I was going to do a piece on anger and rejection, but it’s Boxing Day and who wants to read that? Clearly it’s better suited to Valentine’s.
Instead, I’ll skip ahead in our story and tell you about the first time I met Dani.
It was a cool afternoon in early October.
We were to set off from my house and meet at a pub very close to where my parents live. I lived there too, but I was about to go off to University for four years – which ended up being quite a bit more than that. My best friend at the time came over to take me there and chaperone. She too was bringing one of her best friends, as we had both previously agreed to have a ‘second’. Just in case we had to duel. You never know.
I remember waking up that morning like it was my birthday, or Christmas; like there were presents to open, but with a certain strange hesitance. What if we just don’t click?
We’d sent each other a letter and some photos – I printed out a collage of things I was interested in with some images of me and my unkempt long hair, she’d sent me a couple of pictures of her – an older, irreverent one and a more recent one of her hard at work in her studio. We knew we would have things to talk about – interests aside, there were eighteen years of history to catch up on. But there was still the worry of the ‘click’.
Looking back at it now, it was like a first date between young teenagers. John – my friend – played the chauffeur for the short trip to the nearby pub, which was a Beefeater called The White Hart on the Rye Road going east out of the village.
John and I arrived first. We weren’t coming from as far afield as they were, so traffic was going to be a bigger factor in their arrival time. We were slightly early.
We sat down and twiddled our thumbs a moment. John asked me how I was feeling. I said I was fine, nervous of course. Inside I was full of expectations, possibilities, unknowns.
Had I gone through this experience now I would probably have approached it differently, with more planning and thought as to what I wanted to know then. I went without a list of questions, which didn’t matter to me but seemed to matter to everyone else. We all prepare differently for things like this. I never considered myself a particularly spontaneous person, and certainly my friends and I at eighteen were very organised indeed. We had study timetables for our A-levels and planned our activities in the week together. Part of developing my sense of self was in fusing this self, which had formed under the tutelage of my parents, with my “natural” self which had yet to be awakened.
I was going through my phase of not drinking coffee. I started drinking coffee when I was about thirteen, then gave it up when I was fifteen. I didn’t touch it again until I was twenty-one, but I suppose it meant I could function in the mornings back then. Anyway, turning eighteen that year I still hadn’t discovered the joys of ale, so my pub drink choices were limited to wine and the popular underage/tee-totaller beverage known as ‘J2O’. I remember thinking I wanted to be fully compus mentis for this strange ride, so I opted for a J2O. I think John was about to go up when Dani and her friend Carol arrived.
We’d chosen good seats for meeting. We sat ourselves in the middle of the pub, up a short set of maybe six or seven stairs behind a banister. John and I sat on the far side of the table facing the entrance, so we could watch them approach, and to them we were the most visible we could make ourselves. Despite having photos of each other, I still don’t think we would’ve recognised each other if we walked past each other in a street at that point.
My first impression was how young she looked. It’s strange to think that it won’t be long until I’m the age she was when we met – she was 38. I wonder what eighteen year olds think of me.
We greeted each other with a hug. It was a long hug, and I don’t think either of us realised it would last as long as it did – I certainly didn’t lean in with the intention of giving one, but the feeling was like the one I get when I hug my fiancé if I haven’t seen him in a few days – I didn’t want to let go. Eventually we did, mainly for reasons of social acceptability, but also because we were here to get to know each other, and while a hug says a lot about a person, I wanted to know some deets.
We spoke for a couple of hours with the chaperones present, first using the contents of our letters as prompts, then asking the more interesting questions. Family health and occupations. Her recollections of my birth father – the fact that I had a half brother. Relationships – I was identifying as bisexual at the time; Dani was too.
As the afternoon lingered on, they disappeared for twenty minutes to give us some time alone. We jointly realised, jokingly, that other people might think we were there on a first date. My hair fell past my shoulders at that time, and I rarely bothered to shave (although my facial hair is, and always has been, a sparse affair) so I probably looked a bit older than eighteen – and she definitely didn’t look 38.
Then we realised we needed even more time, and John had to go home, possibly to take his sister somewhere. Carol was content to sit in the car for a while, and we carried on our conversation slightly longer before they dropped me home – and Dani met my parents for the first time since the adoption.
A first draft, there – and I’m sure you’ll agree it definitely needs more details, but slightly abridged for blog purposes.