Monday, February 5, 2018

My Father's Son by Don Herald

When his mother dies, Jarrod is determined to find out more about his absent father; by Don Herald.

I might as well start at the end.



I check my watch. Twenty after nine. It's not too late.

I grab my cell off the counter and open the address book. I scroll down, find who I'm looking for and press 'call'.

I wait.

I'm hardly breathing. My chest feels as if a steel strap is being slowly tightened around it.

An automated voice asks me to leave a message. I'm surprised because I expected a live person to answer.

"Hey, it's me."

Not the most original way to start but at least I've made the call.



I should tell you that on the afternoon of my sixth birthday, Hugh left us.

The story goes he told Mom he was going to pick up a new bike for me at Credit River Cycle on the Lakeshore just across from the Greyhound terminal. We never saw him again. Being so close to buses leaving for Toronto every half hour, that's probably why he made up the bullshit excuse for buying me a bike. Ever since, Mom's always claimed she'd no idea why he left, where he was now or what he was doing.

I never believed her.

We lived in a small wartime house at the end of High Street very near the sprawling cement plant property. It was one of those houses that if you passed it a thousand times, you'd never remember it. Mom worked at the plant but I never really knew what she did there.

When I was a kid, letters would arrive with cool looking Canadian stamps. The stamps always had interesting animals on them. Mom and I'd discuss the animals and she'd tell me all she knew about each of them. What she didn't know, we'd head out to the library on the weekend to read up on the moose, beaver or the polar bear.

Those letters always had no sender address. Her name and our address were scrawled across the front with a black Sharpie as if the hand was a bit unsteady. A letter always arrived just before her birthday. Every year like clockwork until she died. Then the letters stopped.

For a couple of days after she got a letter, I'd hear her crying in the middle of the night. I'd get out of bed and slip quietly into her room.

"Mom? You ok? Heard you crying. Mom?"

"Just the pillows, dear," she'd tell me. "I think I must be allergic to these damn things. Jarrod dear, remind me to put them out with the garbage next Thursday."

Of course, I'd always remind her just like she asked. As far as I recall, in all our years together, none of the pillows ever made it to the curb on garbage day.



As a kid, those letters coming just before her birthday made me curious. Looking back at it now, I think maybe part of the reason I wanted her to tell me about the animals on the stamps was my hope she'd forget herself and tell me who sent them. But Mom, she was way too smart to let it slip so easily.

When I was about ten, I decided those letters must be from my dad. Of course, I had no proof. But as a ten-year-old, I didn't need any. I convinced myself she must have all those letters stashed somewhere in our house. So when she was out, I'd search the place from top to bottom.

I'd start with her room - going through the dresser drawers, then the closet and finally under her bed. A couple of times I remember struggling to lift up the heavy mattress just to see if she might've hidden them there. But I never found anything. Nor in the other rooms.

So, naturally, I figured she had to be keeping them in her locker at work. But I had no way of checking that out. I remember coming up with all kinds of elaborately imagined schemes to sneak into the plant, find her locker and, using the key I'd stolen from her keyring, I'd open it up. And there they'd be just waiting for me to read and find out about my dad and his new life. I imagined them being all tied up in a bundle with an old black shoelace from one of my dad's work boots, the ones that Mom still kept in our front hall cupboard even after all those years.

But let me stop here for a bit and tell you about November 21st last year.



We'd been living together for almost a year, ever since I graduated from Seneca College. The job market being what it was, Mom suggested I move back in with her until I found a good paying job in the aviation industry. That way, I'd save money, she'd have company and someone to help with the outdoor chores, especially in the winter.

If I'm being honest, I'd have to say it wasn't the best of arrangements, even though I loved Mom dearly. Fortunately, hard words between us never hung around too long. She was good at peace-making. I was good at being a pain-in-the-ass. Fortunately, we were both good at ignoring the sticky parts of our relationship.

