“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.”
It’s late, but I can’t sleep.
This is because I’ve been comfort eating, no, more like binge eating, something I haven’t done for a long time.
But I have a good excuse.
I’ve been spending time with my family.
My real life family.
One of the few words that can release a whole gamut of conflicting emotions within me.
To most it sounds and feels like home, belonging, surety, security and identity.
To me, it usually signifies the opposite: isolation, doubt, insecurity, distrust, not belonging, being on the outside.
From all of the definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary, I seem to fall outside of the ‘group of people living together as a unit’ and relate more to ‘group of people related by blood or marriage’ cross referenced with the more sinister associations with the Mafia. Not that I’m saying my immediate family are wise guys. More that if you don’t toe the line, you’re the enemy and likely to be, at the least, ostracised, and at the worst, whacked in the weeds.
And it all starts with the parents, does it not?
And our parents, for all kinds of reasons, weren’t exactly great.
But unlike me, my sister did have our eldest sister to love and bond with during her childhood and I think that is why our lives took such different directions.
In a lot of ways, I think she is just as fucked up as I am, the only differnce being that she decided to deny and suppress her shit and point mine out to everyone as a way of cleverly deflecting the attention onto someone who didn’t have the guile to realise what was going on, and took on the names, violence, sneers and hatred as that which was her due and something she had to live with.
Without boring you with the whats, whys and wherefores, live with the ‘Sertralines’ wasn’t exactly like living with the Waltons (more like the fucking Munsters), and just like the Philip Larkin poem says, our parents fucked us up and then some, resulting in decades of fighting, conflict and estrangement, and it is only recently that things have started to heal and Sis and I have become a little closer.
This is partly down to my graduating from being the black sheep to the grey sheep, the grey being less threatening, being a little older, more vulnerable and as the term imples, less of a rebel and more inclined to try and fit in.
And in the last year, my sister has kind of softened since my breakdown, perhaps because she tells herself that my illness was the ‘reason’ for our frequent estrangements over the years. But that’s only true to the extent that in my hyper, out of control moments I was, like a lot of depressives, unable to disguise my feelings of disappointment, betrayal and rage, and gave rise to them.
But she had as much a part to play in our conflicts as I did.
Nowadays I’m a whole lot better at managing my feelings.
Take last week.
We had planned a big family get together with other family members at her house and conscious that she had to host because her place was the biggest, I made sure I did not arrive empty handed that evening and took with me a selection of lovingly hand baked goods, stuff for her kids and a decent bottle of wine. I also hoped that she would take into account that I am not working and that it was not cheap transportation wise for me to make the journey to be with her and recognise that I was pulling my weight financially.
Our other sister, her husband and brood also came along, and brought lots of food so we all contributed in our way.
The first evening was great. Lots of catching up, bonding, laughing and general goodwill. I was conscious overall of a certain caution in the way other family members interacted with me, but choose to see it as a kindness rather than being patronising.
The next day was also lovely. We went out for breakfast, took the kids to a local fair, had a long walk, had a simple dinner in the kitchen and played cards until the early hours. And what used to be them against me almost felt as if we all on a level, and my heart glowed with something akin to joy and for a day, an hour, a minute, I felt glad to be alive.
The next morning, my eldest sister had to go home, but I had planned to stay as long as I could, so that this precious bonding might continue.
But no sooner had big sis driven away, something changed. The bonhomie dispersed, the bonds broke, and sis 2 and her family, for the want of a better description, started to go about their daily business. Her hubby disappeared into his study, the kids went off to play games/watch DVDs, and herself rushed around the house loading washing, making beds and doing chores.
‘Hey!’ says I ‘What are we doing this morning?’
‘Erm, no plans?’ she mumbled in reply, ‘did you, erm, want any breakfast, before you erm…’
Hubby then shuffled into the kitchen and muttered rather pointedly about not having anything in, not even bread for toast.
So the message was very clear.
Time for you to leave.
I inwardly cringed, partly from letting myself, for once in my life, feel like part of the family and partly for doing a 500 mile round trip for a 36 hour stay to visit someone who deliberately made sure there was nothing to eat in the house in order to shoo me from the premises when she was done with me.
I know that sounds paranoid, but even the world’s worst host would remember to have stuff in for breakfast if half her family were staying the night.
I eventually muttered something back about leaving sooner rather than evening after all, helped myself to the fruitcake I had brought along so that I wasn’t driving on an empty stomach, and loaded my bag into the car.
Maybe it was the expression in my eyes, or maybe it was a sudden flash of guilt which led to sis and her man looking at me with concerned expressions as they patted my arm clumsily and telling me I ‘could come over any time’, which only served to turn my hurt and humiliation at this rejection into something that started to morph into irritation and anger.
What did they mean ‘come over at any time’? It’s not as if I live around the corner. It takes nearly an entire day for me to get from my place to hers and costs a good £60 in petrol.
And at the very least they could have made the most of my journey and done something with me that morning or afternoon. If someone had driven that far to see me, I would have had a whole itinerary planned, and I would have been mortified if they’d left my home hungry.
Whilst I didn’t expect a fatted calf to be turning over on a spit in the garden, the very least she could have done is given me a couple of slices of toast for breakfast and gone for walk with me, if not roast a fucking chicken for lunch before sending me on my way. It’s Sunday, for Chrissakes!
I felt and still feel hurt and rejected.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Because they are all the family I have, whereas to them I am still, always had been and always will be, peripheral.
Like one of those little claws on a dogs leg, that they don’t really need, use or notice, don’t really mind but wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t there anymore.
But if they had any real emotional intelligence that is all the more reason to treat me like the rest of the family, i.e. like I actually matter to them.
The journey back to London was long and arduous and by the time I reached home, I was tired, hungry and in need of comfort.
So I crammed myself with food; like I used to when I was that gawky, goofy, misunderstood kid that no one wanted to be associated with.
I should know better than to do that to ‘my child’ by now.
It is hardly surprising that this sitation prevails given what we were taught as kids, but what do I take from this moving forward?
Is this to be my role for the rest of my life? To be wheeled out and included at group family things when it’s traditional and beneficial to have as many people around as possible, but ignored unless otherwise summoned?
Do I refuse to play along, hence cutting off my nose to spite my face?
Maybe I’m asking too much; but it’s nothing i wouldn’t do for anyone who was a guest in my home?
I don’t have an answer as yet. 😦
So this little lamb is off to her own bed to count sheep, as it’s been a hell of a long day.