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It Was Otherwise

The telephone rang at around seven o'clock in the evening.  Marie was jerked into reality by the sound of it.  She'd been dozing in the chair, enjoying the quiet of the evening, after her tea.  She'd been expecting the telephone to ring, but she'd almost forgotten.    She knew what to expect.  She was ready.
It was Pat, of  course.  She knew it would be.

 "Ma!" he said, dispensing with formalities.  "Did you by any chance speak to Geraldine today, or at any time in the last few days?"  Tension rose inside her, but she had to keep calm.  For Ger's sake, she had to act cool, and not let the cat out of the bag.

"No!  Why?  Everything alright?" she said calmly, belying the turmoil within.  She heard him let out a long  sigh.

"Geraldine," he said, "she's left me!"  Marie allowed herself to act surprised.

"Are you sure?" she asked.  "How did that happen?"  He let out another sigh. 

"I don't know!"  he said.  "I only know I've worked all my life to keep that woman happy.  And now this?"There was silence.

"Well!'  Marie said,  " I remember her calling me up yesterday and I seem to remember her saying something about......oh, let me see, she said that she was going away for a few days but that she would be in touch very soon and I wasn't to worry if I didn't hear from her immediately.  I presumed she was going away on one of those meditation weekends.  Did she say anything about it to you?"

No she hadn't.  Pat had come home from work in the evening as usual.    There was no Geraldine waiting for him to give him a cup of tea.  There was no trace of her belongings in the house either.    Not a toothbrush, not a jacket, not a scrap of clothing nor a stray cosmetic or a jar of cream.  The house felt empty, and bereft of Geraldine, and doubly so as there was literally not a trace of her left.  Then he'd noticed the letter on the kitchen sideboard.

"Dear Pat,"  it read, "you won't find me here anymore.  I have to go away for a while.  I don't know for  how long.  I need some time to sort myself out and I don't know what way things are going to be.  Don't worry about me, I'm fine.  Maybe we can get together and talk after things have settled down a bit, and figure out what next.  Meanwhile, take care of yourself.  Ger....."

Pat wanted Marie to tell him what to do next.

"Should I call the police?"  he asked. 

"Why?"  asked Marie.  "It sounds to me like she left of her own free will.  She had been very down for a while lately and she probably needed some time to herself..."  The idea of this seemed to astound Pat.

"What does she want time to herself for?  She has plenty to do here.  She has to clean the house, wash the clothes, cook the meals.  Anyway, she has had plenty of time to herself since the children left home......"
Marie felt that the conversation had gone on for long enough.

"Pat!" she said.  "If I was in your shoes,  I'd have something to eat and I'd go and have an early night.  It seems to me that Ger knows exactly what she is doing.  She'll probably contact you in a day or two.  Just keep yourself going.  I'm sure that once she sorts things out, she'll contact you.  And you can take it from there.  Meanwhile, just keep going......."  Pat was refusing to get off the telephone.

"How can she do this?  Has she no thought for me, for what I'm going through?  What about the children, has she contacted them I wonder?"  Marie was quiet for a minute.

"Well now," she said, "why don't you get in touch with the children and find out if she's in touch with them?" she suggested brightly, "she might have called them in the last day or two."  Marie knew very well that the two children would give Pat exactly the same answer that she herself had given.  That Ger had contacted them in the last day or two and told them that she was going away for a few days but would be in touch shortly.  Philip was working in a computer company in London and  Linda was posted in the west of Ireland with the bank.   Pat would keep busy ringing both of them for a while.  Marie, tired as she was, had had enough of Pat for the present.  He could be very draining, she knew.  Her daughter Geraldine hadn't had a day's peace in  years....

Eventually, Pat put the phone down, much to Marie's relief.    She picked up a small mobile phone beside her armchair, and dialled a long distance number.  Her daughter Geraldine answered.

"Ma!" she said, breathlessly.  "Did he phone you?"

