It’s not often that the most significant, life-changing days in our lives shares two-thirds of similarities to one of our favourite books. [11.22.63 by Stephen King, in case you were wondering.] Is it coincidence? Do we look for patterns in things just to fit into the lives we know?
It was my dad that encouraged me to play video games. My mum never opposed them or discouraged me from engaging with games, she actively encourages it now. But I was always a “daddy’s girl”.
22nd of November 2002 was the day I last spoke to my dad, Alun. Calling him “father” was always a foreign concept to me. He was my dad. I have no memories of what that final conversation was about. It was twelve years ago. Can you remember anything you said twelve years ago? I want to say I was mad at him, I might have been. He worked away from home, leaving my mother and I for never any longer than two weeks. Since he had started working for this particular, Shaw, they had relocated him all over the country, Briton Ferry, Brighton and the final place, Hull. I have never been to Hull. I doubt I ever will. It sounds like it should be grey, mechanical. A sad place. Even before that day, it invoked sadness in me. A twelve year old girl with the notion of places being sad. That cannot be normal.
I think he was due to come home that weekend, but circumstances had prevented it. Would everything be different if he had come home? Maybe. But there is no way of knowing. We could look towards the concept of parallel, infinite universes. Spending our time thinking “What if?” That would get us nowhere.
It is the days following the 22nd that are forever imprinted in my mind. Early on the morning of the 24th, it was a Sunday, I woke up and rose from bed. The floorboards in my room creaked. They still do even to this day, probably even more so now. My twelve year old mind decided it was far too early to be up and about, so I went back to bed. As I did so, my mum came into my room. “Your father was taken ill in the night…” her voice broke, holding back tears. She did not need to complete that sentence. Even to this day, I do not think she’s ever uttered the words “your father is dead” to me. If she did, it would make that fact a reality. What is dead anyway? Is anyone truly dead so long as they are in our thoughts, in our hearts? Do our actions keep them alive?
It is probably worth noting that back in 2002, my mum, my nan, my cousin and myself were supposed to go to Disneyland Paris on November 25th. Naturally, my dad’s death changed those plans. My mum was adamant that I was still going. It was now to be me, my cousin, my nan and my nan’s friend. My nan is no longer friends with this friend, not because either one of them has passed, they are both still around. I do not know how or why my nan no longer associates with this woman, but I like to think it’s due to loyalty to me. The way this woman treated me in Paris is no way anyone should treat a twelve year old, let alone one who has just lost her father. Saying that we “lose” people when they die is such a strange phrase. It infers that we can one day find them again, as though it is just a temporary misplacement we are experiencing. Maybe that’s correct, maybe we’ll find them again once we, too, pass on from this life.
Before we can get to the story of this trip, I’m hesitant to refer to it as a ‘holiday’, I must tell of the series of events that occurred on the day of the 25th. It was a Monday. This Monday was more grey than usual. How could it not be? My life had just been turned around in ways I still do not comprehend. There was an issue with my mother being adamant that I was still to go to Disneyland Paris; I was on my mother’s passport, as is customary for UK children.
That morning, my mother was frantically calling the various government agencies that deal with passports and even before 10am, she had worked it out that if we got to the Passport Office in Newport by midday, I would be the proud owner of my own passport that very afternoon. As we lived in Barry, approximately fifteen miles away from Newport, this should have been an easy task. On any other day, it would have been feasible to complete this task within thirty minutes. But not on that day. The silver car my mother owned, she always seems to own silver cars these days. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s a slight towards me as I often joke with her about how much I dislike silver cars. This one though, I wish I could remember what make or model it was, it refused to start that morning. I want to use the phrase “the battery was as dead as my dad”, but that’d be rather distasteful (silly brain, making inappropriate jokes), so I’ll go with, the battery decided to pick that particular morning to not work. One phone call to the AA and thirty minutes later, we were on our way. On our way to the nearest supermarket, a Safeways at that point. It’s now a Waitrose. You used to be able to find passport photo machines in supermarkets; these days, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
We entered the supermarket and found the photo machine. Out of Order. My mum’s old clunky Vodafone-branded mobile phone rang, her friend was ringing to say she had been the Post Office and got a passport form for us, she’d fill out what she could so that we, my mother and I, could pick it up, sign it en route to Newport. On to the next supermarket, a little closer to my mother’s friend’s house. Yet again, this supermarket’s photo machine was out of order. They say bad things come in threes, but this was taking that saying to it’s absolute extreme. What more did this day have in store?