A big sticky part was my dad. Even as an adult, I still had lots of questions about him. Whenever I said we'd have to talk about all of this, she'd offer up something like, 'No need for that now, son. Plenty of time to chat about such things.'

Well, time ran out.

Mom hadn't been feeling well for a couple of months. She'd never been one to put much trust in doctors and hospitals. So, the night I had to almost drag her kicking and screaming to the ER, she was quite snarky with the nurses and even worse with the young doctor who eventually examined her.

"I'm afraid, Miss Leonard, I'm going to have to keep you here for a few days. We need to run some tests to get to the bottom of your cough and why you're tired all the time." The doctor said it softly but there was no mistaking the 'this is the way it's going to be' tone of her voice. To my surprise, Mom immediately dropped the snark and became all cooperation.

After the doctor left, Mom tried to offer up some reassurance.

"It's ok, Jarrod. Nothing to worry about. I'm sure it's a touch of the flu. Probably settled into my lungs. A few days in here getting pumped full of antibiotics and I'll be right as rain. You go on home now. Get some rest. I'll be here tomorrow morning having my breakfast when you come back. I promise."

Next morning I arrived about breakfast time. Mom was there alright. But she was dying.

The nurse said my mom took a bad turn shortly before three. The nurse-in-charge has left me a message to call her but I didn't get it. I'd left my phone in the car when I got back home. Nothing I could do about that, but I still felt terrible. I should've been there for her right from the get-go.

Two days later, Mom died just before noon. I was holding her hand. The left one with the plain gold band I'd never seen off her finger. Her last moments started when she suddenly squeezed my fingers really hard. Faint whispers, as if speaking from a great distance. I leaned close, my ear brushing her dry lips, a sour breath warming my cheek.

"...love you. My heart is... my, my dear heart... love only me."

Mom paused. Drew a deep breath.

"Forgive me... I... I should never have said... our promise..."

Mom coughed. Several raspy-wet gasps, a shivery sigh.

The green-lit monitors began to beep in quick shrill bursts. She was gone. Of course, I'd seen this sort of thing on TV but being part of it first-hand, and my mom on the gurney, well that's something else entirely.

An hour or two later, after all the necessary paperwork was completed, I stumbled out into the windswept parking lot. I carried a large clear plastic bag with the clothes all folded neatly, her favourite Nikes on top.

In the right pocket of my bomber was her gold ring which I squeezed in my fist. One of the nurses had used some petroleum jelly to slide it off the bent finger. But even with the jelly, it took some effort. I'd stood there all numb, watching the whole removing-the-ring procedure. Out in the parking lot, my head cleared somewhat and the ring thing felt like quite a disrespectful act on my mom's body.

I went home to our empty house.

Mom's will was simple because she had uncomplicated tastes. Her estate was modest so I got everything. Unknown to me until the will was read by a lawyer, she'd set aside enough money to cover the mortgage payments for a year while I got myself organized. She was always good at forward planning stuff like that.

Mom's death rocked my world pretty badly. After the funeral, I hid out in our house, drank way too much, punched holes in some of the walls, cried a lot and ignored the many phone calls and emails. It wasn't pretty - let's just leave it at that.



As a single parent, Mom always did the best she could for me. But in my early teens, I was a hell-raiser. I'm sure all my carrying on caused her a lot of silent grief and far too many sleepless nights.

In those days I was running with Ricky Evans and his crew. We called ourselves the Lake Street Boys because most of us lived along that street several over from my own. Ricky had done some custody time when he was twelve. He bragged it was for hot wiring and joy riding in one of the repair trucks he'd stolen from the cement plant parking lot. Some of us in the gang believed he'd really done nothing more than break into old man Preston's place over on High Street and steal a radio, a small TV that easy for a kid to carry and an almost full bag of Oreo cookies.

But Ricky, being mean as he was, none of us ever had the guts to call him out, so we just went along on everything. We stole ice cream and frozen pizzas from Lobello's, tapes and CDs from Jamieson's, spare change and cigarettes from unlocked cars we happened to find in neighbourhood driveways or parked downtown along the Lakeshore down by the harbour.

