November 30th, 1989

November 30th, 1989

At home

I’m on the train heading home and just finished writing a letter to David. I feel really bad that I left him hanging in Japan but with the shocking news of Nana’s passing, I forgot to ask Lorna to ring and let him know why I never made it.

I’ve been listening to “This Woman’s Work,” over and over again on my Walkman and I’ve never really understood that song fully, until today. Trust Kate Bush to make it all make sense.

Nana was buried today and I don’t feel the need to write too much because I know it’s something I’ll never forget. Feeling the rain pelting on my face as Nana’s coffin was lowered into the ground and witnessing the agony on mum’s face was all too much.

My cousin Yvonne and her boyfriend Gary dropped me off at the train station, which I was thankful for. I know Yvonne loved our Nana and she looked so sad when we said goodbye at the station. Yesterday, I overheard mum’s sister telling our great Aunt (in not so hushed tones) that Yvonne is pregnant. Yvonne didn’t mention anything to me and I didn’t feel comfortable asking her, so I guess time will tell.

Now at home after what felt like a never-ending journey. After today’s events, I hated coming into the dark house, alone. Tini is with Janice and Terry and if it wasn’t so late (it’s almost half eleven) I’d go and pick him up.

There was a pile of post waiting on the mat and an envelope stuck halfway through the letterbox. I recognized the scribbly writing on the last two letters of my name right away and grabbed the envelope. I tore it open and my heart did a little flip when I read:

K-

Sorry about your Nana.

Ring me when you get home.

I don’t care what time it is, just ring me. Ok?

 

I wasted no time picking up the phone.

Ben’s on his way over.

 

November 29th, 1989

November 29th, 1989

Glasgow, Scotland

I felt a huge sense of relief this afternoon, standing on the platform, watching the train pull in.

“Hi, dad,” I said, giving him a peck on the cheek.

“Hiya hen, how’s it going?”

“As you’d expect,” I said, stepping up my pace to keep up with him.

“So, I take it everybody’s behaving?”

“Aye, right,” I said in a thick Glaswegian accent that made him laugh. “Welcome to the circus.”

“That bad, eh?”

“Yep.”

When we got to Nana’s, the circus was in full swing, with all the usual animals, perhaps not all fed but definitely well watered. There were several slurred utterances, particularly from dad’s sister-in-law, that he ignored.

Mum was asleep on the couch and I watched as dad picked up the candlewick blanket that had fallen on the floor. He gently covered mum with it and sighed a deep sigh.

“I need to pay my respects.”

“Can I come in with you?” I asked.

He nodded yes and we moved slowly towards Nana’s bedroom. Outside the door, dad stopped and looked at me. “Are you alright?”

“Uh-huh. Are you?”
He shook his head. “This is never easy.”

We stepped into the dark room, save for the flickering candles that made shadows dance across the pale wallpaper.

“Oh, Kate,” dad sighed, placing his hand over Nana’s rosary beads in the same way I had. Neither of us spoke for a few minutes but when dad did, he talked with ease to his mother-in-law of twenty plus years. There were several tears shed, before I left them alone.

Tonight, in the chapel, during the short service, dad held mum as she sobbed into his shoulder. It seemed such an intimate gesture for my parents, who, because of the cruel nature of mum’s illness, have recently appeared so disconnected.

Dad managed to lighten the mood tonight with some funny tales from the past, in particular the story of the first time he met Nana.

“I couldnae get over the size of her,” he laughed. “I’d rarely seen such a wee woman.”

I found myself smiling when I recalled Nana saying, “Good things come in small packages.”

 

November 28th, 1989

November 28th, 1989

Glasgow, Scotland

The letter I sent Nana from Chicago arrived this morning. After I picked it up off the mat, with the rest of the post, I turned in the direction of the living room, so I could give it to Nana.

Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the floor, clutching the letter, sobbing because my Nana is gone and I’ll never have the chance to talk to her again. There was something about the realization of her not seeing not only my letter but the rest of her post, that suddenly made everything feel real. It really was the most awful feeling and it was ages before I managed to get up and pull myself together.

An hour later, mum’s youngest sister was with me when the hearse, carrying Nana’s coffin, arrived. My initial thought was to question how on earth the undertakers would get the coffin up two flights of stairs. The thought was absurd and I disliked myself for allowing my mind to go there but I think when you’re really sad all sorts of bizarre thoughts come to mind that perhaps normally wouldn’t.

Dad rang first thing this morning so I already knew to direct the undertakers to Nana’s bedroom. The three men in dark suits were very respectful in their movement and manner and gently closed the bedroom door. Once again I found my mind wandering to the ridiculous; that for those men, it was just another day at work.