Third supermarket lucky. Passport photos were acquired. We arrived at the friend’s house. My mother, bless her, she made a mistake in filling out a part of the form. I do not know how she had made it that far on this day without yet making a mistake. Luckily, I don’t actually think it was luck, but rather an excellent family friend doing her best to look out for us, she had brought another set of forms, just in case. By now it was nearing quarter past eleven.
We somehow, I do not know how, maybe my mother speeded down the roads between Cardiff and Newport and kept the tickets from me. Maybe things started to go our way. Maybe, just maybe, this insane quest was starting to go right. We made it to Newport, parked in a grey multistorey carpark that no longer exists and made it to the Passport Office a little before midday. We handed the forms and the photos over to an assistant who told us that if we came back at half 1 that afternoon, my passport would be ready for me.
I hope, dear reader, that you’re lucky enough to never have stepped foot in Newport, and never will. It is a dire place. Grey, lifeless, soulless. Maybe this day has forever skewed my opinion on the place, maybe Newport is really a colourful, lively, soulful place. We wiled away the time in a small cafe that probably went out of business and reopened multiple times in the passing twelve years. 1:30pm came about and I now had my very passport. Passport are strange objects, they can signify freedom, freedom to travel wherever you may wish to, excitement of holidays and adventures. Had this little maroon-coloured booklet been worth it?
We got back to the damn silver car with it’s new, working battery and drove to the carpark’s guard booth to pay and exit. In this carpark, you were given a ticket as you entered, and then you would pay your fee at the guard booth upon exiting. What happens if you lose that ticket? My mother and I soon found out. The guard told her that in the case of lost tickets, the fee for 24 hours would be payable. I remember my mother’s panic as this was being said, somehow in the whirlwind quest in Newport, the ticket had been lost. “How… how much is the all day fee?” Her voice indicated she was at breaking point. How could you blame her for being at that point? “£4.” was the guard’s response. I’ll never forget the strange sound that emerged from my mother then. Laughter. She was actually laughing. Not the hearty laughter that signifies amusement, but rather the sad, broken laughter that can only mean “after all this, hearing that £4-price is the music to my ears”.
There was now packing to be done. The coach for Paris was leaving at 3am the following morning. The entirety of that trip is a blur, aside from two events; my nan, the wonderful woman she is, locked our passports in her suitcase in the hotel rooms whilst we were out during the days. That makes sense, it’s a wise thing to do. Except for when the keys to said suitcase get lost somewhere between Space Mountain and It’s A Small World. Those keys were never found. I am, however, noticing a distinct pattern between me and this passport. Maybe I was just never destined to travel, or own a passport. It might be worth noting, my dear reader, that those locks that sometimes come with suitcases are notoriously easy to break. My passport and I were reunited. The second event I remember from that trip, I think this is why my nan and her friend are no longer friends; this woman, whose name I have completely forgotten is probably the person in the world who I truly hate. I like to think it was understandable to upset over the course of the trip. But this woman, she said to me on multiple occasions, “Cheer up, Hannah. You’re in Disneyland! Whatever do you have to be upset about?” Never mind the fact that she was on a free trip to Paris, she had also been informed as to why she was invited on that trip. I will never forgive her for those words.
I will never know if it was for the better or for the worse, but 11.22.02 changed my life.