One night, Ricky set off a car alarm while he was trying to jimmy a locked glove box. A cruiser arrived quickly and the cop chased the first kid he saw into the backyard of the house next door. That kid was me.

The cop was huge. Must've been at least six-five. He brought me home in the back seat of his cruiser instead of going to the station where I was becoming an all too familiar face, a wannabe gang-banger with a bad attitude.

When Mom opened our front door, the cop roughly pushed me through then stepped in himself. He filled the doorway but Mom didn't seem to mind.

"Beth, I'd really do your best to get him some professional help. He's heading down the wrong path real fast. If this keeps up, Jarrod'll end up at Sprucedale. Believe me, Beth, no good'll come of it."

Mom thanked him for his interest, promising she'd do what she could.

"Ben, I'm on a thin budget here. Money's tight. But I'll do my best."

Apparently, she and the cop knew each other.

Ben gave me the eye. You know, one of those hard, no-nonsense looks that always make you squirm and want to look away but you can't. Cops are pros at doing that kind of cold stare.

"Look, Beth. I'm good friends with the guy who runs the Boys and Girls Club down at the Y. I'll speak to him tomorrow about your boy."

He nodded at me. This time there was no hard stare. Just a soft, encouraging kind of half smile.

"His name's Al Tunney. I'm sure he'll be in touch right away. It's a good program he runs. There's no cost to you if Al takes your boy."

The next afternoon, Al spoke to Mom. Soon, I was going to Boys and Girls Club every day after school. During the summer, Ben and Al arranged for me to go to Camp North Star up near Parry Sound. That routine went on for the rest of my high school years.

It's fair to say that was the turning point for me. Not to put too fine a point on it but all the skills I'd put into being part of Ricky's crew, I put to positive use in the Club. In time, I became a senior leader in the after-school program and then Head Counsellor at their summer camp.

After high school, I got accepted into the Flight Training program at Seneca College. When I graduated last year, my mom and I invited Al and Ben as our special guests. I think they were as proud as Mom at what I'd been able to make of my life so far.



I never gave up the idea that Hugh was still alive and sending the letter every year to Mom.

Now I was a college graduate, I wondered what he'd think of all this. I remember that a couple of days after graduation, I asked Mom if she ever wrote to Hugh - you know, telling him what I was doing, what kind of a person I was becoming - you know, all the important stuff about my life since he left us.

"What makes you think I'm in touch with your dad?"

"Well, for starters, the letter you get every year before your birthday. They're from him aren't they?"

My question caught her off guard. She went back to slowly chopping up carrots on the counter, then she looked up.

"No, Jarrod. Those letters are not from your dad."

Just for an instant, I wondered why she needed to lie to me.

Mom looked me straight in the eyes, just so there'd be no mistaking the intent of her next words.

"Your dad's lost to me. To you too. He'd a lot of issues back then. That man sure did. For some reason, he decided we'd no longer be in his life. So he walked away. I've never heard from him again." She paused, looking me square in the eyes like she usually did when trying to punctuate a point.

"Jarrod, honey, I swear to you that's the honest truth." She stopped for a breath, obviously weighing her next words.

"I think it best, Jarrod, if you just leave it be."



In spite of Mom's wishes about my dad, I'd decided a long time ago to hunt for him. He was a mystery that I just couldn't leave alone.

With Mom gone, I cranked my search into high gear.

He was all I had left now that Mom had died. Admittedly, the prospects of finding him after all these years weren't great. But the challenge of it along with the idea of actually succeeding and having a conversation about our lives - well, it drove me hard. I just had to find him. Talk to him. Period.

An online search of birth registration records provided some information. My mother was Elizabeth Emily Hubbard and my father was Hugh Bruce Leonard. At the time of my birth, both had been residents of Clarkson, a small Ontario town just west of Toronto. A Google search yielded many hits to my 'Hugh Leonard in Clarkson Ontario' query. The Facebook identifier list for his name went on for a couple of pages. Since I didn't know where he lived now, I couldn't even use a geotag to narrow down the search field. With both sets of grandparents gone, there were few options left for me pursue.

