The other woman
“I didn’t like your letter.” Norman said.
Rebecca, his daughter, had written to him on Father’s Day. It was formal and very unlike her usual style. She expressed her concerns, not so much at the marriage, but the secret way they had done the deed. She worried that he had kept something from her, perhaps about his health. She sensed something was not right, her intuition rehearsing all manner of tragic scenarios. He had phoned her that Father’s Day evening and told her about his cancer and the treatments he had undergone.
Some weeks later, Norman agreed to meet with his children for lunch for his 70th birthday, leaving his second wife, Esme, at home alone. Rebecca and Greg, his grown up children, insisted they wanted to meet and spend some time with him as a family.
They had lunch, but neither hungry nor enjoying the meal at the quiet bistro. After Greg left to go back to work, Rebecca and her father had some time alone together. He avoided her gaze, longing to get back to Esme. It was not the big welcome Rebecca had expected or hoped for.
“You seem to be living in another world, to have shut the door on me and Greg.” She said.
“Well, I have,” he replied. “I don’t understand why you can’t be happy for me. All our friends are.” His coldness shocked her, witnessing a side she had never experienced.
“You must know I found it so hard losing mum, and then all this… it was all so quick.” She said.
She blocked her tears, embarrassed to lose control in a public place. She longed for some indication of warmth and sympathy, a kind touch. He showed no empathy, not caring in the slightest that she had been so distraught and needed counselling to deal with the sudden death of her mother. It felt so brutal, not one iota of sensitivity to her pain. The impact of losing her mother, his wife of over 40 years, swept away, dismissed like the grubby plates in front of them from the half-finished meal.
“I can’t do this again.” Norman said sadly, as he fumbled for his coat.
“Ok, I understand.” She said. He had made his choice and he wanted her to be pleased for him, but she couldn’t, it was all so raw and his loving someone else felt so obscene and offensive to her mother, her memory violated.
She wondered why the need to be a part of her father’s life was so strong, why was her happy marriage, busy job, two children, not enough? What was it that had made their relationship so special? She had pondered, in her darkest moments, if there was something almost sexual, but this was ridiculous, she dismissed this. The umbilical cord to her past was pure and innocent and formed from her memories of childhood and adolescence: the unconditional love of a father to his daughter. He always made her feel she was so special.
Over the next ten years, Rebecca learned to be grateful that she kept some communication with her father. Christmas and birthdays, she used her boys as hostages to get through the threshold of her former parents’ house. Every visit .some subtle change had been made until nothing of her mother’s taste remained; her pictures were quickly relocated to the loft, Esme’s family taking precedence on the teak sideboard. All the detritus of the previous life removed, snuffed out so her memory was invisible.
At times, she found it hard to imagine where it would all end, if she would be allowed to see Norman if he became ill again or if she would be exiled. She rehearsed how she might respond. She dreamt of one bedside vigil, being called to see him, begging her forgiveness for all the hurt he had caused, content that the happy ending she longed for had come at last. But she knew that Esme would make her suffer in some evil way and she would hear after he had died, denied access to make their peace and forever living in pain and sorrow.
Sometimes she decided to sever all ties, protect herself, building her resilience to cope with the loss to come, but never quite having the guts to go through with it, always keeping some superficial reason to maintain contact, frightened of what she might lose and how she might feel afterwards, as there would be no going back.
Then Esme died suddenly, she could see Norman when she liked, no longer estranged, alienated from him after all those long years of separation. But it was a bitter-sweet victory, as dementia had crawled into his mind leaving an empty catacomb where memories of their happy times together once thrived.
The call came at 5.30am. “Get here soon as you can.” Greg said, exhausted from lack of sleep and the enormity of the situation. Rebecca drove through the night, oblivious to the driving rain and speed cameras. She ran to the Emergency Department the glaring white lights ablaze as she wove through the maze of curtains and rooms, searching for him.
He lay there attached to the ECG monitor, bleeping with life, taunting her with hope. She looked into his eyes but there was no response, just dark pools, fixed and dilated. He never wanted to be kept alive; his biggest fear dependence. The machine with its incessant alarm was switched off and he gasped his last breath. She left the room, letting out a primal scream, but no tears came. She didn’t care who heard her. It came from the very depths of her heart, so broken, mended and now ripped apart, and this time for good.
They moved him to a room, an oasis of calm in the madness of the busy department. He was laid out respectfully, his soft baby-like hair brushed neatly. Rebecca gently kissed his now cool forehead.
“I got you back.” She said.