Late this afternoon, family, friends and neighbours began to arrive to pay their respects. Mum didn’t show up with her brother until much later and for the second time today, I disliked myself for the anger I felt when it was obvious mum had had too much to drink. Mum’s brother, clearly, wasn’t sober either. Neither were her two sisters.

The night flew by and when only mum, her sister and I remained, I knew it was time. I’ve never liked Nana’s bedroom, it always felt damp and eerie but tonight, with the candles glowing around the coffin, it felt warm and peaceful.

I touched my fingertips to Nana’s forehead and was surprised at how cold it felt. I placed my hand over the rosary beads entwined in Nana’s tiny hands and I looked at her as I told her, over and over again, how much I love her. I spoke about mum and some other stuff and I broke down when I said, “I’ll really miss you, Nana.”

I already do.

 

November 27th, 1989

November 27th, 1989

Glasgow, Scotland

I usually love coming to Scotland on the train, but today was just awful. Mum barely uttered a word and she stared out the window the entire time. Five hours felt like days.

We caught a taxi from Central station and when we pulled up outside Nana’s building, mum started sobbing. With the taxi driver’s help, I managed to get her out of the taxi and up the two flights of stairs. Where else but in Glasgow, would the taxi driver help in that way?

Things got progressively worse once we were inside, where mum’s sister and brother were arguing so much they completely ignored mum. Within minutes of our arrival, I could feel my blood boiling but I knew better than to say anything that would no doubt only make matters worse.

Mum looked exhausted when I finally got her settled on the couch and I was really concerned about how she would handle tonight; when most of the family showed up. I really do feel like an outsider when I’m around this lot. Nothing about their behaviour makes sense to me, nor has it ever.

I kept myself busy tonight, making tea and sandwiches for the older generation and watched the younger ones drink too much and sputter accusations that would be better left unsaid.

I don’t think it’s hit me yet that Nana is gone. I keep looking at her empty chair by the window and I feel so sad knowing that’s where she took her last breath. Dad explained to me that Nana suffered from something called Hypertension and that she died from a heart attack. He said it would have happened fast and that she wouldn’t have been in pain.

Mum has gone to spend the night with her brother and his wife, which I think is probably for the best.

 

November 26th, 1989

November 26th, 1989

At home

I thought I was dreaming when I felt someone gently shaking my arm.

“Karen, wake up.”

I opened my eyes to find Lorna standing over me.

“Shit,” I yawned. “My alarm didn’t go off. Are we late?”

“No honey, it’s still early. Your dad’s on the phone.”

“What?”

“Your dad’s on the phone.”

“What does he want?” I asked, sitting up.

“He didn’t say.”

I got up off the couch and when my foot hit the floor, it landed on my clock. I heard and felt the glass shattering.

“Shit,” I shouted, in reaction to the pain. “This better be important.”

 

I hopped, on one foot, into the hall and picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Karen, it’s dad,” he said, in a tone I didn’t recognize.

“Is everything ok?” He didn’t answer. “Dad? Why are you phoning so early?” I felt my heart starting to race. “Is mum ok?”

I heard him sigh heavily. “Aye, mum is eh, ok.”

Lorna came into the hall and put a towel on the floor. I lowered my bloody foot onto it.

“What is it, dad?”

“I’m so sorry, hen.”

“Dad, you’re not making any sense. What’s going on?”

“It’s Nana.”

My voice cracked. “Is she ok?”

I felt Lorna’s fingers grip my arm.

“No, hen, I’m so sorry.”

“Why, dad. Why?”

“Your Nana’s dead.”

 

November 25th, 1989

November 25th, 1989

Girls flat, Hampton Hill

This is the third night in row I’m opening my diary after four in the morning!

In less than five hours, the alarm on my handy dandy travel clock will shrill its annoying sound. With my eyes still shut, I’ll bang my hand about on the floor (I’m sleeping on the couch; full house here, with most of the partygoers spending the night) until I locate the clock. After I find the little switch that stops the alarm, I’ll no doubt wish I’d called it a night much earlier than this.

A few minutes later, I’ll get up, take a shower, put on my uniform, drink tea, eat toast with jam, then drive, with Lorna, to the staff car park at Heathrow. Knowing Lorna as I do, she will no doubt talk the entire way, even after I hint at my desire for quiet time, at least until I feel a bit more human.

From the car park, we’ll take the shuttle bus to TriStar House and after we drop off our suitcases, we’ll head upstairs to the briefing room to meet the rest of the crew we’ll spend the next five days with.

