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Love Your Work: Week Seven
WITH LAZY SUMMER WEEKENDS AHEAD, NOW IS THE TIME FOR A BEACH READ.
This summer, we hope you will enjoy sneaking away for half an hour or so every Friday as we bring you each new instalment of our Summer Serial – Love Your Work by first-time Canberra author, Trish Smith.
She recommends reading it in a hammock, with a large glass of iced tea nearby and your phone on silent.
Missed out on last week or want to read the entire series up to this chapter? Click here.
This week: When Abby runs into an old friend of her parents’, it sets off a series of difficult conversations, shocking admissions and larger than usual G&Ts.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.
UPDATE ON MY MAD EXISTENCE
Tales from My Life
– – – – – – – – – – –
So the new job is going really well, blah blah blah. I’m very busy, meeting lots of new people, seeing the insides of an awful lot of government office buildings and having the occasional interstate trip to visit the careers centres of other universities. But that’s not what’s brought me out of my blog-drought (sorry for the lack of posts). No, the real story is that MY MOTHER-IN-LAW LIVES IN MY GARDEN.
I know, I know, I can’t believe it’s happened either. My husband basically wore me down. And I know what you’re thinking—he’s really good at wearing me down (or I’m a spineless wimp). But yet again he talked me into doing something that really, in the great scheme of things, is probably the right thing to do. I struggle with what is the right thing to do all the time so actually I’m grateful that he’s here to calibrate my moral and ethical compass.
When my mother-in-law started living in my garden, I resigned myself to the fact that I would probably have to see her a bit more regularly. Do you remember when I had that enormous argument with her, right before I ran away from home and went on that tropical holiday? I guess you could say there’s an unspoken truce between us, because neither of us has ever mentioned it again. My husband has never brought it up with me, though I have my suspicions that he might have cautioned his mother about where the boundaries are.
Anyway, the reason we have been able to carry on with our lives is that I hardly ever see her. Patrick wanders down the garden path and has dinner with her in her little cottage once or twice a week, and I generally stay home and give myself a pedicure. I’ve discovered that the best way for me to get on with my MIL is to just not see her very much. Hence my apprehension about her living IN MY GARDEN. I guess we’ll see how it goes. At the very least there will be plenty of blog fodder.
In other news, Emma’s in town for a few weeks, but none of what she and I get up to will be repeated on this blog. Sorry to disappoint.
Bernadette on: Update on My Mad Existence
Hello! I haven’t read your blog in ages and oh my goodness so much has happened! Your business collapsed and now your mother-in-law is living with you?? I honestly don’t know which is worse. I hope you’re OK!
Claire on: Update on My Mad Existence
You’re kidding, right? Please tell me you’re kidding. And yes, I was thinking ‘spineless wimp’. What’s going on with you?? You need your husband to ‘calibrate your moral compass’ for you? Did you really just write that? What are you, a 1950s housewife who can’t think for herself? There is no equality in your marriage, as far as I can tell. And it’s not just that he’s talking you into stuff that you don’t want to do – you’re letting yourself get talked into it. I don’t understand you. Please instruct Emma to give you a kick up the backside for me, will you?
Mandi on: Update on My Mad Existence
@Claire – that’s a bit harsh.
Sophie on: Update on My Mad Existence
@Mandi – she’s putting this stuff out there, she knows we’re reading it and she leaves the comments open so we can tell her what we think. On the other hand, @Claire doesn’t know the whole story, we all only know what she tells us in the blog, so that did sound a bit judgemental.
Claire on: Update on My Mad Existence
I just don’t understand why she is the one making all the compromises all the time. Sorry if I sounded too cranky. But is there anyone else out there also wondering how it is that she is still married to him?
Sophie on: Update on My Mad Existence
@Claire – yes, I was wondering that. I’ve decided that the sex must be really good. I mean, he must be doing something right. There’s something she’s getting in return for giving him all her money and letting him build a granny flat in the garden for his mother? So, yeah, phenomenally good sex.
KarenB on: Update on My Mad Existence
I think the marriages that survive these kinds of stressful events are richer and more stable than those marriages that have never been tested. I think you’re right, @Sophie – we don’t know the full story so we shouldn’t judge. But what we do know is that Ms Love has made a couple of really tough choices in order to keep her relationship intact and to be honest I think that shows a hell of a lot of character, and is therefore not at all a reflection of the strength of her spine.
Abby was reading through the comments when her phone rang. It was Emma.
“Hey, just read your blog, you’ve certainly got your readers fired up over your new living arrangements. It’s so funny how they all get so involved in your life. Sophie cracks me up.”
“I know! Some more so than others.” She closed the lid on her laptop and switched her attention to the telephone. “So what are you up to tonight?” asked Abby.
“Well, I’ve got a few more conference calls to make but then I thought I’d head over to that new bar in Manuka and check it out. What are you up to? Care to join me for a drink? Or do you have a night of phenomenally good sex all lined up?” she asked.
“Ha ha. No, he’s taking the boys to the pub. It seems to be a regular Friday night thing now. Let me just finish up a few things here and then I’ll be able to meet you there.” Abby looked at her watch. “How about six o’clock? That gives me enough time to read through some applications and check my email before the weekend.”
“Alright, I’ll meet you there. Do you want to get dinner afterwards at Belluci’s?”
“Sure. I don’t think Patrick’s going to be home until about nine if recent form is anything to go by. I’ll see you soon.”
By five past six Abby was sitting on a shiny steel bar stool at the end of a long, glass-topped bench, watching as the bar filled up with groups of two or three young women and packs of five or six young men, all checking each other out whilst trying not to appear too eager. Subtle glances and shy smiles were exchanged, and every so often a young man would leave his group and sidle up to a young woman who had approached the bar by herself. They’d flirt and smile a bit and sometimes keep talking, but mostly they’d go back to their respective tribes and wait for the next opportunity. For Abby, who was already married at their age, it was a fascinating display of behaviour that she had never indulged in. She and Patrick had started going out when she was a twenty-one-year-old university student and he was thirty-one with a fairly unremarkable dating history. Abby had always been a little bit grateful at meeting Patrick so young and being spared the angst of having to dress up and go out to nightclubs every weekend in search of a boyfriend. It just seemed like such a lot of effort.
Just as Abby was beginning to wonder where Emma was, her phone beeped with a message alert. One of the conference calls had gone overtime and she wasn’t going to be there for another half hour. Abby looked around, spotted a tapas menu and decided to order something to eat to go with her second gin and tonic. Then she sent a quick reply to Emma to let her know she was going to wait at the bar. She was looking at the menu when she heard a voice behind her.
“Abby?” Abby turned her head to see a woman of about sixty, wearing a very sharp navy suit and a string of pearls. She had pale blue, gentle eyes. Abby recognised her face but couldn’t immediately place her. She put down the menu and swivelled her bar stool to face her.
