I'm waiting for the transfer flight to Ithaca. I have the newest issue of the British Medical Journal and it must seem that I am reading. I am not. I can't concentrate.
I have to admit that the encounter with Edith has upset me.
I don't understand what I ever saw in her. At medical school I had fallen for her completely, I was even anxious to marry her. I still don't know which turn of fate saved me exactly, but I'm eternally grateful for whatever circumstances helped in my escape.
Isn't it strange that the same woman that set your heart racing once can make your blood boil when you meet her several years later?
Back then, I hadn't noticed her acid tongue, not negatively anyway. Of course, we often sneered about the "common" student, who hadn't the intellectual capacity to deserve a place at the same university as us. Thinking back, I probably had been just as bad as she was.
Maybe I just notice it now because her nasty remarks were aimed at a target close to my heart. I remember the first encounter between Edith and Louisa in my kitchen in Portwenn. Well, not exactly in my kitchen, as Louisa was standing in front of the door while Edith was comfortably sitting at my table. Strange how things have changed. Edith couldn't be more out of my life as she is right now, and Louisa has opened every door for me and let fresh air breathe in.
I take my smart phone out and start to dial. I think of Louisa constantly and if I want to have a chance to concentrate on the article, maybe I should send her a message so that I can get this task out of my head.
"Safely landed in NY. Waiting for connecting flight." I hesitate for a moment. I don't know if I should add this piece of information, but finally I start writing. "You'll never guess who I ran into. Love, Martin. P.S.: I miss you."
I hesitate before I press the "send" button. I look at the postscript. I know Louisa will most probably be at school when she receives the massage and I don't know who will read it. Louisa can be so careless about whom she shares information with.
I click on the text to edit it. The last three words are quickly deleted. She should know that I miss her anyhow.
I quickly send the message before I think again.
I think of Louisa in her school. She didn't have any trouble finding a teaching job when we moved to London, much to my disappointment. I tried to convince her that she might stay at home to bring up James for a bit. She didn't want to have any of it. We had a huge row. So I hoped, with the difficult unemployment rate at that time, she might have been forced to stay at home out of sheer necessity. I was a bit disappointed when she did find a job immediately. The next row followed, which I lost again.
So James is the next generation of Ellinghams growing up in London, cared for by a nanny. Louisa wanted to give him into some day-care centre, but that was taking it one step too far. I made inquiries about qualified nannies that were competent enough to look after our precious boy. Louisa was protesting about me being snobby and old-fashioned and unreasonable in not letting James have enough contact with boys his age.
In my memory, it was the company of boys my age that made school almost unbearable, and the experiences with the "Dares Club" in Louisa's old school in Portwenn had confirmed that this behaviour is far from being extinct and I will try everything to protect James from that as well as I can.
There is another mine field that we are battling over. I still haven't completely surrendered in my battle to get James registered for one of the most prestigious public schools. I mean, with Louisa and me working both full time, the only time we can spend with James is on weekends and if we're lucky an hour at most before his bedtime during the week. If we chose the school Ruth has recommended, there is no reason why he couldn't come home on Fridays. Kent is just around the corner, after all. So I don't see the difference in him spending the day with his nanny now or in boarding school in a couple of years. However, this is a very sensitive subject for Louisa. I can't help my impression that she feels inferior because she went to a comprehensive school.
Right now, we share our breakfast every morning and after that, a young woman comes to look after James while we are at work. She's from Spain, but speaks English fluently. She also speaks French very well, and she is encouraged to teach James these languages too, in a playful way. The more he gets familiar with foreign languages while his brain is still young, the easier it'll be for him to use these languages later in life.
Before moving to London, I was worried that my job wouldn't leave me enough time to spend with my son, but it turned out that Louisa is far worse than me.
Not being head teacher wasn't satisfying for her, so she found herself projects 'to make a difference'. I never understood why it should be important to make a difference to total strangers. It usually means that you're doing the work for them.
Soon after Louisa had settled in her new job, she spent almost every evening at home at our kitchen table to work on her 'project'.
About three years later, the school uses her initiative for marketing reasons. She has quite successfully installed a system to support pupils from underprivileged families. Louisa really gives her heart and soul to find opportunities to help those children whose parents often couldn't care less in finding ways to make the best of their talents. She makes sure that the school library is well equipped. She makes sure that there is room for pupils to study when they don't have a quiet place at home to study undisturbed. She has ensured extra projects like a theatre group, an art class, music classes, technical classes, a computer club, DIY classes and even a school garden – which is a stupid idea in the middle of London in my opinion. She has encouraged other teachers to spend part of their free time, too, to ensure that there are experts to guide children in the respective fields and to make it possible for her pupils to find out what they are good at.
It has the added benefit for the parents that they even have to care less about their children, as they spend most of their spare time in the care of the school.
It has the huge disadvantage for our son that he sees his mother even less.
Sometimes I don't understand Louisa. She seems to burn the candle at both ends.
At the beginning of this year, she even added a new project to her already enormous workload. I confronted her, telling her that she is spreading herself too thin and that she owes it to our son not to overdo it.
"What has James got to do with this? This will be in the evenings mostly. He's in bed at that time anyhow."
James is. I'm not.
Besides, I'm really not happy with her doing anything like it.
It began with one of her underprivileged special projects telling Louisa about his elder sister. She was fourteen, completely useless, had dropped out of school and was hanging around. Her mother was devastated and the shock made her incompetent to look after her other two children. In my opinion such incompetent parents should be forbidden to procreate. For the benefit of society as well as the benefit of their children.
Louisa started some investigation about homeless minors in London. With the help of one male colleague, also an acute do-gooder, she roamed the streets in search of those kids living rough.
In co-operation with one parish and the social services, she has organised a place where they could sleep, a soup kitchen, collecting second hand clothes and which is especially important for her, offering free education. She was shocked to find out how many of them were basically illiterate, although having gone to normal schools before.
I tried hard to talk her out of this project. I'm worried about her. She doesn't see it that way. For her, I'm again snobby, unreasonable and uncaring. I have to admit that I really don't see why it should be any of our business if they choose to lead that kind of life. We are not responsible for the whole of mankind.
I tried to reason with her that this other project of hers takes up quite a good deal of her time already, but she argued that this was well established by now and hardly needed much time anymore. She needed a new challenge.
When I realised that there was nothing I could do, I did have a talk with the chairmen of the hospital. I could persuade them that it would be good marketing to install a small unit to offer a free health check for those tramps. It's not that I do care about them, but at least I can ensure that Louisa isn't exposed to too many germs. The better the health of these down-and-outs is, the better are the chances that I can keep Louisa from any real danger.
I also insisted on her getting the necessary vaccinations and that she gets a regular health check herself. She just gave in with her weary: "Yes, Doctor."
By now, it happens quite often that I just catch her when she is already on her way out or I just find a note telling me not to wait.
Somehow I can't help to think that she is running. Driven.
To be continued…