Lorna’s staff number is one digit ahead of mine, so she’ll get to choose her working position before I do. No doubt the two of us will get stuck working down the back, which I’ve heard is dreadful on Narita flights, due to the amount of extra smoking rows.

After a flight time of about thirteen hours, we’ll land in Japan (my first time!) and pile onto the crew bus in a zombie like state. I have heard, however, that the crew hotel is very sophisticated. Still, with the nine-hour time change, I won’t check into my room until lunchtime tomorrow.

Typically, at that point, after such a long flight, preceded by three late nights and two parties, where I danced for hours on end, I’d go straight to bed. But tomorrow, instead of jumping into bed, I’ll sit on the edge of it and make a phone call to a hotel, a mere hour away.

During that phone call, arrangements will be made and when I hang up, I will no doubt be smiling, in the knowledge that in another couple of hours, David will knock on my door.

 

November 24th, 1989

November 24th, 1989

At Sebastian’s, Luton

Friday night in Luton! Fortunately, it was much better than it sounds!

Quiet day at home reading and catching up with what seemed like mountains of washing. Another long walk with Tini, no wonder he loves me so much!

Dad got home just after five and asked if I had any plans.

“I do, actually.”

“Good. Where’re you going?”

“Sebastian’s.”

“Let me guess. Party?”

I laughed. “You’re good at this.”

It was nice to see dad smile.

“Sebastian is throwing a surprise birthday party for his friend Adam. I think it’s Adam’s thirtieth.”

“You need younger pals,” dad laughed.

“Definitely,” I joked.

“So you probably won’t be home tonight.”

“I already asked Sebastian if I could stay.”

“That’s good, I don’t want you on the roads in the early hours. They’re saying the temperatures are going to drop drastically tonight.”

“I’m not surprised, it was bitter again today.”

“How was mum? Did you get a chance to talk to her?”

“I did. She actually got up for a few hours.”

Dad looked surprised. “Really?”

“Uh-huh, we had lunch together. Mum said she was dying for fish and chips so I ran over to the chippie.”

Dad smiled widely. “I’m chuffed to hear that.”

“Won’t it be lovely when mum is back to being her usual self?”

“Aye, it will that,” dad said, looking pensive.

“I don’t think it’ll be too long before that happens.”

“Do ye no?”

I nodded my head. “I noticed a big change in mum today. You know the more she talks, the better she’s feeling.”

“Aye, that’s true.”

I looked at my watch. “I better get going. I promised Sebastian I’d help him set everything up before the birthday boy arrives.”

“Ok, hen. Enjoy yourself. Drive safe.”

I kissed his cheek. “Thanks, dad. Hope you have a nice evening. I’ll just run upstairs and say bye to mum before I leave.”

 

November 23rd, 1989

November 23rd, 1989

At home

I have about ten minutes before I’m due at Florence’s. Let’s see…what happened today? Oh yeah, I bought a car!!!

Took Tini for a long walk this morning and even though it was bitter cold, I enjoyed every step of the walk and the way it allowed me time to think. I don’t think too much thinking time is necessarily a good thing but I believe being alone and able to work stuff out in your head, is a luxury. One I really enjoy. And need!

After the walk, I checked on mum but she was sound asleep. I scribbled a quick note to let her know I wouldn’t be gone for long and I left a cup of tea and some biscuits on the bedside table.

I’ve been thinking about buying a new car for a while and I know about the Volkswagen dealership in Bletchley because not only did I drive past it recently but they have tons of radio ads as well as tempting pictures of their inventory in the local papers

I strongly dislike anything related to cars but whilst walking, I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t do something, then I’d have to deal with the consequences of possibly being stranded on the motorway in my old banger, after it sputters its last breath. Of course, I’m sure those thoughts only helped me to justify the purchase of something new!

The man at the dealership was really helpful and it didn’t take long for him to convince me that I needed a gleaming new, red VW Golf! He said I could pick it up in “a few days,” but that’s when I head to Japan, so I made arrangements to collect it after the trip.

I felt excited driving home and was looking forward to sharing my news but when I came in, mum was still asleep and dad was still at work. I plopped myself in the phone chair and a minute later I found myself dialing Jon’s number.

“McGarr! I would’ve gone with you.”

“There was no need. I got a good deal.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes of course I’m sure.”

“What did you end up paying?”

“Eh, well, ah, shit, I don’t know the exact figure.”

“You crack me up, McGarr. I guess the important question is, do you love it?”

“Yes!”

“Then that’s all that matters.”