“I’m Shauna Lang. I knew your mum and dad.”
Shauna Lang and her husband were very frequent dinner guests at Abby’s home when she was growing up. Abby was allowed to say hello to them before she was sent back into the kitchen to finish her dinner up at the counter and then to her room to put herself to bed. Shauna was always really happy to see Abby, and Abby remembered that every time they came, Shauna wanted to hear all about the book Abby was reading that week and whether or not she was enjoying the story. When Abby was a teenager Shauna would sometimes knock on her bedroom door and pop in for a chat. Abby couldn’t remember what they talked about—probably books—but she remembered enjoying the attention as well as the conversation.
“Of course, yes, I remember you now. I remember you came to our house a lot when I was a kid.”
“Yes, there were a few years where we lost touch a little. We had the twins, so our hands were pretty full. And then you moved out of home when you started university so I guess we didn’t really have a chance to see you much after that.”
“You came to the funeral.” Shauna and her husband and kids had been seated in the second row, right behind Abby.
“Yes, that’s right. And then Phillip and I came and helped you clear out your parents’ study. All those books! Gosh, that was a job and a half.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. I’d forgotten about that. Sorry—it’s all a bit of a blur.” After the accident, Shauna and her husband had helped Abby go through her parents’ collection of books and all the notes and papers they had accrued over their years in academia. Abby didn’t want any of it and Shauna seemed to know what was important and what could be thrown away, so Abby just let her go through it all and take what she wanted. Shauna had left the house with several cardboard boxes of papers and books that she said the law library at the ANU might be interested in having. Abby saw her again several months after that at the auction of her parents’ house, though Abby stayed seated at the very back of the room and didn’t talk to her. That was almost six years ago and none of Abby’s parents’ friends had ever contacted her to see how she was coping on her own, which Abby was surprised at, although she did wonder what on earth she would have to say to these people, as she hardly knew them.
“This is so odd, running into you, Abby. I was just thinking about them the other day. And about you” she added, her tone changing slightly.
“You were thinking about me?” she asked, not sure where this conversation was headed and feeling immediately uncomfortable. “What were you thinking?”
“Just that it’s been such a long time since I saw you. Time goes by so quickly, don’t you think?”
Abby leaned back a little on her stool with one hand on the counter to steady herself. She couldn’t think of an appropriate response so she just sat silently and waited. Shauna played with the pearls around her neck and looked around the room. “Are you here with Patrick?”
“No. I’m meeting a friend.” Again, there was an uncomfortable silence. Abby was surprised at her reaction to seeing this woman. She didn’t feel completely disinterested, but she also wasn’t feeling compelled to chat with her.
“Look, Abby, I really would like to talk to you.” Shauna glanced over Abby’s shoulder at nobody in particular, still fiddling with her pearls. There was clearly something on her mind but Abby could see she was struggling to articulate it. Curiosity got the better of Abby and she prompted Shauna to say what she wanted to say. “Do you think we could go somewhere a little less noisy? How long do we have until your friend will be arriving?” she asked, looking at her watch.
“Any minute, I’m afraid. Sorry, not great timing.” Abby looked at her watch and then scanned the room.
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ambush you like this.”
“It’s fine.” Abby reached into her purse and pulled out a business card. “Here’s my number. Why don’t you give me a call next week and we can make a time to meet?”
“Alright, thanks. I’ll give you a call on Monday. It was good to see you, Abby. You’re looking really well. And happy. I’m so glad to see you looking so happy.”
Shauna left, and Abby turned back to the bar and played with the straw in her glass. She really couldn’t imagine what Shauna wanted to say to her. Did she just want to catch up and reminisce about the good old days or was there something specific she needed to tell her? Abby gave up trying to figure it out and pushed it to the back of her mind. “Can I please get another one of these?” she asked the guy behind the bar. “Can you make it a double?”
Emma arrived just as Abby was finishing her third drink, and as she stood up to hug her she stumbled sideways just a little. Emma caught hold of her and also had quick enough reflexes to catch her purse that was falling off the bar.
“Whoa, careful. Stood up a bit too quickly, did we?” Emma looked at the glass on the bar, noting the ice cubes and slice of cucumber. “Had a few Hendrick’s, I see?”
“Just a couple. You were taking so long and I just had to keep ordering them so I didn’t look like a sad loser sitting at a bar all by myself.”
“Honey, nobody thinks you’re a sad loser.”
“So then why am I still sitting here at the bar and none of these cute guys are coming over and buying me a drink?”
“Because you’re not old enough to fulfil their cougar fantasies.”
“You are sick, you know that?”
“Come on, let’s go and get some food into you, you great lush. Are you hungry or have you filled up on cucumber slices?”
“I’m on a diet. I’m on a cucumber diet.”
“Awesome. Come on.” They left through the nearest door, leaving the sea of twenty-somethings to their mating rituals. “We’ve got a table booked at Belluci’s. I need a big bowl of ravioli. And garlic bread.”
“Sounds good. Hey, where’s my purse?” asked Abby, looking back over her shoulder to where she had been sitting.
“I’ve got it.”
They walked three doors down to the Italian restaurant and followed the waiter to a table by the window. He didn’t bother giving them menus and they didn’t need to ask for them.
“I love that we know this place so well” said Abby, tucking into the basket of bread that suddenly appeared in front of her. “I love that we keep coming back here and we always have the same thing and the staff know us and the chef comes out and flirts with us and the cute guy at the bar knows what wine we’re going to have.” She was rambling but she didn’t care. “I love this place. I love you.”
“I love you too. But keep your voice down. You’re very loud.”
“Oh, sorry. Sorry! I’ve had a few too many slices of cucumber, if you know what I mean.”
“Yep, I get it. Eat some more bread. There you go.”
“Oh my God, Emma, you’ll never guess who I’ve just seen!” She shouted. “Ooh, sorry” she whispered to the people at the next table. Abby put the bread down and leaned across the table as though she was about to divulge an enormous secret. “I saw Shauna!”
“She’s one of my mum and dad’s friends. God, I haven’t seen her in over five years.”
“Did you talk to her?”
“No. Yes, just for a minute. She said she wanted to talk to me, like there was something important she needed to tell me, and so I told her to call me next week.”
“What do you think it’s about?”
“I have no idea.”
“So when are you going to see her again?”
“She’s going to call me next week.”
“Mmm.” Abby finished her glass of wine and poured herself some water. “I need to stop drinking. I can’t feel my legs.”
“Hey, that’s what I wanted to ask you!” said Emma, suddenly remembering. “How are things going with Jean? How’s she enjoying the cottage?”
