Blood can never turn into water (a Greek proverb)
Reunions can be highly emotive events, as they often bring to the fore our losses and what has not been resolved from the past. Here is a short story about what it can feel like.
I knew well before I crossed the street just by registering your outline in my peripheral vision despite the blinding sunlight that it was you standing in the middle of the pavement, waiting for me. I took my time to make my approach. I turned left, walked towards the crossing, waited for the lights to turn green for pedestrians. I could have crossed then and there and face you, but the detour was necessary in order to catch my breath. Thirteen years is a long time not to have seen or talked to somebody, and yet, perhaps not as long as the change in your face let out. You were now an old person. Short grey hair cropped in a plain style (did you cut it yourself?), a loose cotton summer dress that looked as comfy as a nightie, a white cloth bag hanging on your shoulder, your sea colour eyes looked like water on a shady day, no shine.
You took my arm and gave me a kiss despite the mask you wore just under your nose. That felt like yesterday. The café I had suggested was just round the corner and yet, it took us ages to walk there. Were you really that old? Everything seemed different and yet, like it was yesterday, as it has always been with you. When you had left the message on my phone, you said, it would be good to meet in this lifetime, to try and resolve things before it’ s too late. The thing is, we always had this ability the two of us to communicate wordlessly, so it felt like we knew everything there was to know just by looking at each other. I was too scared words would only spoil things. You knew about my illness, you noticed straight away. I sensed yours too. You walk too slowly, I remarked and it was only then that the tremor in your hands started. It was as though you needed my permission to let me know you had a degenerative disease that would kill you soon. We talked about suicide, how many forms it takes, how many people we knew departed in the last year, a year of massive death.
There was little to say about the past. Unlike what you said on the phone, much had been resolved already. I sensed your hesitation, how you double checked yourself before saying anything. The disease was almost like a container for you, getting you to test what the right boundary was before proceeding. Boundaries were of course something you still struggled with, but the hesitance was at least an improvement in relation to your old self. I sensed you wanted to talk about your relationship with my father, but you didn’t. You just said you needed to leave him before he died to prove to yourself that you could do it. I got that. This was the one act of self-assurance that you had managed in your lifetime. But what about leaving me? You skirted around the issue, but never quite named it. Did you feel scared that if you named the abandonment I would refuse to see you ever again?
Then, you showed me your dead husband’s mobile, which you still kept charged in your bag and clearly checked regularly despite the spider crack on its screen. And then, another mobile, your old one, also fully charged, where you stored pictures from the life you had with him during the last thirteen years. Once again, you checked yourself and restrained from telling me how abusive this second husband was, just like the first, my father, if not worse. The pictures told me why you went for him. A seaside resort, a little cottage full of flower pots, just the two of you 24/7. You didn’t need anyone else while you were in the cocoon with him. You didn’t perhaps mind too much that he became your sole contact in the world. He blocked you from getting any messages, you said. You lived inside him. You didn’t need to be in the world while he was alive. You didn’t need me.
Was it a symptom of your disease that you remembered so vividly minor details from our past life before your departure or was it a tiny part of your mind that stored memories and which you had kept alive, as a testimony of separateness while with him? You remembered my children and my house in London and knew fully well that they don’t remember you. You thought this may be the result of the trauma of your violent departure (was that a tiny acknowledgement perhaps of your abandonment?), but I think you simply have not existed for them. I wish I could share their oblivion.
After looking at the pictures of your life without me, I knew it was time to leave (again). You sensed straight away my unease. You/we were always good at communicating like that. You asked when you would see me again and I was vague about it. Can we speak occasionally on the phone, you dared and I said I would think about it. Was it my turn to abandon you now? You will wait to hear from me then, you said, somewhat deflated. I always liked that about you, your lack of assertiveness, your tact. You were used to being in the margin and waiting for crumbs of love in your life before, I guess, so not asking for much may have been a default position. Yet, asking me to take the initiative to call you may prove too much to hope for.
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