I remembered that over the years, Mom had kept in occasional touch with some of her high school chums. I decided to see what they could tell me. I called a couple of them but they appeared reluctant to share any information about Hugh.

Anita, Mom's best friend, sensed my frustration at being stonewalled. She did admit to knowing Hugh and my mother in high school. But most interesting, she said, "Your mother paid me a visit about two months after Hugh disappeared. She asked me to promise that if in the future, you ever approached me about Hugh, I should deny that I knew Hugh or anything about their relationship."

Almost as an afterthought, Anita added, "She told me she'd spoken to all her other high school friends and got them to swear the same promise too."

I was shocked. Why had my mother deliberately gone about shutting down her friends? What was she trying to hide that she'd go to such extreme lengths?

Anita volunteered if she thought of anything that might prove useful, she'd get in touch. But I could tell from her tone on the phone that the chances of hearing from her again were very slim indeed.

But a few days later, Anita called to say that she'd been thinking about my search for information about Hugh.

"There's a cop in town, I think he's a detective now. He'd know more about your mom and Hugh. The three of them were classmates through all the years at Port Credit High. Ben Middleton. You know him?"

"Yeah, I do. He's the guy who helped me get set up with Al Tunney at the Y back in the days when I was hanging with Ricky Evans. He was a friend of Mom's. I don't know him well at all, but it's a really good suggestion. Thanks, Anita, for getting back to me."

Next morning, I went down to the police station across from City Hall and invited Ben out for coffee. I told him I had some questions about my mother and Hugh. He seemed happy to come so we walked down the street to Café Au Lait.

"Yeah, we were friends. Hugh, well he was the major high school jock. That one, he partied hard. Whatever he did, whatever trouble he got into, he was untouchable. That guy had golden horseshoes up his ass." Ben laughed at the memory.

"Your mother... well, she had eyes only for him." Another smile.

"It was impossible for any of us to compete with his bigger-than-life personality. Every guy in the upper grades at Port Credit dreamed of getting at least one date with your mother." Ben paused. "I know I sure did." He laughed again and sipped his latte, looking at me over the rim of the mug.

But he was lost in his memories.

"Heaven knows I tried the hardest of anyone. I think I just wore her down."

"A few months after graduation, your mom finally agreed to meet for a Coke and some chips down at Lookout Park above the harbour." Ben looked at me. "We just clicked with each other. It was amazing how much we had in common."

He sipped again from his mug, then the eyes I remembered from that time he brought me home in the cruiser, those eyes captured me, holding me steady.

"Jarrod? You believe in love at first sight?"

"Ah, can't say I've ever thought about it, Ben."

"Well, that's what it was for me with your mother. Love at first sight. Damn, that was something. You know what was best of all?" He paused but didn't really want me to answer. "I knew she was feeling something too.

"But she was big time involved with Hugh, so me asking her to dump him, well that just wasn't on the cards." He looked down into his mug, swirling the coffee around a couple of times.

"But still... back then we were close. We didn't broadcast it but we'd meet and talk about life, about what we wanted to do with our lives. Stuff like that."

Ben was deep in his memories now - the Café, me, the world outside the window, none of it existed for him.

"After Hugh left you and Beth, over the years I'd drop in from time to time, just to check on her. It was tough being a single mom back then, raising you and still working long hours at the plant. But you know what? We never ever once talked about Hugh - why he left, where he was - that sort of thing. Beth wouldn't allow it."

"When you started hanging out with Ricky, I made sure I kept close tabs on you. I knew more about what you and the gang were up to than I ever told your mom. She had enough on her plate. I didn't need to add to her worries."