“Well, Jean is just like a little piggy in mud. She loves it. The fence went in this week, so she’s got her little garden patch and she’s been ‘preparing the soil’ or something. So yeah, literally a little pig in mud. She’s going to grow tomatoes and basil and make her own pesto. She’ll probably start making pesto-flavoured scones.”
“I think the fence is a good idea, though” said Emma. “It means you’ve got a bit more privacy. You all do.”
“I know! I can just pretend she’s not even there! And the gate we put in is really heavy, so when it closes there’s this loud bang, so I can hear when she’s coming up to the house and I can run out the front door before she gets to the back verandah.” Abby was laughing but Emma just looked at her. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I’m just wondering why you still dislike her so much.”
“Careful, Emma, you sounded just like Patrick then.”
“Why, what does he think about all this?
“He loves that his mother lives in our garden.”
“No, I mean how does he feel about how you feel about Jean?”
“I don’t feel anything about Jean, Emma. I’m indifferent.”
“No, you’re not. If you were indifferent you wouldn’t have been going on and on so much about what a nightmare the cottage has been. It’s all you’ve been talking about.”
“I’m sorry if I’m boring you.”
“You’re not boring me, Abby” said Emma, sounding slightly exasperated. “I just don’t think it’s healthy for you to be carrying around all this anger and animosity towards a woman who, for better or for worse, you’re stuck with for a long time. I think it’s time you buried the hatchet, don’t you? Let it go.”
Abby picked up the wine bottle and poured herself half a glass, then topped up Emma’s glass. “Don’t you remember the argument, Em? Don’t you remember all the horrible things she said to me?”
“Yeah, I remember, barely. But it was ages ago, and it was said in the heat of an argument, during a very emotional time for you. I just think you need to put that into perspective a little. She’s your husband’s mother, Abby, and now she’s your next door neighbour. You can’t not get along with her.”
“She can come up to the house whenever she feels the urge to apologise.”
“Let it go, Ab.”
“I can’t believe you’re siding with her.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake. I’m not siding with anyone. You both said rotten things to each other, if memory serves. But it was years ago. Come on, it’s time to move on. Or are you planning to be angry at her for the rest of your life?”
“I’m not angry at her. I’m hurt. There’s a big difference.”
“If you don’t resolve this, you’re going to have that cranky look about you forever and the only thing that’s going to get rid of those lines on your forehead is Botox.”
“They’ve been working on a new, less toxic, less scary kind of Botox.”
“Abby, be serious.”
“I don’t know why you care so much about Jean.”
“I don’t care so much about Jean, I care about you. I’m worried about you, Abby. All you do these days is work, complain about your mother-in-law and occasionally grumble about your husband. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of joy in your life. You don’t seem very happy.”
“Ha! Shauna Lang just told me she thinks I look very happy!”
“Really? And how well does Shauna Lang know you?”
“Not well” she conceded. “So what do you think I should do?”
“You want my honest opinion?”
“That depends—is it going to hurt?”
“It’ll be less painful than Botox” said Emma, smiling.
“Alright, let’s have it, Oprah.” Abby made a big show of grabbing hold of the sides of the table, bracing herself for the advice.
“I think you should go and talk to a counsellor. I think you have some unresolved issues with your parents and that’s affecting your marriage and it’s definitely having an impact on your relationship with Jean. You’ve been putting on a very convincing, very brave face all these years, Abby, but I think you are still in mourning, my dear friend, and I think you need to get some help.”
Abby was completely stunned. She stared across the table at Emma, not sure what to say in response. She had never, ever considered going to see a counsellor or anyone to talk about her parents, and Emma was more aware of that than just about anyone because they had talked about it in the past. The whole notion of talking to a complete stranger about her entire life seemed completely ridiculous and a waste of time to Abby. She had dealt with her feelings in the months after the accident by throwing herself into her career, and that had worked well for her. And if anything was really bothering her, she’d write about it in her blog and let the readers give her advice. She wasn’t completely ignorant. She had seen enough movies and watched enough bad television to know that ‘burying one’s feelings in work’ was a risky approach, but it was working well so far and she had no intention of opening up to a counsellor simply because that’s what popular culture told her she should do. But she rejected Emma’s assessment that her parents’ accident was the reason behind the difficulties with Jean, and she also rejected any suggestion that she and Patrick were having any problems.
“My parents’ death has no bearing on my marriage. And anyway, there’s nothing wrong with me and Patrick. We’re fine.”
“Yeah, you keep saying that. You say that a lot. Which is why I don’t believe it.”
“So you’re a marriage counsellor now?” Abby was starting to get annoyed. “Or are you psychic? How is it that you think you know so much about me?”
“Because I’ve known you for nearly thirty years. Give me some credit, Abby.”
“That doesn’t give you the right to tell me what I should do with my life.”
“Oh my God, do you hear yourself?! I’m not telling you what to do with your life. You are free to make whatever choices you see fit. I’m expressing concern over your wellbeing, which is what friends do for each other, OK? You’ve done the same for me, and yes, it’s not pleasant to hear it, but it’s necessary. You haven’t been yourself in a while, and I’m worried about you. But I don’t have the first clue about how to help you, which is why I think you should go and talk to someone. That’s all I’m saying. It’s a suggestion, Abby. Take it or leave it.
“I’m going to leave it, thanks.”
“Yeah, I figured you’d say that. Look, you’re not thinking straight, not least of all because of how much you’ve had to drink tonight, so maybe we shouldn’t even be having this conversation right now.”
“We shouldn’t be having this conversation ever, Emma. If I wanted your advice I would’ve asked for it. But I don’t want it, I don’t need it, and I’d appreciate it if you could keep your sage opinions about my marriage and my wellbeing entirely to yourself.” Abby knew she was being completely obnoxious, but she didn’t care. Running into Shauna and now being confronted with this had upset her, and with the alcohol in her system she was just saying the first thing that came to mind. “You’ve been living a million miles away, you’ve been gone for a year and a half and you’ve missed out on a lot of stuff. Just because you read my blog doesn’t mean you have a clue what’s going on in my life.”
Emma put her napkin on the table and reached under the table for her handbag. She looked up at Abby with tears in her eyes and shook her head. Abby just stared back at her as though challenging her to say something in response. But Emma didn’t say a word. She took a fifty dollar note out of her purse, placed it on the table and walked out.
Abby watched her go, and watched through the window as Emma walked back across the street towards the car park.
What had just happened? Did they just have an enormous fight? Abby tried to think about what Emma had said to her that had got her so fired up. There wasn’t anything in that conversation that Abby hadn’t already asked herself. She knew she was a mess—she just wasn’t ready to discuss it with anyone else. She couldn’t imagine she’d ever be ready, because she knew that once that conversation started it would be really hard to make it stop. Better to just stay quiet, get on with things, and keep pretending. Botox wasn’t that big a deal. She resolved to call Emma in the morning and apologise.
