by Andrew Foote
The more I read, the more I understood. Events that, at the time had seemed insignificant, were now slotting into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
On opening the envelope I found not one, but three separate smaller ones and instructions as to the order in which they should be read.
The first of these was a letter written by the Chief Clinician of the unit where my Mother was being looked after. I had to read it twice before I fully understood the implications, and once the information had finally hit home, I placed the letter on the table and just stared out of the window in disbelief.
Callum was quick to read my reaction and reaching for my hand said
"I was going to ask if you're okay but I know you're not.
Do you want to tell me what it said or shut up maybe?"
"I'll read it to you. Just give me a minute please?"
I wasn't upset, in truth I think I was in shock as this was absolutely the last thing I'd expected to hear.
I took a deep breath, picked up the letter and began to read it out loud.
'Dear Edward. By virtue of the fact that you're in receipt of this letter means you have visited this wing in order to see your Mother.
As you are no doubt aware, she was admitted into intensive care following a drug overdose and that in itself is a very serious matter but made more so due to the following.
The cocktail of narcotics ingested combined with a large quantity of alcohol, all of which, habitually consumed led to acute kidney failure.
Your Mother was already suffering from alcohol related liver disease, in her case Sclerosis, and these factors combined with her already seriously compromised immune response means that effective treatment is not available to her.
I feel that it is necessary to see you at the earliest opportunity in order that I can personally explain to you where we go from here. Therefore if you could call my secretary on the number shown below, I would much appreciate it.
One further matter. I would respectfully suggest that you refrain from opening the other envelopes until such time as we meet.
I am aware of the contents and so to facilitate your full understanding of these, I will arrange for our resident solicitor to be on hand.
Yours sincerely, Dr A.P.J. Burnham.'
"Could you translate that into English Ed?"
"Yeah well, simply put…… my dear Mother has managed to total her kidneys by taking drugs, booze has fucked her liver, but I've no idea what he's talking about when he mentions her already compromised immune response but it doesn't sound too hopeful.
I'd better make that call."
"Dr Burnham's secretary, how may I help you?"
"Oh Good Morning. My name is Edward Anderson and I've received a letter from you asking me to make an appointment to see Dr Burnham."
"You must be Ellen Anderson's son, is that correct?"
"Yes that's me."
"When are you available to come to the clinic? Dr Burnham has consultations all morning but he could see you at around two-thirty this afternoon if that's convenient?"
"I'll be there but there's just one other matter. He mentioned having a solicitor present."
"It's all on file so I'll see if I can arrange it.
If there's a problem, can I get you on this number?"
"Oh sure. It never gets switched off."
"Thank you. We'll see you this afternoon then.
I breathed a massive sigh of relief.
"Good! I hate waiting around. In a few hours' time, I'll know the worst and then it's up to me to deal with it."
"Us to deal with it Ed. You're not alone, remember?"
"Yeah, sorry. I keep forgetting. I feel as if I should be emotional but nothing's happening.
She's dying, I know that, so why do I feel calm? Most kids of my age would be mortified but I'm…… oh I don't know."
"Yeah, good word. Numb does it for me but I don't even feel guilty about feeling numb!
"Street life has a nasty habit of hardening you. I've seen things that would turn an adult's stomach to jelly but I just take it as the normal process of life, walk away and forget about it.
Sometimes I wish I could cry but it's something that's alien to me. I feel the urge, but then there's nothing there like I'm conditioned not to feel sorrow or remorse.
Do you remember me telling you how Bubba cried when you were reading to us?
I envied him!
I wanted to feel how he felt, I wanted to feel so sad but I couldn't! So a girl got eaten by a shark, so what! People get run over by a truck, so what! I've…… lost my soul somewhere along the way Ed."
"We better go and find it then!
I don't want a boyfriend who lacks compassion!"
"Thank you for coming to see me Edward. I can only begin to understand how you must be feeling so if you have questions, anything at all then please feel free to ask me.
I don't like this aspect of my job but I'll cut to the chase.