Ben looked at me. Tears were pooling in the corners of his eyes. That's when I realized he was taking Mom's death just as hard as me. I wanted to reach out, touch his hand, share the experience with him. But before I could manage it, he spoke again.

"Want to know something funny about your mom, Jarrod? Well not funny really. More like odd. One day, it was a couple of years ago now, out of the blue, Beth texted me. Asked if we could meet at Outlook Park near the old maple. Our favourite bench there is long gone, been replaced by a kids' wading pool or something.

"Anyway, Beth asked me to promise that if you ever asked about her and Hugh, I wouldn't say anything.

"I asked her why. I still remember her exact words - 'What's past is past, Ben. Besides, it's a silly waste of time to talk about what can't be changed.'"

"Yeah, that sounds like Mom," I said.

"As you know, your mom can be a very persuasive lady. Even more so back then. So I promised. Twice as it turned out." He chuckled at the memory, then sipped a mouthful from his mug.

"'Scout's honour?' she said. It was a silly request but I held up my hand in a Boy Scout salute. Yeah, I said, Scout's honour.'"

"'You ever pinky promise?' She smiled, holding up her small pinky finger. 'Go ahead. Wrap your right pinky around mine. Make it tight.' I did what she asked but I was smiling.

"'This is serious, Ben. No smiling. You might break a Scout's promise, but you never break a Pinky Promise. It's sacred.'

"I remember that Pinky Promise as if it was yesterday." Ben emptied his mug in a long swallow. It seemed to me he made it longer than necessary just to give time to compose himself.

Without thinking it through, I decided to take a big risk.

"Ben?" The use of his name seemed to yank him back to us sitting in the Café.

"Could you do me a huge favour?"

The eyebrows raised slightly, he was waiting.

"This is probably an incredibly big ask but could you look up Hugh Leonard on the police computer? CPIC, I think it's called. Perhaps a search will turn up something helpful to me."

It was as if I'd punched him in the chest. Ben slammed back into his chair. He looked at me with that same stare I got from him when I was that gangbanger giving him attitude from the back seat of his cruiser.

In that instant, I knew I'd crossed a line with him.

"For Christ's sake, Jarrod! No. Fucking no. That's the stupidest thing you could ever ask me to do. No one messes with CPIC for personal stuff. I could get my ass fired for doing it. Jesus, Jarrod."

Ben was seriously pissed. Those dark eyes never left my face. Customers at nearby tables appeared startled by the huge cop's loud, angry words. He didn't seem to care.

Abruptly, Ben pushed back his chair, stood straight up and leaned over. Now he towered above me, looking straight down.

"Thanks for the coffee, kid. See you 'round." It was a growl.

Not my name. Just 'kid'.

He'd put me in my place and it hurt like hell.

Ben stalked out of the Café. He bumped noisily into some customers in chairs but didn't stop to apologize.

I just sat there feeling like crap about what I'd asked him to do.



The next morning, Anita called.

"I've been thinking about what I promised your mother. We need to talk. There's something you need to know. Come by this evening about 8:30. My kids are out with friends, Tony's doing bingo night for Kiwanis. We can talk uninterrupted."

We settled in across from each other at the kitchen table. Anita wasted no time in getting to the point.

"Quite a few years ago - I think you were in grade six, maybe it was seven - anyways, Beth turned up here one day. She said you'd begun prowling around the house looking for some letters. Anything really that would tell you about your dad. You were hell bent curious, she said. So far, she'd been successful in hiding some things but it was only a matter of time before you found everything. So Beth asked if I'd keep something until she wanted it back. I said that'd be no problem."

Anita reached out, cupping my hand with hers.

"Jarrod, your mother did give me something back then. I've been thinking about it the past few days. I decided you should have it."

Anita left, returning with a small cardboard box which she placed on the table between us. It was an old Campbell's Soup box. It had been sealed with many strips of packing tape. Some pieces had dried out over the years and were peeling off. The box was also tightly cross-tied with that rough twine that's always been popular with gardeners.