Abby was paying the bill when her phone beeped. There was a message from Emma.
I don’t know what just happened there. Perhaps I need to give you some space for a while. I need a break too. I’m in town for two more weeks but I think it’s best if we not see each other for a bit.
Abby went outside and stood at a taxi rank. Somewhere in the distance she could hear the low rumbling of an early summer thunderstorm, and just as a vacant taxi pulled up it started to rain. She sat in the back seat, gave the driver her address and then sobbed silently all the way home.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
The taxi dropped her off at the bottom of the driveway and as she stumbled up the steps Patrick opened the front door.
“Darling are you OK? You’ve been crying. What happened?”
Abby wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand and smeared makeup across her face. She stopped half way up the stairs and looked up at Patrick, not sure how to begin. She dropped her handbag on the step, sat down, and started to cry again.
“Oh God, what’s going on? Come inside, it’s wet.”
“I don’t want to come inside. I’m a terrible person.”
“What happened?” Patrick grabbed an umbrella from just inside the front door and opened it above them both as he sat down beside her. “You’re not a terrible person.”
“I am. I just yelled at my best friend and now she hates me and she never wants to see me again.”
“You mean Emma? I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“Yeah, it is.” She showed him the message on her phone.
“What did you say to her?”
“Oh God, I don’t know! I don’t know what I said because I was ranting and raving and also because I’ve had too much to drink to be able to remember. But it was bad, she was really upset, and she was just trying to be a good friend. Oh, God. I’m such a terrible person.”
Patrick helped her to her feet and half-carried her inside. She was crying again and she didn’t have the energy to protest so she let him take her to their bedroom and tuck her into bed. He brought her some water and sat beside her, stroking her hair gently as she fell asleep.
The next morning Abby woke up, spooned against Patrick’s warm body. His breathing was steady as she wrapped one arm more tightly around him. The memory of her argument with Emma came back and she squeezed her eyes tight, groaning at the thought of what she had done.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” Patrick was awake.
“Terrible. Hung over and full of remorse. I was just remembering what I said to Emma. I got so angry with her, Patrick. She was genuinely trying to help and I got so angry with her.”
“What did you fight about?”
“She told me that I need to see a counsellor. She says I’m grumpy all the time and I need to cheer the hell up, and that I’m still in mourning over my parents.”
Patrick didn’t respond, and they lay there for a few moments, matching their breathing and thinking about Abby’s mum and dad. Finally, Patrick spoke.
“What brought this on? Why would she say that?”
“Well, first we were talking about your mother.”
“What about her?” Patrick rolled over and sat up.
“You know, the cottage in the garden, having her live with us.” Abby sat up as well, and reached out to the glass of water sitting on her bedside table. She was dreading this conversation.
“And what does Emma think about it?” Abby didn’t want to tell Patrick that Emma agrees with him, that Abby is being unnecessarily hostile and that she needs to make an effort to get along with Jean. Abby couldn’t bear not to have an ally in this battle, but she decided it was best to come clean. She took a mouthful of water and swallowed hard.
“She agrees with you.” She looked over at Patrick and was grateful for his unchanged expression. She would have lost it if he’d started to gloat, but he was very graceful.
“And so this is what you argued about? My mother? How did the conversation get onto your parents?”
“I don’t know. Oh, yeah, hold on. I ran into Shauna Lang. Do you remember her?”
“Yeah, I met her a couple of times. Friend of your mum’s, right?”
“I ran into her right before I met Emma for dinner, and she said she wanted to talk to me about something. It sounded a bit ominous, actually, now that I think about it.”
“What do you think it’s about?”
“No idea. She’s going to call me next week, so I guess I’ll find out then.”
“So how did you get from talking about her to talking about mum? I don’t get it.”
“Shauna told me that she thought I looked really happy, which Emma thinks is ridiculous because she thinks I’m grumpy all the time. So then we got into an argument about whether or not I’m happy.”
Patrick reached out and took Abby’s hand, exhaling deeply. He played with her fingertips and Abby could tell he was trying to decide what to say. She waited silently, bracing herself for what she knew was coming, but he seemed to want to let her do all the talking.
“I’m not happy. I don’t think I’m as grumpy as Emma says I am, but I agree with her that I’m not happy. But I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Patrick.” Even as she said those words she knew it wasn’t true. She knew exactly what the problem was, she just didn’t know how to say it out loud.
“I don’t know what to say, Abby. I mean, I’ve thought for a while now that there was something not really right, you know, beyond all the stress with the business and then the new job. But we’ve hardly spent two minutes together in months. There’s never been any time to just talk and try to figure things out. I’ve wanted to ask you, but you’ve been a bit—well—closed off.”
“It’s not work, Patrick. And it’s not you, and it’s not Jean. Maybe Em’s right. Maybe I do need to go and talk to someone?” Again, she could hear herself saying one thing out loud while thoughts of something completely different were forming in her mind. “Maybe I am in mourning.” Maybe I want to have a baby. “Maybe I am grieving.” Maybe I want to have a family. “Emma might be right.” Nobody has any idea. None at all.
“I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s something else.” Patrick turned to face her straight on. “I’ve known you longer than just about anyone, and I knew you before your parents died and I’ve lived with you every day since then. I know you miss them, and I know you have days when you struggle a bit with them not being around anymore. But I don’t think that’s it. I don’t know what it is, though, and I wish you could tell me.”
Abby wanted to say it, but she couldn’t find the words. “I wish I could, too. You know what, I’m going to call Dan on Monday. He and his wife had some counselling a year or so ago and he said it was really helpful because they’d found a great counsellor. So I’m going to ask him for the number and I’ll make an appointment and see if I can figure out what’s going on.”
“I think that’s a really good idea. You should talk to someone.” Abby was glad he thought so. She was relieved to have avoided a longer conversation with him, or even an extremely brief one, about having a baby. His answer would be no. Why wouldn’t it? They were never going to have kids. It just wasn’t in the plan for them.
They spent the rest of the weekend at home, pottering about in the garden, tidying up some bookshelves in the spare room and doing other odd jobs around the house. They didn’t talk about anything more complicated than what to have for dinner on Sunday night, and Abby was grateful for the peace and quiet. Jean must have sensed that they needed to be left alone and so she confined herself to her part of the garden and resisted the urge to bring them something from the oven.
By Monday morning Abby was feeling less sore from her argument with Emma and decided to give her a call, but when she dialled the number it went straight to voicemail. She left a short message asking Emma to call her back. Abby had agreed to meet a client for coffee in the city, so she walked in, a journey of about half an hour, and all the way she practised her apology. She practised it a few more times in the days following as she waited for Emma to call her back. But Emma didn’t call, and by the end of the week Abby was resigned to the fact that Emma didn’t want to talk to her. Not yet, anyway. She called Patrick at work.
