Tick-tock, tick-tock. I hear the whir as my grandfather clock prepares to strike the half-hour.
The rhythm continues, the melody of the Westminster chimes marking the start of the final half hour of the time I have allotted to this task.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, at the age of fifteen, I lost my virginity at 6.30pm. Lying in the recently harvested field, the sharp ends of cut wheat dug painfully into my shoulders as the church bells sounded the half hour. He was an older man. Nowadays they would say I was groomed, but at the time I was just a lonely girl who was flattered by his attentions. How could I call it rape, when I wanted his love? I did not protest. I welcomed him. It was only later I discovered that he felt no love for me when he left, driving away swiftly in his sports car, waving a careless hand as he passed me in the street, unintentionally breaking my heart and my life.
I have been reminiscing for five minutes already. Where does time go? Normally it passes slowly in my basement flat, seeming to elongate when I concentrate on those strongly ticking seconds. It is a form of meditation. My grandfather clock, inherited from my grandfather. I like the symmetry of that. I like patterns, routines, things that make sense. Wasting time reminiscing does not make sense. It is time lost. The ticks continue, growing louder, drowning the hum of the fridge, the only other sound fighting heavy silence. They are accusing. Accusing me of what, I wonder. Another random question joining those on the roundabout that whirls constantly in my head. Another question with no answer. I tap long fingernails on the table, in time with the clock, their lighter click irrationally soothing, slowing the frantic whirling in my mind.
Twenty five years ago, naive though I was, by Christmas even I had my suspicions. My eagle-eyed, strongly religious mother suspected and dragged me to the doctor. Embarrassing investigations proved that though my lover had gone, he had left something of himself behind. I was fiddling with my watch, when the announcement was made. It was 6.40pm when my life changed, taking a sharp turn I was forced to follow. Religion did not allow abortion. Not did it allow compassion or understanding. My father informed me I was dirty and dead to him. It was my fault. I had tempted a good man to sin. My mother never spoke to me. My grandparents offered refuge with restrictions. I could live with them, but would have to be hidden in their basement flat. They would provide food and clothing, and take me to hospital appointments, but that was as far as it went.
The grandfather clock whirs again, preparing to play the third quarter of the Westminster tune. My beautiful daughter was born at 6.45pm on a hot summer’s day in July 1993. I fell in love with her as soon as I saw her. Of course I did. How could I not? I was not allowed to breastfeed her in the circumstances, but her dark blue eyes stared intently at me as she sucked furiously on her bottle.
I wasn’t allowed to keep her. It wasn’t an option. It had been drilled into me that I was a sinner, unclean and unfit to care for this innocent babe. What sort of example was I? What sort of mother would I make? Keeping her was unacceptable. I believed them. My grandparents had driven me to hospital but did not stay during my labour. I was glad of it.
The nurses were kind, all things considered. They knew my time with her would be short. Time was not slow then. I tried to hold onto every moment, but was exhausted, hormonal and hysterical in turn. Not a model patient. Another failing.
Tick tock, tick tock.
Five more minutes have passed already. Twenty four years ago I returned to an empty flat and an empty life. I was not allowed to go home. I was old enough to leave school, having had my 16th birthday. My grandparents continued to support me financially as I withdrew further and further. Believing myself to be dirty, I constantly scrubbed the flat until it passed my strict inspection. Following that, I had of course to scrub myself, then the bathroom again. It became a ritual I could not live without. It was my reason for being. What other reason was there? I was a childless mother, unloved and unwanted. Good for nothing. At 6.50pm ten years ago I sneaked upstairs and raided my grandfather’s medicine cabinet, lining up a mixture of blood pressure tablets and cancer medications. My grandmother was dying then, but refused respite care. She was determined to die at home in her bed. The line of medication mocked me. I couldn’t take them. Was it fear? Religion taught me I would not go to a reassuring heaven populated by those who had lived pure lives and had not been tempted into sin. That did not bother me. My grandmother was bound to be there, and knowing her in this earthly life was bad enough. I did want to spend eternity with her. Besides there was always a chance...
No, it wasn’t fear. Hope made me replace everything exactly as I had found it. For once my OCD worked in my favour. I had noted the exact placement of each box and bottle and no one would be wise to the fact that I had been tempted by the biggest sin of all.
What has happened to the last 25 minutes? I should be concentrating on the present, not brooding on the past. I have set myself this time limit and need to concentrate. I pass my life setting myself boundaries and refusing to step outside their limits. If I fail to do something within this time, it does not get done and I have to punish myself. I am human and often fail. My body is covered with scars testament to these failures.
When my grandfather died, he left provision for me in his will. The house was sold, but the basement flat and the grandfather clock was mine. Above me now is a family of strangers, burdened with a woman they pretend does not exist living beneath them. I do not go out. My meagre benefits are paid directly into my bank account and my food is delivered to my door. Online shopping changed my life. I have not left here for more than 10 years. My diagnoses vary from agoraphobia to extreme OCD to borderline personality disorder. I ignore the eggs and flour thrown at my window by children daring each other to frighten the freak that lives here. Psychiatrists say I never recovered from the trauma of my youth. They say my life stopped when I was 15. They were right.
I would have been a disastrous mother. My parents and grandparents were right about that. But I miss my daughter every moment of every day. The ticking clock is a constant reminder. I have convinced myself it ticks in time to the beating of her heart. I wind it religiously, having convinced myself that if it stops, her heart will soon follow. Every eight days. It has become yet another ritual. A small way of proving my love for her.
Tick-tock, tick-tock. The clock whirs again. I have the time it takes for the clock to complete the Westminster chimes and proclaim the hour to make a decision. My hand reaches involuntarily to the letter. I have no need to read it. It is from my daughter,
forwarded to me by some agency which helps adoptive people to trace their birth family. She wants to meet me. I raise my eyes to the mirror, studying myself curiously. It is new. For years I did not want to look at myself. I could not look myself in the eye. Now I look at the person my daughter would see.
I see a prematurely aged, spotlessly clean woman whose arms, legs and face are covered in self-inflicted scars. A mad woman, condemned to live in a self-made prison. A woman whose life is ruled by ridiculous self-imposed rules and rituals. No, it is best my daughter is left in ignorance. Isn’t it? Or will a second rejection be too much for her to bear? I shake my head. I don’t know what to do. This is outside the comfort of my rigid life.
The chimes begin.
One. At 7.30pm she was gently forced from my arms for the last time. I was hysterical to the point of needing sedation. When awareness came to me again she was gone.
Two. Now she wants to be in my life. Can I let her in, or should I shut her out?
Three. I have to decide. If I linger too long and allow the chimes to finish, my OCD will not allow me to reach out to her again. I cannot fight it. It holds me in too tight a grip.
Four. She has left her number and I have programmed it into the phone. One touch is all it needs. Just one touch.
Five. I’m scared. As scared as I was when I first knew I was pregnant. What if she spurns me? What if she doesn’t?
Six. What do I have to lose? My life can’t get worse. I have lived through the worst trauma. If I am rejected, it is what I deserve for letting her go. I will simply continue my existence. But if I am not rejected...if not...
Seven. Last chance. I pick up the phone. And as the final chime fades, and I am still just within my time limit, I press the button. I hear my grandfather’s voice shrieking, ‘No, no
no’ in time with his monotonously ticking clock, and ignore him, concentrating instead on the sound of the telephone connecting me with my daughter.
My daughter, Hope.
© Kathy Goddard