"I've no idea what's in here, Jarrod. But from how your mom talked at the time, I think it's probably photos. Maybe even some high school yearbooks or mementoes of her time with Hugh. Whatever's in there, she didn't want you to have it when you were a kid. But you know what? She's never mentioned it to me since. I think Beth forgot I had it."

"My mother never forgot anything. Even an elephant had nothing on her." We both laughed.

"Yeah, you're right. She left it here on purpose, that's for sure. She's gone now, so I don't see any point in hanging on to it anymore."

Anita tapped the top of the small box.

"Maybe it'll help. Maybe it won't. Jarrod, whatever way it goes you should have it."

She pushed the box across the table.

Mission completed, Anita stood up. Our meeting was over.

In the front hall, she rested a hand on my shoulder.

"I think your mom would understand. About me breaking our promise, I mean." Pointing at the box in my arms, she said, "I hope you find what you're looking for Jarrod. God knows there are far too many secrets in all our lives these days."



Anita was right about the photos.

There were lots of faded Kodak colour snaps of Mom in her childhood days. In keeping with the times, most of the pictures were deliberately posed. There were a few of her as a teenager. These images were full of energy, living life large and to the max. It felt good to see her like this.

Fortunate for me, Mom was into writing stuff on the back of each picture - who was in it, where and when it was taken.

There were quite a few of her and Hugh. High school sweethearts. At the usual dances; one at the senior prom. Athletic award nights. High school graduation. Hugh in all his various varsity uniforms - football, track and basketball. Always smiling like a movie star, looking like he had the world by its tail, always with my hot looking mother on his arm.

There were a couple of pictures taken in their first apartment. From what I could see, it was a dump. There was only one photo of me and them. In black and white, it was another of those purposely posed shots - both Hugh and Mom all serious faced, baby me holding a chew toy happily waving it at the camera. On the back, my mother had written it short and sweet - 'Us and Jarrod. Age 10 mos. Clarkson Road. Apt 3'.

Looking at that picture, I realized just how young my parents were when they got married. And just how quickly afterwards I must have arrived on the scene.

For the first time, I began to wonder if Mom might have been pregnant with me when they married. This might explain why they'd got married just out of high school. In those days, if you were unmarried and pregnant, well that's how it was taken care of more often than not.

That photo had no date. Just my age. So I tried to do the math. It worked out pretty close. The odds of her being pregnant when she married Hugh looked pretty good.

But something else was in that Campbell's Soup box.

There were seven photos of Mom with another guy. In various places - picnics on the grass, sitting on a front porch somewhere with a black and brown Cocker Spaniel at her knee, standing on an empty beach with large waves rolling in behind. My favourite was Mom and this guy sitting on a bench, arms draped easily around each other, laughing into the camera. Obviously, they'd talked someone into taking their picture together.

Each of the seven photos had no handwritten notes on the back - no names, no dates, no locations. This was so unlike Mom. Was it deliberate? I had no way of knowing.

The guy looked vaguely familiar. I got a magnifying glass from the junk drawer in the kitchen and examined his features more closely. It didn't take me too long to figure out who he was.

Ben Middleton.

These photos had to have been taken when they were secretly seeing each other in the summer right after high school graduation. The summer Ben had told me about at the Café. Ben and Beth. They sure looked happy. And quite remarkably, their friendly relationship had apparently lasted right up to the day she died.



The diary is thick, faux leather bound. It looks like it's seen a lot of use. Faint stains on the front and back covers, probably from skin oils. A bright yellow graphite pencil with a well-used soft gum eraser is still tucked in along the cracked spine of the journal. On the cover, embossed in faint imitation gold leaf, are the initials 'E.E.H.' - Emily Elizabeth Hubbard.

It's my mother's diary. I just found it at the bottom of the soup box hidden under a large autographed poster of the Beatles.

Like all diaries of that vintage, there's a small, fake brass hasp lock that theoretically keeps the pages secure from prying eyes.

A flat end screwdriver from the junk drawer makes short work of the lock.