“It’s me. It’s been a week. Emma’s never going to call me back. She’s going to go back to New York and I’ll never see her again.” Abby was sitting in the sunshine on the front steps of their house with a cup of coffee. It was a glorious morning and the air was filled with the scent of jonquils in Jean’s backyard. She didn’t have any meetings lined up so she decided to spend the day at home, reading trashy magazines and waiting for Emma to ring. She hadn’t even bothered to get out of her pyjamas.
“She’ll call, just give her some time. She said she wanted some time, and there’s no use hurrying her up before she’s ready. Just let her be, Abby. Have you called Dan yet for that counsellor’s number?”
“Yeah, I’ve got it.”
“Why don’t you give them a call? Go on, don’t lose your momentum. You seemed pretty keen to call them when we talked about this on the weekend. What have you got to lose by calling?”
“Nothing, I suppose. Alright, I’ll call them now. I’ll see you tonight. Are you taking the boys to the pub for Friday beers tonight?”
“No, I wasn’t planning to. I thought I might come home and have dinner with you.”
“That would be nice. What do you feel like? I’ll go to the market.” They chatted for a few more minutes before he reminded her to call the counsellor. She hung up the phone and it started ringing straight away, which made her jump.
“Hi, this is Abby.”
“Abby, hello, it’s Shauna.”
“Oh, hi, I was wondering when you were going to call.”
“Is this a bad time? Are you working?”
“No, I’m just at home.”
“You are? Do you think it would be alright if I came around?”
“You want to come here? I could come and meet you in the city.”
“No, I think it would be better to be at home.”
“Oh, OK then.” Abby didn’t have it in her to go three rounds over where they should meet and why, so she gave Shauna the address and said she would see her in half an hour. Abby finished her coffee and went inside to shower and get dressed. Right on schedule, Shauna arrived. She was dressed casually in a pair of jeans and a light cornflower blue cardigan, and Abby recognised something in this softer, less formal version of Shauna that reminded her of all the visits to the house when she was a child.
After a quick greeting they decided to sit up at the kitchen bench.
“Would you like a coffee, Shauna? I was going to make myself a cup.”
“Thanks, that would be lovely. Your house is gorgeous, Abby. You and Patrick have done really well for yourselves.”
“Thank you. Yeah, we love it here. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” Abby had her back to Shauna as she steamed milk for the coffee. “What sort of coffee would you like? Flat white OK?”
“Yes, lovely, thanks.” Shauna looked around the room, at the high ceilings and big picture windows that overlooked the garden. “It’s a great house. How old is it?”
“It was built in the 1940s, we think, but it was extended by the previous owners. We added this new kitchen and the sunroom, and the wing out the back so Patrick and I could have an office each.”
“How many bedrooms do you have?” asked Shauna, looking down the long hallway to the right.
“Four, plus the two offices.”
“Well, it’s really beautiful.”
Abby put Shauna’s coffee on the bench in front of her along with the sugar bowl and sat down on a bar stool across from her. “Well, I’m curious to know what it is you wanted to talk about. I decided it couldn’t be too critical or you would have got in touch before now.”
Shauna looked straight at Abby, her eyes filled with regret. “I am sorry I never called you, to see how you were going. Sometimes I have conversations in my head with your mother and she always chastises me for not checking on you.”
“I’ve been fine.” Abby was not quite sure how she felt about her deceased mother having conversations with anyone about her wellbeing. It didn’t seem possible, not least of all because even when she was alive Abby’s mother never picked up the phone to call and see how she was going. The occasional email, perhaps, but never a phone call—she hated talking on the telephone. Abby had a mental image of her mother calling from the afterlife, which seemed to require the use of a mobile phone the size of a brick. She almost smiled at the thought.
“Well, good, I’m glad. I have been thinking about you.”
“OK.” Abby waited for Shauna to say what she wanted to say. They both sipped from their mugs and Shauna played with her teaspoon. There were cockatoos in the fig tree in the backyard that were screeching to each other, and the low hum of traffic coming up from the main road. Abby just sat and waited.
“I know that you and your parents weren’t on very good terms when they died. I know that you and your mother hadn’t spoken in months and that your last conversation with your dad was quite tense. I know this because I saw them a day before the accident and they were both quite forthcoming with their feelings about you, and about the difficult relationship they had with you. Actually, they were being brutally honest.”
“You saw them the day before? I didn’t know that.” Abby always regretted that it had been a long time since she had seen her parents when they died. When she was called to the morgue to identify the bodies, she noticed that her mother had cut her long dark hair back to her shoulders, and Abby hadn’t known that she had done that. Her father was wearing a jacket that looked new and Abby was suddenly, oddly curious to know when he had bought it.
“I think back to that conversation and I realise that it’s the only time I ever did hear them talk about being parents, you know, apart from the general day-to-day responsibilities. The conversation was rather odd. They were being quite introspective and self-critical, like it had only just occurred to them that they had a greater responsibility towards you than making sure you had enough to eat and a roof over your head. The thing is, I understood a great deal more about them than they were aware of. There was nothing in what they were saying that came as a surprise to me, as such. It was just surprising to hear them say it all out loud as the realisation was coming to them.”
“What are you talking about, Shauna? What realisation?”
“That they were dreadful parents.”
Abby burst into tears. She felt as though her chest might explode with the sense of relief as she cried and cried. Her entire life she had believed that she was the only one who thought that her parents could have tried harder, done more, loved her better, and the guilt she felt at even having such thoughts was almost unbearable. And now here was somebody who knew her parents well, who presumably loved them as good friends do, but who could see for herself that when it came to their daughter they were falling well short of what was expected. The tears were coming thick and fast and Abby just let them fall down her face and into her lap.
“Oh, Abby, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to upset you. They were dear friends of mine. I loved them to bits, but—well—we all have our flaws, I suppose.” Shauna leaned across the table and held one of Abby’s hands in both of hers. “Oh Abby, I’m so sorry.”
Abby tried in vain to calm her breathing, but her entire body was having a physical reaction to this revelation. She sobbed, uncontrollably, and in the end just leaned forward onto the kitchen bench, resting her head on one arm while the other reached out to Shauna, and waited for the worst of it to pass. She could feel the relief pouring out of her, and with every breath, she felt less and less alone.
“Abby, are you OK? Sweetie?”
Finally, Abby took three or four huge breaths in, exhaling slowly and deliberately each time until her body stopped shaking. She dabbed her wet cheeks with the back of her hand and wiped under her eyes to clear away the smudged makeup. She looked up at Shauna and smiled. Shauna’s eyes were also brimming with tears.
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” Abby stood up and walked over to a shelf at the other end of the kitchen bench and reached for a box of tissues.
