[Further Familial Response]
Everyones family is eccentric. We all have the one who here or there, this or that, we the normal ones, pull fun at and joke about when said family pain in the ass is either out of earshot, or usually hard of hearing. The way they peer at you from behind jam-jar glasses with enlarged gawping eyes, or the way they have us in stitches at the ‘mad shit’ they say. Sometimes it can be the younger ones and how they’re a joker from the word ‘go’, or the teenagers and laughing at the expense of their irrational moods, and door slamming stroppiness. To an extent, none of this could really be deemed eccentricity because we all have them, that one, that two. Some families are made of them, full of them. We also all have interwoven lies and secrets between webs of whispers that warrant a glance here and a facial expression there. It’s just family life, and family is family. People often say, ‘my family mean the world to me’ and, ‘I don’t know where I’d be without my family’. Previously I thought people were saying it to be nice to their families. I thought it was an obligatory saying that I didn’t quite understand because our family has never been particularly close. Some were, but then fall-outs among the parents and said family member end in lost connections and awkward hello’s.
During childhood I was close to my grandparents, then I grew up. Mum and dad didn’t need a child minder throughout the holidays any more; I could look after myself – so we stopped going. For years. My connections throughout most of my family though have always felt a bit disjointed.
At 16 I started phoning them, my aunts and my grandparents, because that is what I saw from friends that people did with their families when they lived far away.
‘01422123456, Anderson household, Marble speaking.’
‘Hi Marble, it’s Neely.’
‘Oh hi Neely. What’s wrong? What do you want?’
‘I was just ringing to see how everyone was.’
‘Oh we’re all fine. Same old, same old.’
‘Oh OK then. That’s good.’
‘Bye. So I suppose we’ll speak in a year or so again and it will be the same and I’ll tell you we’re doing the same old and that we’re all still alive’
I stopped phoning. When I saw them next, we’d all grown up, my cousins and I. We’d all been studying, working, and making a start on planning life ambitions. I spoke to my cousin sometimes but he was always busy, which I suppose you could call, ‘same old, same old’. I realised from watching and talking about families to other people that our family was slightly different. To them family was more than just blood, but a bonded connection. In our family, it was nothing more than genetic connections at reproduction – and no longer anything more.
It dawned on me that people weren’t saying family were the most important people in their lives to be nice about feelings, just like people didn’t utter ‘I love you’ to their families out of obligation, they meant it – but my family, we were different. More acquaintances at life events when we’re supposed to ‘do family shit’, like funerals. Or someone to be compared against when we want to brag about achievements: when really it doesn’t matter because we never see each other anyway – but now, in this moment, it does matter because we want to brag about everything we achieved during those years of same old, same old.
It is like a hidden game, an under-dog of ‘oh nothing’ then ‘HUZZAH! See! Fucking amazing!’. And we all get roped into it, my cousins and I, even though we’re not the ones instigating any of it. The successful cousin doesn’t brag about himself, perhaps he is sick of it after a life time I wonder. Instead, he is as is, and we are as we are, ‘how about a coffee?’ It’s nice to just be. But we are not close, my family and I.
When Granddad was dying, and eventually died it was another family period of time for pretending to be close, pretending to know one another, and of ‘doing family shit’. We’d gather at his bed side, and he summed it up well to me, ‘we don’t have much to say to one another really, do we Neely?’
‘Uhhmm… I suppose not, no’
– Let’s smile this off. –
I am fond of my childhood memories of him being around the house at holidays, taking forever to eat, and guessing what the advert is for when the sound is turned off. He eventually passed. It was his time and he felt ready within himself, or so I’d heard, through the grapevine, maybe at the funeral, maybe during the arrangements of dates, times and travel. At some point I heard.
I hadn’t seen any of my family for months by the time the funeral came. He took his time about passing did my granddad. Some would call him a fighter, I would say that medicine is probably too good at preserving very poorly people on the brink of death from death itself: and I can say that because I think it is true. It wasn’t a shock. Science had to lose to the inevitability of life and death at some point.