Inside, the writing is in my mother's distinctive, tightly-spaced cursive style. The first page is dated. September of her final year at Port Credit. The last few pages aren't dated except for the very last entry. A quick read suggests it's the end of the first year of Mom's marriage to Hugh.

Some of the entries are short; others go on for a page or two. Stuff is sometimes glued to pages - dried flowers, concert tickets or something she's torn out of a magazine. Small, hand-drawn pencil or crayon sketches are often squeezed into the margins. Sometimes they take up a full two pages. Each one has intricate detail. Some must have taken hours to finish. I get a distinct impression of sadness in these sketches. But then I wonder if I may be reading too much into it.

Each page is numbered. There are one hundred twenty-three pages.

I brew some fresh coffee and bring a full thermos along with my big white porcelain mug to the side table. I sit down in my mom's favourite reading chair. Her life as a teenager and a young married woman begins to flow from the pages. Her life encircles me like a blanket.

It's obvious that in those early months, she was head over heels in love with Hugh. Some of their early sexual activity is described - intimate details far more than an adult son should ever know or want to know about his mother.

As the weeks and months pass, I notice a subtle change in the tone and texture of the phrasing my mother uses, her choice of words seems deliberate, more cautious. She writes of Hugh's drinking. His growing anger and jealousy about the guys at school trying to hit on her - all of this gets mentioned more often.

I'm starting to get uncomfortable with the slowly darkening tone of her life as reported within the first sixty or so pages.

Ben starts appearing right after high school graduation. Just as he told me at the Café, their secret friendship blossoms slowly. Now the excitement returns to my mother's words. The margins are full of her colourful sketches. There's some full-page drawings of a harbour with boats at anchor, a gnarled old tree with a wooden bench underneath its branches. All of it is bursting with colour.

Sometimes, Mom writes about how it's becoming more difficult for her to hide her growing relationship with Ben. I get the impression a lot of energy is going into the effort of keeping everything secret from Hugh and others.

On page 80, the relationship with Ben has progressed to the point of sexual intimacy. Most times it takes place at Ben's house while his parents are at work. Of course, Ben deliberately left this part of their relationship out of our Café chat. In her journal, Mom is joyous about their deepening relationship, experiencing their sexual intimacy as a perfectly natural thing.

On page 92, two words appear in the middle of the white page - I'm pregnant!

Eighteen, pregnant and unmarried. Very much in love with one guy; falling quickly out of love with the other. It's obvious she's having only occasional sex with Hugh and a whole lot of it with Ben.

There's no explanation for what happens next.

Mom tells Hugh she's pregnant. His parents, ever the good Catholics, insist they get married right away. A quickie service is arranged at City Hall. Hugh's father brings him into the electrical contracting business so at least as a married man he'll have a well-paying job. Hugh's parents have a small basement flat in a rental property on Clarkson Road, so the couple moves in and prepares to have a baby. Mom writes she's grateful for the support of Hugh's parents. Oddly, there's no mention of her parents.

But Mom has to settle up with Ben. The diary entry is intense in its language and details of their final meeting. She tells Ben that Hugh has asked her to marry him and she's accepted. She offers Ben no explanation.

She doesn't tell Ben she's pregnant. No explanation in her diary as to why she chooses this path.

As one would expect, Ben doesn't take well to the sudden news. There's a lot of tears. Long, lingering hugs are exchanged. Before they part, she says to Ben, 'Friends forever?' 'Scout's honour,' he says, then kisses her lightly on a tear-stained cheek, turns and walks out of the park. It's heavy reading. Mom's emotions are raw and alive right there on the pages in front of me.

In the rest of the diary, Mom is in the early months of her marriage and the mid-stages of the pregnancy. There's a delightful note about my moving around in her belly, sometimes kicking in time to the beat of the music on the radio.

But her relationship with Hugh is deteriorating. He's described as being 'difficult' and 'ranting horribly', 'out all the time with his drinking buddies' and 'skipping work to do god knows what'.