Edward? Your Mum is dying. There's no easy way of breaking this news to you so I beg forgiveness if my manner is direct and to the point, but perhaps you'll find it easier to accept it this way rather than me running around the houses."
"It's okay Doctor. I think I'd worked that out for myself. I do have questions though?"
"Drugs and alcohol…… the effects I can understand, but then you went on to say in your letter something about my Mother's immune response being already weakened.
What did you mean by this?"
"You obviously didn't read the letter in the second envelope. That's good because I can give you the clinical answer before you read the historical.
Your Mum is HIV positive. She's been taking anti-retroviral medication which, under most normal circumstances, would extend her life almost indefinitely. Unfortunately, the fact that she is…… how can I put this…… an alcoholic drug addict, rendered this medication completely useless. Her HIV status migrated to AIDS for which, so far, there is no remedy.
Do you understand what I'm telling you?"
"Yes…… yes I understand but you don't just become HIV positive like contracting Flu, so who was responsible? Was it that Vincent?"
"This is where things become very difficult Edward. You see, your Father had found out that he was HIV positive a few years ago. Obviously he isn't one of my patients so I can't be one hundred percent sure how he's fairing, but my understanding is that he's responding well to the medication and should live to a ripe old age. Your Mother knew about her condition before your parents separated so the likelihood is, your Father was the cause of her contracting the infection.
The man you mentioned, Vincent Connor? He discharged himself just as soon as he was able. He was never tested by this hospital but if he and your Mother were sharing needles then it's very possible that he too is infected."
"Oh my God. That explains so much. The fights, the constant arguments and why my Dad left us."
"I think that's all part of the letter that your Mother wrote to you.
That, together with the third envelope came at a time when she was mentally stable and we were able to put things in place that would guarantee your future but that's something Mr Allen, our solicitor will run through with you a bit later. For now it might be a good idea to read your Mothers letter."
Again, for Callum's benefit, I read it out loud.
'Dear Edward. Now I'm sane enough to write to you, I have no idea where to begin so perhaps I should start by telling you something that for the last few years I've not been able to do.
This brief respite from hallucinations, self-pity and paranoia have made me come to the realisation that I've failed you in the most awful way imaginable. You're my son and despite my behaviour of the past few years, I do, and always have loved you. Please Edward, you have to believe me. Sitting here now, I have an understanding of how cruel I have been, but my addiction to drugs and alcohol robbed me of my conscience, I was living from fix to fix, nothing else mattered, only the overwhelming need to escape from reality, to forget I was suffering from that horrible disease, but then I'd come down and that need was doubly important like an endless spiral into hopelessness.
I can only imagine that it was you who called the authorities and I'm pleased you did. You gave me an opportunity to look at myself if only for a short while. To see what I've thrown away and to give me the chance to tell you those things that most children take for granted, the unconditional love of a Mother towards her offspring.
I have been in contact with your Father so he's aware of the situation but he's leaving it up to you to get in touch with him if you so wish, otherwise he will continue to pay all the utility bills, your allowance together with my divorce settlement will be paid into my bank account to which you are now the sole signatory.
In the other envelope you will find all the legal documentation, an application form for a charge card on my account together with various other bits and pieces so I strongly recommend that you have a qualified solicitor explain everything to you.
Edward, my condition will rapidly deteriorate. I will become angry, completely lacking all other emotions so I must take this opportunity to reiterate just how much I love you and just how much I'd give to be able to turn back the clock and be the Mum you always should've had, but I can't undo what is already done.
Please find it in your heart to forgive me?
Find happiness in no matter what you do or how your life works out. Find love and always cherish that person no matter what.
"Any chance of a glass of water please?"
"I'll have one brought through for you. How are you holding up?"
"Okay actually. I think that deep down I always knew she loved me, but with home life being how it was, well it wasn't possible to see beyond the situation as it was at that time.
She said that her condition would rapidly deteriorate, so does that mean she'll never be lucid again?"
"She will have brief periods of normality, but they'll become less and briefer as time progresses.
Why do you ask?"