“I’ve never seen anyone have such an immediate and intense reaction to anything in my life. Are you sure you’re OK?”
“All my life, since I was big enough to comprehend such things, I thought it was just me—that I was the only one who could see it. And so maybe it didn’t exist, and I was just making it up. But you could see it too, and I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know that you could.” She sat down, taking a tissue for herself and offering one to Shauna.
“I saw it, Abby. I saw it every time I visited your home and came to talk to you in your room about your books. I saw it every time I heard your parents talk about you. And you know, sometimes I said something to your mum, just a little hint to let her know that I thought she was—you know—that she could have been a bit more—well—you know.”
“Yeah, I do. It’s hard to put it into words, isn’t it? How do you describe a mother and a father who provide all the material things their child needs, and who are very concerned with their intellectual development, but who can only make the bare minimum emotional connection with them? They’re not ‘neglectful parents’. They’re not ‘child abusers’. They’re not actively, deliberately doing harm. They’re just—” Abby still couldn’t find the right word.
“They just should not have had a baby.” Shauna smiled sympathetically at the girl who shouldn’t have been born.
“Yeah, that’s what I always say. They should’ve got a puppy.”
“And that’s what I think they were trying to say, on that last day before they died. They were sitting in our living room, together on the sofa, and they’d had a couple of glasses of wine so I suppose they were feeling a little uninhibited, and suddenly your dad said something about regretting not having gone to a concert you were in because he’d had a meeting to go to, and then your mum admitted that she had many, many regrets about having missed so much of your life while she was at work. They kept talking about how much they missed out on, how they didn’t get to see you do this and that and whatever else it was.”
“So they regretted that they had missed out on things? They weren’t at all sorry that perhaps I was the one that was missing out?”
“Yeah. That’s right” admitted Shauna reluctantly.
“Wow. Selfish to the end. They definitely shouldn’t have had me!” Abby dabbed her eyes again.
“But they did have you, and here you are, and you’ve turned out perfectly in spite of everything. Look at you, you’re amazing! You’re amazing.”
Abby reached forward, took hold of Shauna’s hands and squeezed tight. “Thank you so much, Shauna. Thank you so much for telling me this.”
“I should have told you years ago, love. I wanted to tell you but right after they died was too soon. I didn’t know if it was something you would want to hear. Nobody likes to hear anyone say anything against their family. But my kids are teenagers now, and I think about the life that you had when you were their age, and it’s really started to hit me, just what it must have been like for you in that house. I wish I could have done more when you were little. That’s why we used to come over so much, do you remember? We came over as much as we could, because I just wanted to see you, I suppose. I was an only child, too, and I remember it being quite lonely sometimes, but I had quite a different experience to yours. My parents were pretty terrific.”
“I bet you’re a great mum.”
“And that’s the other thing I wanted to say, Abby. I wanted to make sure that you hadn’t decided against having a family of your own, against filling this big house with kids, because you were worried you might be as terrible as they were. Because if you wanted to have a baby, I reckon you’d be a wonderful mother.”
Abby burst into tears again.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
After Shauna left, Abby went for a long run around Lake Burley Griffin to try to clear her head of all the noise. Emma had been right about her not being happy, but had missed the real issue. Shauna had been spot-on, and it was more than an hour before Abby was able to settle her stomach and start thinking rationally about what she was going to do about it. She tossed the card bearing Dan’s counsellor’s number into the bin, convinced that it wasn’t going to be possible to talk her way out of this mess. She was going to have to take some kind of action. The run around the lake was a chance to assess her options honestly and without anyone interrupting her to tell her what she ought to be doing.
Abby wanted to have a baby. She felt certain of it. It seemed like an impossible and unlikely dream because it utterly contradicted every other thought she had ever had about becoming a mother. She had never wanted this, though it was Shauna who had cut through all the phoney reasons she’d always given and found the real, honest truth. It wasn’t because she wanted a career, and it wasn’t because she just didn’t like kids. It was because she was afraid that she might be one of those women who realised too late that they weren’t cut out for motherhood, and she didn’t want to burden another generation with the intense longing for mother-love that she had known. It was because she didn’t want to do to her child what her mother had done to her, no matter how unintentional that might have been.
She sent a text message to Patrick to let him know she was going for a run, and then plugged her earplugs in, scrolled down to one of her running playlists and hit ‘shuffle’. She set off from their house and ran along one of the cycle paths that meanders through the inner suburbs and the ANU campus, and merges with the west basin lake circuit. For the first couple of kilometres she just concentrated on finding her rhythm, settling her breathing and achieving a comfortable tempo. By the time she reached the lake she was well and truly ‘in the zone’ and she started thinking clearly about how she would broach the subject with Patrick.
She knew he wasn’t going to like the idea, and there was a very real chance that he would reject it outright. And why should she expect him to suddenly embrace the idea of having a baby? He had been very clear, right from their first date, that he didn’t want to have children. Every few years, usually around Christmas time, they would have the conversation again. It would be said in a joking way, but the underlying message was always completely serious. Patrick was always the one to bring it up:
“Hey Abby? Ya wanna have kids? Kids are fun at Christmas, right?”
“Yeah. More presents under the tree, for sure.”
“But then, they get up really early, don’t they?”
“I think I read that somewhere.”
“And they make a bit of a mess with all the wrapping paper, and then they don’t even play with the toy you’ve given them, they just keep playing with the wrapping paper.”
“Ugh, ungrateful little wretches. I hate that.”
“So, Patrick? Ya wanna have kids?”
“Good. Me neither. Yuck.”
If she were to tell him now that she had changed her mind, that she wanted to have a baby, she wasn’t entirely sure how he would react. Maybe he had secretly warmed to the idea over the years, but didn’t know how to tell her? Or perhaps he hadn’t swayed from his original view, and to be confronted by Abby’s changed mind, well, Abby couldn’t predict what he might say.
I know what I’m going to do, she thought as she was running across Scrivener Dam. I’ll put it to a vote.
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.
HELLO, INTERNET – ARE YOU SITTING DOWN?
Tales from My Life
– – – – – – – – – – –
If there’s anything you know about me for sure, internet, it’s that I love to complain out loud about my life.
Things get a bit tricky, though, when one of the people you have to complain about is reading your blog. No, no, my husband and my mother-in-law haven’t discovered my secret online double life. It’s my best friend, Emma. And I shouldn’t say I have to complain about her—quite the opposite, in fact. If she had a blog she would be complaining about me. I’ve been an awful friend and she has put me squarely in the dog house which, by the way, is where I thoroughly deserve to be.