It doesn't take much for me to read between the lines.

In the diary, considerable time goes by where no entries are made. And then her final entry appears.

It's worth sharing with you. It's not dated.

'Today Anita and I saw Ben Middleton coming out of the Dairy Queen. Anita says he's just finishing up at the police college in Aylmer. Rachel Downey was hanging all over him, guarding him like a dog does a favourite bone. She's in her final year nursing at St Joe's. That woman has always wanted to get her hooks into him for as long as I can remember. She must be pleased with herself. Anita tells me they got engaged recently! My dear, sweet Ben. I wish you happiness but please, for god's sake, not with that bitch Rachel.'



I sit under the soft glow of the chair light. I'm trying to make some sense out of everything I've read in Mom's diary.

Waves of unexpected emotion break over me. Intense sadness at my mother's early married life. Seething anger at how Hugh treated her - these days, many would say he abused her. Profound disbelief at her inexplicable estrangement from Ben and the uncharacteristically cold way she went about shutting down her passionate love for him.

I have an over-riding feeling of despair. Given what I 've read about the man, I'm not sure anymore I want to keep tracking Hugh down. I don't like the man my mother's words portrayed. I'm beginning to think that perhaps it's best to let go of his ghost and free myself from its heavy emotional burden on my heart over all these years.

But bubbling away, just under the surface of this emotional tsunami that has me in its grip, is the sense that if I open myself to the meaning of my mother's words, another far more important clue will reveal itself. It's in the subtext of what my mother has been recording in her diary.

I go back and re-read the many entries that appear to hint at it. And then, out of the mists of her words, the shape of a clue begins to emerge.

I sit silently and wait patiently in my mother's reading chair. It's as if I'm trying to channel her spirit into the room. I want her to confirm what I think I've just discovered. I wait. But on this particular evening, my mother's spirit chooses not to appear.

Time passes. Perhaps I nod off for a bit, exhausted from trying to interpret and digest what I've learned from my mother's words. I get up and take a few of the old photos into the bathroom. I turn on the light above the sink and stand in front of the mirror.

My mother with Hugh. My mother with Ben. I look back and forth between the photos and my reflection in the mirror. Several times I shift my head left, then right. At one point, I take a small makeup mirror from a drawer and reflect profiles of my face. Once again, I compare mine to each man in the photos.

I study Hugh and me. Then Ben and me. Back and forth. Back and forth.

I go back to sit in Mom's chair. I close my eyes. I sense her presence in the room but she does not speak.



I check my watch. Twenty after nine. It's not too late.

I grab my cell off the counter and open the address book. I scroll down, find who I'm looking for and press 'call'.

I wait.

I'm hardly breathing. My chest feels as if a steel strap is being slowly tightened around it.

An automated voice asks me to leave a message. I'm surprised because I expected a live person to answer.

"Hey, it's me. Look, I'm really sorry I pissed you off last week. I was way over the line. We really need to talk."

I pause.

"Call me."

I hesitate again, unsure what to say next.

"Please."

5 comments:


  1. I found this story hugely engaging and although it was quite long it held my attention - the fact that Beth still remained a mystery - without easy explanations for her decisions and behaviour was a plus. Thank you very much,
    Ceinwen

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  2. it was clear Jarrod was looking for somebody or something, and had been for most of his life, which I should add is not a criticism. I agree with Ceinwen, we don´t always need to know everything. Fortunately for Jarrod and Ben it wasn´t too late. Very nicely written.
    Mike McC

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  3. Great first line! The story is gripping. The style is just right. Brilliant effort.

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  4. This is well written, gripping (as Bruce notes), and sprinkled with just the right spices of mystery and realistic human emotion. A great read.

    Jim

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  5. I was totally absorbed in this from start to finish. I notice one of the tags is "real life stories" - is this memoir? Such a well-told tale, whether the elements are true life or not - the pacing is spot on, the reveals beautifully managed.

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