I would have to come back on Monday for the result. Monday - I thought I wouldn't live that long waiting for the result.
Nine months later when my results arrived, it was a cold bright December day. The pain was unreal, nothing in my life had prepared me for this. God how did my Mother ever have six of us. I was swearing and giving out and half way through I was going home. It was like a scene from hell. The midwife didn't help the matter. She was a cranky old crow. Looking at her I thought they must have built the hospital around her she looked that old. I felt like the pain would never end. But it did. At twenty past seven on that cold December evening I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl
The emotions running through me as I looked at my baby were too many to describe. But the one memory that will live with me forever is seeing my Mother as I left the labour ward, standing in the hall with tears in her eyes. And we looked at each other with that smile one mother gives to another.