I’m not going to risk further trashing my friendship by divulging everything that has happened between us. Suffice to say that she is right (well, mostly right—she doesn’t know the whole story but neither did I up until a few hours ago) and I am wrong and I don’t deserve her friendship. She came home for the first time in over a year and I picked a fight with her. I imagine she has unsubscribed from my blog, which is probably a good thing because she needs a break from all my bullshit. (I’m happy to continue to put it out there for the rest of you, though!) She’s certainly unsubscribed from my friendship, and whilst I hope this is a temporary measure I will also respect her right to time-out and will not try to call her. I will wait for her to call me. And while I’m waiting, I’m going to ask you all for some advice. But first, some background.
Last week I ran into one of my mum and dad’s oldest, dearest friends, a woman we’ll call My Fairy Godmother. MFG told me she wanted to talk to me about something important, and this morning she came around to my house for a coffee and to deliver some rather overwhelming insights about me and my history.
I may have hinted in the past that my parents were not your typical parents. How can I put this without it sounding too awful? Well, to quote MFG: my parents were “dreadful”.
I know! I just about choked on my flat white too. How utterly shocking to hear your parents’ friend’s assessment of your parents’ parenting abilities? Especially when the assessment was so unfavourable? I was stunned. I was confused. Internet, I was completely and totally relieved.
All these years I’ve been convinced that everyone thought my parents were these totally amazing, beyond-reproach, upstanding citizens. And they were in some ways! And almost everyone did think that! But it turns out that there was someone who knew better. MFG knew that they were fantastic academics and scintillating conversationalists BUT she also knew that when it came to being parents, they pretty much sucked at it.
Which isn’t to say I had a terrible childhood. It wasn’t so bad, compared to what some children go through, so please don’t get me wrong—I know I was fortunate in many ways. But there was a lot of stuff missing from my childhood. There were a lot of bad days. Not because of what they did, but because of what they didn’t do.
And here’s where MFG delivered her extraordinary observation: she thinks I’m not having children because I’m worried that I’ll make as much of a mess of it as my parents did.
So—there it is, internet. And here’s the part where I ask for your advice. Your sage wisdom. Your carefully considered guidance. What do I do now? You can assume for the sake of the discussion that MFG was absolutely, one hundred percent right. I do want to have a baby. I don’t want to be my mother. I want to be better.
How do I tell my husband—who has always been as determinedly against having kids as me—that I have changed my mind? And what do I do if he says no?
Thank you, as always, for your help.
• • •
Abby hit send. She sat back on the chair and took a deep breath. Although she had said in her blog that she thought Emma had unsubscribed, she really hoped she hadn’t. She hoped that Emma would call in her usual within-three-minutes fashion. But she didn’t. Abby switched off her computer and walked into the city to kill a couple of hours with some window shopping and a late lunch. When she reached The Joint House, she logged in from her mobile to see what activity there had been.
Mandi on: Hello, Internet – Are You Sitting Down?
Well, I hardly even know where to start! But OK, I’ll start with Emma. I can’t imagine what you must have said to her (or what she said to you) but it sounds like you have a lot going on in your head right now and maybe a cooling-off period is a good idea. You two have been friends for too long for anything as silly as a misunderstanding to come between you. I’m sure everything will be fine soon.
As for the Fairy Godmother … I’m astonished. On the one hand I’m glad for you that you have this other point of view (especially because, as you say, it validates all your feelings about your mum and dad). But on the other hand, it’s like she’s dropped this enormous bombshell and now you have to deal with the fallout. All of a sudden you’re considering having a baby and you’ve never wanted to do that before. Are you really, really, really sure you want to have one? You need to be sure about this even before you bring it up with your husband. That’s my two cents. Good luck with whatever you decide to do. And yes, please keep blogging about your disastrous life 😉
KarenB on: Hello, Internet – Are You Sitting Down?
I hope Emma is reading this. You need her now more than ever. xx
Sophie on: Hello, Internet – Are You Sitting Down?
Holy crap. I wouldn’t wish this soap opera on my worst enemy.
I think you need to be honest with yourself, with your husband and with Emma. The truth will set you free.
KateM on: Hello, Internet – Are You Sitting Down?
You poor girl, I am so sorry that you find yourself in this incredible dilemma. I’m reluctant to give you advice just in case it’s the wrong advice but what the hell, I’ll dive right in. If you want to have a baby, you should go ahead and have one. I don’t know how that’s going to happen, exactly. I guess I’m hopeful that your husband will happily oblige.
BrookeH on: Hello, Internet – Are You Sitting Down?
Oh my God! I don’t really know what advice to give you either but you really need to talk to your husband about this as soon as possible. The more you agonise over it, the harder you’re going to find it to ovulate.
Mandi on: Hello, Internet – Are You Sitting Down?
@BrookeH – I laughed in spite of myself. But you’re right – Ms Love needs to NOT be stressed if she’s hoping to have a baby!
Claire on: Hello, Internet – Are You Sitting Down?
There’s a choice to be made here (because I’m going to go ahead and assume your husband isn’t likely to change his mind about having a baby). It’s him or a baby. You’re not going to be able to have both. So if you choose ‘baby’, where are you going to find a willing accomplice?
As Abby read through the comments, she was enjoying the warm sunlight that flooded into the cafe, but she still felt a sense of unease. She hoped that Patrick would at least be willing to talk about having a baby, but she was even dreading the discussion. She scrolled back up the screen and read her post again. She was half way through when she sensed someone looking through the window at her. It was Patrick. He smiled as she looked up, then he went inside.
“Hi, darling. What are you doing in the city? Did you go for your run?” He pulled out a chair opposite her and sat down. “Whatcha reading?”
“Nothing, just emails.” She switched off her mobile and put it back in her bag.
“You look awfully serious. Is it work stuff?”
“No, not really, just a conversation I’m having with someone at Sydney Uni.” She hated lying but he had completely surprised her and she wasn’t about to tell him what she was actually reading. “What are you up to?” She looked at her watch—it was approaching four o’clock. Usually he would still be at work at this hour, or on his way to the pub for end-of-week drinks with his staff.
“I was just at the bank, and before that I had a meeting with Lauren, but I’m about to head home now. How did you get into town—do you want a lift back with me? The car’s just over there” he said, pointing down the street.
“Yeah, I walked in. Let’s go.” She grabbed her bag and they headed towards the car.
On the short drive home they listened to the news on the radio and didn’t speak. Abby’s head was swimming with ideas and questions and a general sense of confusion. The comments on her blog were pushing her towards talking to Patrick about it right away, but she couldn’t think of how to start such a conversation.
“Is everything alright, Abby? Did Emma call or something?”
“No, she hasn’t called. I’m not really expecting her to ring for a while. But that’s OK.”
“So what’s bothering you?”
“Can we keep driving? Can you head out towards Murrumbateman or somewhere? I don’t want to go home yet.” Abby didn’t want to have this conversation sitting opposite him, at the kitchen table or anywhere else she could see his face. She liked talking to him over the phone or in the car when they were discussing serious subjects. It was easier to say what was on her mind without the distraction of his face.