By coincidence, I’d relapsed into my anorexia quite significantly that year. Although informed we didn’t talk about it between my parents and I. Another hanging shadow to ok past, through and beyond. Prior to the funeral service we went to the ‘family room’, my shadow and I, where relatives would gather, prepare and maybe, in other families, utter supportive words of strength and courage before the ceremony. As I walked in my feelings remained muted except a twinging discomfort about being in a room for an uncomfortable amount of time with a family I barely knew, and we are a small bunch.
Although we hadn’t spoke to or seen each other in over 6 months, I headed straight for my dad as this was the most familiarity I had. He felt uncomfortable, just as I did. Together, we had previously been the closest to one another during his lonely period of post-divorce. ‘Hi Dad’. He looked at me. It took a while. He didn’t recognise me. My own father didn’t recognise me. Maybe he saw my shadow first. ‘Have you lost weight?’
‘On accident. I’ve been a bit stressed I suppose.’ On we pretended as if nothing was wrong ignoring the looming darkness cast by my shadow.
The family entered the service room as if somehow now they had become a bonded unit. I trailed behind having been left in the toilet and coming out to find myself at the back of the queue feeding into the service room behind ‘bus friends’, neighbours, and maybe the baker.
During the funeral procedure I felt isolated and alone and confused within my emotions. My stifled laughter became flooded in tears, a fortunately more appropriate response. The funeral coincided with my descent from anorexia into fully fledged madness. I managed. I think I concealed it. Nothing was said, although I doubt it would have been either way.
Afterwards Grandma kept saying that it was a perfect service and that Granddad would have really loved it. I wouldn’t know. During the service and speech I had no idea who the man they were talking about was. I knew nothing, and felt that perhaps I shouldn’t have gone; after all we had nothing much to say to one another, as was the last thing he pointed out to me when he was alive. Grandma knew though, and she knew that he would have thought it perfect whilst as a disjointed family of northerners, we dribbled and bimbled our way to the house with the buffet to sit around the living room on odd chairs scavenged from across the house, to eat finger food whilst Grandma reminisced aloud about her life with Granddad.
Adequately nervous about the buffet, but glad of northern traditions of mandatory buffets for every occasion because I could control what went on my plate, sandwich and ultimately in my mouth without course for comment. Or so I had thought. I made a sandwich, being careful to pick ‘safe’ toppings and ‘whoa whoa whoa, please don’t butter all the bread, I don’t want butter on my bread thank you’ in a quiet hush so no-one else would hear my protest. Handfuls of crisps in mixed up flavours were heaped onto paper plates, and napkins gathered in excess. My uncle dove straight for the pork pies, that judging by his urgency, he had been excited about since they bought them for the buffet. Likely he’d been told that he had to wait to eat them. With his plate hovering over his protruding gut, with pastry in his 70s beard, and pork pie swishing between his molars and saliva he couldn’t help but notice that I had a sandwich. ‘That’s a big sandwich. I would have thought you’d be needing to watch your weight.’
‘No. I…uh…it’s just ham…and some salad. It looks bigger than it is. I’m a bit hungry, I didn’t eat breakfast’ My eyes darting all over the floor in the nerves of shame.
‘Well I was just saying I would have thought you’d be needing to watch your figure now that you’re older.’ As if I had let myself go. Anything else that might have been said is blurred out by the suffocation of inner panic, then fizzled with annoyance that I’d been, oh stupid me, trying to cover up my eating disorder by piling my sandwich high with lettuce and salad leaves. As it turns out, I needed to watch my weight: according my to my uncle with the protruding stomach below his highly piled high plate of pork pies, pastry and processed meat swishing between words and sentences.
My BMI at this point was emaciated. I only ate my salad vegetables before realising that night in my hotel room just how little I could, and most likely should, subsist from. My shadow had a new leash of life, a new level of proof to my greed and disgust, and more lights within myself to overcast in our fight to live together.