Part One of two.
When Danni walked out on me and took my beautiful daughter Phoebe I was one fucked-up man. Unhappiest man in the world. She’d found herself someone new, from England some place and called George of all things. At first she was fair you know with access, I got to see Phoebe on the weekend, take her to the park, to the pictures, McDonald’s, all the things starving dads do. Then one day some time later Danni phoned to say would I mind missing one weekend because she and George were taking Phoebe to Disney Land Paris? Well I was rocked. Disney Land, a place I always wanted to take her, now she was being taken by somebody else! My instinct was to say no, fuck off, you can’t do that, take my kid out of the country without my permission, but she said it was already booked so don’t kick off. So then, when I calmed down I thought what man could deny his little kid the chance of a lifetime, what man could do that? And anyway Danni said to make up for it I could have her for a whole week when they came back. So I agreed, and booked that week off work accordingly. But that didn’t happen, I never got her for the whole week, because they never came back.
Turns out this George was some wine merchant and he’d bought a cottage in Bordeaux, and this whole Disney thing was a ruse. Oh they did go there, but what they didn’t tell me was that from Paris it was on to the south where he’d be doing the business.
It’s not easy to describe how I felt. Sick? Gutted? Betrayed? Broken-hearted? Angry? Suicidal? No, while I felt all of them, none of them can cut it, not even suicidal, none of those words can convey how a man feels when having his whole life smashed into pieces. Right at the start I used the words fucked-up and I guess that just about does it. The week I took off work turned into two and three and four and so on, till in the end the doctor signed me off for a whole three months ongoing.
The other thing that’s not easy to describe or even justify is what I did about it. I mean some say I should’ve fought tooth and nail to keep my beautiful little daughter in the country, found a lawyer, contested, what kind of man could not? And I have to admit I set about doing all these things, once I’d dried my eyes, stopped kicking walls and demanding justice, but never quite followed them through; not because I didn’t want to, more because I didn’t have the energy so broken was my body. Sure I was able to speak with Phoebe on the phone – Danni would call and put her on. Hearing her voice went some way to alleviate the pain, yet at the same time pushed the dagger further into my heart. I was even invited over to see them, and once even bought the tickets, but that week I got laid off and my world completely caved in. Danni accused me of letting Phoebe down. Me? Let my beautiful Phoebe down? I’d never do that, I said, I was ill, I couldn’t make the trip, it’s breaking my heart not to see her. It was the first sign of Danni, the woman I once loved, being a changed person and I didn’t like it, it was another dagger in my heart and another one-way street towards the bottle. What I was too mad and too stupid to know was that I was getting sicker and sicker.
Then, after a good sixteen weeks on the booze and not much else I don’t know how it happened but I guess a light came on, when I woke up crying having dreamed of my little girl in France. I felt wretched, angry, hurt, a bile in my gut, yes all of those words, but something else was gnawing away at my consciousness – and it was seeing Phoebe laughing amid the vines, playing with her mummy, playing with other kids, going to school and picking up French. And I thought what kind of man could deny the little girl a dream of her own? Wasn’t that a better life Danni could give her there? Wasn’t that better than growing up in Glasgow, living with a daddy who was just a welder and never quite getting it together to even take her to Euro-Disney? With a father who had a drink problem? That was the light bulb that went on in my head, that made me see things including myself more clearly.
At that time the calls were still coming, but as Phoebe got older they became gradually less and less and more and more painful in a way. Yet paradoxically in conjunction my life was on the up. I quit the booze, got clean, found a new job, got a new girlfriend called Alice who had work and rented an apartment in Shawlands. Alice was good for me and for once I was good to myself. I enjoyed my job, it wasn’t much, just some welding and stuff for a private garage, but it was something and yes I liked it. With Alice’s wage (she was a bank cashier) we could afford to live OK. Not rich by any stretch, just OK. As I say, she and I were good to me, I’d found a vital lifeline and was able to actually live. We got new friends, ate well, I even started jogging for Christ’s sake. And again some men, especially the kind of men who climb pylons and buildings in protest at not seeing their kids, would knock me for this, but I admit as time wore on the pain of not seeing Phoebe got less and less. The resentment and images that once were so raw were less so. Of course I still got to speak to her, and via Alice’s computer I also got to Skype, but the thought of never seeing her again in the flesh, not being able to touch her skin, put my arm around her and squeeze her, was less and less hurtful, less and less hard as I got on with my life. That’s what some men would criticise me for, but that’s how it was. I confess.
So it was only via Skype that I saw her features change as time wore on, and it was only via Skype that she saw mine change too – much older and greyer than I should’ve been for my age, the hard times etched on my face, but still the sparkle in my eyes or so she said. And I got to watch her grow up like that, and learn how she was doing at school, how she was now fluent in French. Bonjour papa, she’d say, comment vas-tu? J’espere que vous allez bien? And I’d do my best to respond in French and struggle and she’d laugh at me and I didn’t care. Because I coped, I just about coped, with everything, for the next ten years – hearing how she was, how she was enjoying her life, hearing about her first job, hearing she’d got a boyfriend called Jean… And then, one day, hearing she was pregnant.
… to be continued/a suivre…