"He did," replied Marie.  "He found your note, noticed all your stuff was missing, and is going mad looking for you."

"All he'll be worried about is himself, really," observed Ger, with the certainty that comes from years of experience.  " I hope he doesn't find out where I am or he'll never leave me alone.  He'll turn on the tears and he might even promise that things will be different this time.  But the moment I go back, it will be back to square one again.  I can't have that,  Ma!"  Marie understood exactly what her daughter was saying.

"I know you came to this decision only after a lot of thought on your part.  I feel you've done the right thing.  I'm only sorry you're so far away...."

"Maybe," said Ger, "one day I'll be able to come and live near you again Ma.  But for now, I'm staying near Philip here in London, far away from Dublin.  I'll find some job and get on my feet.  Once I'm legally separated or divorced or whatever, I'll be able to go on with my life."  Marie knew her daughter would be fine eventually.  There was this awful transitory period she would have to go through.  But one day she would be free again.  When Ger was a young girl, she was young, independent and free spirited.  Somewhere along the line, things had gone badly wrong.  Marie promised to call her daughter the next day, and finished the call.

As Marie made a cup of tea for herself, she remembered how her only daughter, a beautiful, intelligent girl, had thrown aside her dreams of further education and a career to marry her first boyfriend, Pat Redmond. In their circle of friends, they were the ideal-made for each other couple. Pat had a good job, so Ger had decided to get married and have a family and try to return to work or education when the kids got older.  Pat had initially no objection to this long-term plan, but when Ger had started showing signs of  independence as the kids had grown older, his dominating nature had started to emerge.  He had opposed every initiative Ger had taken to attend classes, get a job or even have a friendship with any person other than someone of whom he had approved.

He decided everything - where to buy a house, what car to buy, what schools the children would attend.  He barely gave Ger enough money to keep the house, giving her precious little for her personal expenses.  He had refused to give her the money to get driving lessons.  Had Marie not helped Ger out now and again with a little money, she would have been in dire straits indeed.  When Pat had found out that Ger had a Post Office Bank Account, he had nearly hit the roof.  If she stayed out of the house for ten minutes longer than she said she would be, he went out looking for her.  It seems that he thought he was being a loving, caring husband.   But both Geraldine and her mother felt quite differently.

Marie knew that Ger would say that the worst part of living with Pat was not his controlling nature, although that was difficult enough.  No!  It was the mental abuse.   He never, ever hit her, although he could shout loudly if things did not go his way.  But he was constantly putting her down, telling her that she was stupid, incapable, incompetent and unable to take a decision.  He loved to tell her that she would be nothing without him.  Although in her heart, she knew it was not true, her confidence became extremely low and she suffered so badly from depression that she actually had to take medication for a while.

The children also suffered to some extent because of their father's temper and controlling nature.  Geraldine just told them to keep busy with their studies and not to give him cause for complaint.

"In a few years' time," she would say, "you'll be free from all this!" When Marie had asked her once why she did not leave.

"Ma", she'd said, "the day the last kid leaves home is the day I'll start getting ready."  She had been as good as her word.  Marie had silently watched her daughter defeathering her nest for months, taking away her clothes and possessions from her marital home, quietly preparing for a new life elsewhere.

Only Marie,  and Geraldine's two grown up children, knew where she was.  Marie's heart ached for her only child, a woman of fifty, starting life over in a strange city, but she knew it had to be this way for a little while more at least.  Difficult days lay ahead, she knew, but at least a start had been made.  And that was something.

Marie carried her cup of tea into the drawing room and switched on the light,  now that the darkness had settled.  She decided to watch television for a while, until she felt tired enough to go to bed.  Her eyes fell on the photograph of  Pat and Geraldine along with their two children, framed and resting on the mantelpiece.  Anyone would say, Marie thought, that that photograph was taken in happier times.  But she knew otherwise.

On the surface, they were a typical happy family, yet no one knew the pain behind their smiles…..

This post originally appeared on Write Away on WordPress on 22/12/2009

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