“It’s that serious, is it?” asked Patrick, immediately understanding the request. “Am I in trouble?”
“No, I just need to ask you something and I’m not sure how to ask it.”
“Alright. Just say it, Abby. I promise not to freak out.”
“Wait until we’re out of the city and you’ve hit the highway. Then I’ll just say it.”
They drove through the Friday afternoon traffic and turned left onto the Barton Highway, which would eventually get them to Melbourne if they kept going. Twenty minutes out of Canberra they were surrounded by sheep paddocks and the odd olive grove.
“Shauna came around this morning. Remember she wanted to talk to me about something? Well, she came around this morning and told me that she thought that my parents didn’t do a very good job of parenting me. Actually, she was a bit more critical than that.”
“Wow” said Patrick, staring straight ahead at the road. “Why would she think that?”
“She didn’t really go into specifics, she just said that she knew that mum and dad basically weren’t very enthusiastic about being parents, and she felt that they shouldn’t have had me.”
Patrick looked across at her for a moment. He looked sad, but he managed a smile. “Well, I’m glad they had you. But you’ve said that to me before, that you didn’t think they were very hands-on with you.”
“Yeah, I’ve said it, because I experienced it. But nobody else has ever made that observation, or at least nobody else has said that they agreed they were like that. I thought perhaps it was just me that thought they shouldn’t have had me, and that maybe I had it all wrong because everyone else thought my parents were so amazing.”
“Oh, you know, all their friends and colleagues. They were surrounded by an adoring crowd.”
“How nice for them” said Patrick, deadpan.
“So, Shauna just wanted to tell me that she knew they were crappy parents.”
“I don’t know, I just get the sense that there was something else she might have said. We’re half way to Murrumbateman, Abby. I’m waiting for the bombshell.”
Abby took a deep breath. “She said that she hoped I hadn’t decided against having kids because I was worried that I would be a bad parent, too.”
He was silent for a minute, and Abby just watched the trees passing by the car as they carried on down the highway. She thought again about what Shauna had said about her parents and their attitude towards parenting. When she thought about her childhood from an outsider’s perspective, she could understand even less her parents’ decision to have a child. And yet here she was, an unwanted baby all grown up and feeling completely sure that she really wanted one.
“Is that why you don’t want to have kids, Abby?”
“I think so. Yeah.”
“Do you still feel that way?”
“You mean, do I still not want to have kids?”
“No. I want to have a baby.”
Patrick exhaled a long, steady breath through pursed lips. “Hang on” he said, finally. “I’m going to pull over up ahead.”
They drove on another two hundred metres before there was a road off to the left. Patrick pulled in and stopped the car under a large gum tree. The sun was low in the sky but the air was still very warm. He left the engine running so the air conditioning could stay on. Abby sat quietly and waited for him to speak.
“We’ve talked about having kids so many times, Abby. I’ve brought it up every couple of years, just because I was worried that one day you might change your mind.”
“I don’t want to have kids.”
“I know. Neither did I, I promise you. I never, ever thought that I would have a change of heart about this. It’s as crazy and unexpected for me as it is for you.”
“So what are we going to do?”
“Can we talk about it?”
“I don’t see what there is to discuss. You either have kids or you don’t. There’s no half way. Why do you suddenly want to do it?”
“Because I can see that I’ve been saying no for entirely the wrong reason. I believed that I could never be a good parent, because the example my parents set for me was so bad. It never occurred to me that I would be anything but like my own mother. And so I made up my mind that it must be true—kids of bad parents make terrible parents themselves. And maybe I knew somewhere in my heart that this wasn’t true, but it was easier to accept this premise than to hope that I might turn out to be OK.”
“Are you sure that’s the only reason you never wanted kids? Because you didn’t think you could be a good mum?”
“Yeah. That’s the only reason.”
“Because maybe all the things that we love about being on our own are reasons enough to not have kids. We have a great life, Abby. We can do whatever we want. We have far more freedom than people with kids, and we have always enjoyed that.”
“Have we really? What sorts of things do we do that people without kids can’t do? It’s not like we’ve been jetting off to the South of France at the drop of a hat. We have more time to ourselves, but what do we do with that time, Patrick? We work! We build up our businesses and we work and we travel for work and then we work some more. Is that really such a great life?”
“Those are the choices we’ve been making, Abby. And the point is, we can make those choices because we don’t have kids. And I think we have a pretty great life. Do you think you would have your consultancy business if we had kids? Of course you wouldn’t, at least not on the scale you’ve been able to build it up to. And I don’t think I would have done what I’ve been able to do with the garage if we’d had a baby. We are lucky to have been able to have such a lot of success, Abby. The choices we’ve made haven’t been bad ones, or the wrong ones. I don’t regret anything we have done, and I don’t regret not having a baby. No, we haven’t been to France but we can do that! We can go tomorrow if you want. We can afford to go anywhere.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere.” Abby knew that he was going to be able to sound sensible and reasoned and logical in response to her purely emotional point of view. They weren’t going to be able to resolve this discussion if it was going to be reduced to a debate about the health of their finances and the size of their businesses. For Abby, it wasn’t about money. It was purely a matter of the heart. And Patrick’s heart just wasn’t in it.
“You don’t think we could have it all? Why couldn’t we have the successful businesses as well as a baby? I’m not asking you to give anything up. You could still have your business and we could still have France. I’m saying that we could do all that and also have a family. I want to have a family, Patrick.
“Well, I don’t.”
“Will you just consider it? Think about it for a while? Maybe you’ll come up with some of your own reasons to have a baby. Had you considered that? Maybe, somewhere deep down inside, you also want to be a daddy. Can you give it some thought? Please?” Abby didn’t want the discussion to end but she also understood that it was time to stop talking. She left Patrick with his thoughts. “Let’s go home. Let’s not talk about it any more today. OK? I know it’s a lot to take in and I don’t want to pressure you.”
“I’m not pressured Abby. Maybe on some level I knew that this might happen—that you might change your mind one day. I guess I hoped that I might be able to help you change it back again.” Patrick turned off the ignition and unfastened his seat belt. “Because the thing is, I can’t have kids.”
“I just want you to think about it.”
“No, you didn’t hear me. I can’t have kids, Abby.” He looked out his window and sighed loudly. The setting sunlight was streaming straight through the windscreen and dazzling them both. Abby looked across at Patrick to see his eyes sparkling with tears. “I’ve had a vasectomy.”
© 2017 Patricia Smith
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
First edition 2017
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is unintentional or coincidental.
Much of this story is set in the city of Canberra, which is my beloved home town. There are some long-standing institutions that I have used as ‘props’ in my story, but they are unwitting accomplices and the tales I tell about those institutions and the people who work there are completely made up.