“I agree. Thank you.”

“Listen, what are you up to later? I don’t mind driving up if you fancy going out.”

“Sorry, I can’t. I’m going to a friend’s house.”

Jon’s, “oh, ok,” tone sounded despondent and I felt the need to explain.

“She’s someone I met, many moons ago, when I worked in a boring office.”

“McGarr,” he laughed. “You’re far too young for such expressions.”

 

November 22nd, 1989

November 22nd, 1989

At home

Just got off the phone with Annabel, which is always an experience.

“Have you heard the news?” she asked.

“What news?”

“The near miss.”

“Sorry Annabel, I’m not following.”

“Miss McGarr, where have you been?” She didn’t pause to let me answer. “You haven’t heard about the Jumbo that came so close to the Penta hotel on landing that it set off the car alarms?”

“Shit, no. When did that happen?”

“Yesterday.”

“What airline?”

“The world’s favourite, of course. I wouldn’t be interested if it wasn’t ours.”

“You really are too much, Annabel. What happened?”

“It was super foggy…”

“Yes it was, we circled for ninety minutes before we got clearance to land.”

“Apparently the Captain was alone in the cockpit.”

“Why?”

“Allow me to finish, Miss McGarr! Gosh, you can be terribly impatient at times.”

I found myself grinning. “Sorry, go on.”

“The First Officer and Engineer were both incapacitated.”

“Incapacitated?”

“Diarrhea,” she stated, with, I imagine, her signature shudder. “Isn’t that just the ghastliest word?”

“It is, actually but I wouldn’t consider having diarr, I mean an upset stomach as being incapacitated.”

Slowly, she said, “It can be considered such if one is stuck on the lav. Or in this case, two.”

“Ok, point taken.”

“Prior to being in Bahrain, the crew were in Mauritius where most of them somehow ended up with gastroenteritis.”

“Ugh, the poor things. There’s nothing worse than flying with a dicky tummy.”

“Apparently, due to the dense fog, the Captain mistook the hotel lights for the runway and almost came down on the bloody roof of the hotel! It was absolutely frightful.”

“You were on the crew?”

“No. I was at the Penta when it happened, after which all hell broke loose. Several people who witnessed it were terribly upset.”

“What were you doing at the Penta?”

“That’s not important right now.”

“You really are a dark horse, Annabel.”

“Perhaps”, she said with a chuckle.

“I’m assuming everyone is ok?”

“Yes, shaken, of course. Thank goodness the Captain realized his mistake in time. It could have been catastrophic.”

“How scary. I’m sure there’ll be a major investigation.”

“Yes, after which, I imagine, heads will roll.”

 

November 21st, 1989

November 21st, 1989

At home

I was surprised to find mum in the kitchen this morning when I finally got home, after landing was delayed by almost ninety minutes due to severe fog and congestion. The passengers were not happy campers but I was still floating high after unexpectedly seeing David at the airport.

“Hello, mum,” I said, kissing her cool cheek. “How are you?”

“No so bad, hen,” she said, squeezing me hard.

I lied and said, “You look a bit better.” Her hair was matted and she seemed unsteady on her feet.

“Why don’t you sit and let me make the tea for a change?”

“Aye, ok,” she said, looking distant.

“I’ll make toast as well,” I offered, in my best cheery tone.

“Where have you been?”

“Chicago.”

“Chicago?”

“Yeah, we landed a few hours ago but the traffic was terrible.”

“I never knew you were in Chicago.”

“Didn’t dad tell you where I was?”

She shook her head. “Dad’s no very happy with me at the moment.”

“I’m sure that’s not the case.”

“Aye it is.”

“Why do you say that?”

She started to cry.

“Oh mum, it’s alright, please don’t cry.”

My instinct was to move towards her and comfort her but I felt she needed some space to let the tears out. It was a few minutes before she spoke. “Dad was adamant that it’s time for me to go into hospital.”

“And you don’t want to?”

She shook her head furiously. “I never want to go back there.”

“I know, but…”

“But what?” she asked.

“We just want you to get better.”

“I can get better here.”

Sensing the last thing she needed was a lecture, I said, “I’m sorry you’ve been feeling so down. I know it’s really hard when you feel like this.”

“I’m trying my hardest.”

“I can see that, mum. You’re up. That’s a good sign.”

“Do you think so?” she asked.

“Oh, definitely.”

She sniffed back a few tears. “Dad said I’m like a zombie.”

“He only said that because he’s upset. He didn’t mean it.”

She sighed. “Aye, I know.”

“This is hard on him too.”

“And you,” she said, not looking at me.