"Because I want to write her a letter but there would be little point if she wasn't able to understand it."
"Do it, and I'll make sure that she reads it when the opportunity presents itself."
"I'll decide on a form of words and write it tonight once I get back. I've also got a photo I'd like her to have as it reminds me of the happy times when we were a cohesive family. I'll mention it in my note and say that this is the sort of thing I'll always cling onto rather than the upsetting things."
"However you wish to play it.
Are you feeling able to talk to our solicitor or would you rather leave it for now?"
"I might just as well get it out of the way now if that's okay. I hate the not knowing."
"I'm sorry that you have to deal with these matters Edward? It's difficult enough for an adult who has been aware of their family members' situation for some time let alone someone such as yourself but actually, from the legal standpoint, what has been put in place is relatively simple.
Any questions so far?"
"None that I can think of."
I know Dr Burnham has informed you in regard to your Mothers' condition together with the prospect that she hasn't very long to live. She too realises this, and during a sustained period of stability, she elected to write her will setting out her wishes as to how her estate is handled following her demise.
In this regard, her wishes and instructions are simple, you are to be the sole beneficiary of her estate and until you reach the age of maturity, i.e., eighteen years of age, all such assets will be managed for you by a trust who has a legal obligation to maximise its potential in order that you receive the best return possible come the time.
Who is managing this and what are the costs involved."
"I, or rather my practice is heading it, with a steading hand on the tiller, that of the legal people from the Terrence Higgins Trust together with your Mothers' bank Manager. You are in very capable hands."
"But how much is this costing?"
"The Terrence Higgins Trust is covering all the costs Edward."
"The Terrence Higgins Trust?
Who are they?"
"They're an organisation dedicated to assist those suffering from AIDS, their families and dependants. If you have trouble coming to terms with your Mothers' illness or your Fathers' condition, they are in a position to help and guide you.
How old are you Edward?"
"I turned sixteen on December 13th ."
"Right. In that case you are old enough to live on your own should you so wish. Many youngsters of your age do so quite happily, so if you felt like you wanted to move back in to the family home then there's no reason why you shouldn't."
"Except for one. The entire place was trashed during one of their drink and drug sessions and to be perfectly honest, I dread to think what I might find if I go rooting around.
There are bits and pieces that could be sold but the rest I'd want shot of. Furniture, beds, carpets and curtains, everything out and possibly be treated as contaminated waste just in case there are used needles kicking about."
"Your local authority will have specialist teams to do that for you.
Was there any structural damage?"
"Only my bedroom window. That got smashed in although God only knows how as it was triple glazed but none-the-less, it is no more."
"Okay. Fixable and something that should be actioned quickly.
It sounds like I'm money-grabbing but could my Mothers' will be challenged in court?"
"By whom? Do you have any close relatives on your Mothers' side?"
"No, none. She was an only child. I was thinking more about my Father."
"Technically he's no longer family as your parents divorced. As your natural Father, he could try for custody and if it were successful, then he would have a call on your Mothers' estate but only enough to support you until you reach the age of eighteen but, and it's a big but, no court in the land would find in his favour. He walked away from you and your Mother for reasons we can only speculate about. He has never tried to contact you has he? Birthday card, Christmas card?"
"So an absent family member smells the chance of clawing back something from a failed relationship thus depriving the legally appointed beneficiary of his entitlement?
Not a cats' chance in hell Edward.
I've already told you that you are perfectly entitled to live on your own now you're sixteen and there's absolutely nothing he can do, legally or otherwise that can alter that so custody is, simply put, a non-starter and without that, he has no claim on your Mothers' estate."
"Thank you. My life is complicated enough without worrying about his interference."
"You said you had two questions?"
"You answered both. The second was about a possible custody case."
"Good stuff. I'll make enquiries about getting your house cleared and the repairs carried out.
Is this your mobile number?"
"Yeah. You can reach me on that anytime but I need to be there when it's cleared so I can select what's kept and what's chucked out."
"I'll make very sure you're kept up to speed. We'll need your keys for access anyway!"
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