A four letter word that’s not rude but has a huge capacity to inflict pain

I read somewhere the other day, but forget where and I’m going to blame that on ‘covid brain’ because the article did mention that it can affect your memory and ability to recall words, recent memories and prevent distracting yourself from….where was I?

Ah yes, anxiety. The article mentioned that the now-passed first year anniversary of Covid-19 cases, deaths, lockdowns, restrictions, confusions, delays, contradictions, isolation, vaccination shortages and despair has created, in even the most cheerful of us, a constant buzzing level of anxiety.

Now in our fourth lockdown, or third, if you only count them when schools actually close, France too is restricting arrivals and departures. A lunch invite from friends in Geneva, about three kilometres drive away, has to be refused because we are not allowed over the border without an essential reason.

Yesterday, I was on the Covid Conveyance (or Geneva’s F bus if you prefer specifics), with my French Government phone form explaining who I was, where and when I was born, my official home address and why my trip to Geneva was worthy of being allowed in. My monthly migraine vaccine that is self-injected into my leg is only available in Switzerland. It has to be ordered and paid for before the chemist will give it to me because it is expensive and has to be refrigerated. This necessitates a second trip on the Covid Conveyance the following day to pick it up.

The socially-distanced line at the chemist was out the door and almost into the booze and cigarette counter of the Coop supermarket opposite. Of course we all used the hand sanitizer, wore masks and kept the required distance from each other.

The bus home is different. The F bus to Ferney isn’t frequent, and even at the first stop, which is the train station, it is full. We all play a fun game of waiting to see just who will be the brave idiot to press the ‘open passenger’ door button on the outside and earn the extra risk of picking up Covid, but then forget about viral spread when we’re all packed in together, touching thighs or reaching for the ‘next stop’ button or hanging onto the overhead poles.

Anxiety is, of course, a constant, and scrolling through Facebook and seeing happy Aussie mates enjoying Easter camping weekends, BBQs, dinner parties and attend weddings, instead of envy I feel…. anxious. As a country, they’ve taken Covid-19 extremely seriously and international borders are not only closed, but state ones are too when a case or two is detected.

We fellow Aussies in Europe are not allowed to return home even if we wanted to. Government orders for at least the remainder of 2021. No departures from, or returns to, the land downunder unless there’s a hugely important reason. Even a death would be problematic because after enduring the fortnight of quarantine in a government-sanctioned hotel and paying the associated bill, the funeral would have been over.

Once back home, off the F bus and the injection done, it was time, as always to take Felix out for his ‘pre-dinner’ walk. Of the several we do together each day, this is the most difficult one because he’s hungry and tends to get a little bit tetchy with humans or other canine passersby and is disinclined to listen to my commands.

As it happened, backing out a poo just as we arrived in the small park at the end of our street was his first priority. This is rare, as he usually likes to partake in a wide variety of peeing, sniffing, eating grass, investigating sweet wrappers and searching for horse manure before backing one out. A kind of excremental full stop if you will. It’s a small but well-frequented park and could not be left there for sanitary or polite reasons.

It was windy and freezing. In this lockdown, our town is large enough at 10,000+ residents that a mask must be worn any and every time you are outside the home, even if dog walking. Sports cyclists and runners are spared this requirement; presumably their huffing and puffing as they sweatily pass you must not be as infectious.

I didn’t have my mask on. I had been about to put it on but had been busy putting on my beanie and gloves because it was -2C and even my teeth felt the breeze blowing through them and Felix surged ahead, dragging me behind him and unable to remove my glasses to get the straps of the mask on fast enough.

But lo, Felix backed out a crap that could quite easily have been a contender for the second barge to block the Suez Canal if we’d been so located. Pleased with his produce, he was then very keen to keep on moving away from it and as fast as possible. Therefore my left hand was clutching tightly onto his lead to prevent him from trotting into the traffic, my gloves were off and shoved tightly between my teeth and my right hand was trying to unpeel the doggy doo bag as it blew angrily in the breeze doing its best to thwart my attempts.

Success in opening the bag eventually occurred. I then had to bend over with my legs spread far enough apart to fit the barge of my dog’s bowels into the bag without risking lowering my face too close to the ground in case my dangling gloves touched the godawful log.

From an apartment directly across the road, an old woman flung open her shutters and yelled out “Mettez votre masque, madame!” But whilst I was in my rather unladylike position she was berating my not-inconsiderately-sized yoga panted arse for not wearing a mask because at her angle, that’s all she could see.

Eventually, the bag was filled, carefully tied and placed in the bin. Gloves placed back on, and Felix pulled in much closer. Then I put my mask on, but in turning around to show her this from where she’d admonished me, it was disappointing to see that her shutters were already closed.

I started to cry. This didn’t stop me from taking Felix for his normal walk as the breeze was cruel enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes, so if anyone saw me, they’d attribute it to walking into the face of the wind like any other dedicated dog walker.

All four kilometres I let the tears fall and plop onto the neck of my parka, making it even colder as the wind tore at it. I knew that the tears weren’t about the mask, or even the lingering anxiety discussed by the forgotten article or the envy of Aussies having fun during their Easter break.

It was about an email from my father. Every year he and Mum went caravanning with a group of Victor Harbor and Murray Bridge friends they’d known for decades; a tradition tracing back to the 1970s. I’d called before they usually left, but their answering machine was on, so left them a couple of voicemails wishing them Happy Easter and another one a day after they usually came home. I then emailed them a photo of my husband Dean and Felix watching the football. The two of them looked so cute on the sofa.

Luckily the Adelaide Crows won

Dad emailed me this reply:

Home from Robe. Dave and Sonia* (my younger brother and his wife) booked a house from Friday to today with your nephews Matt and Jack coming down on Sunday (in Jack’s car). We also had the company of R and WC.

R and WC are here for a few days (Saturday?). It’ll be difficult to ring with R&WC here, so will contact you after they leave.

Lots of love,

Mum and Dad xoxoxoxoxoxo

He won’t know that this hurt me. He would not have thought that Dean, Felix and I were spending Easter on our own. Lockdown here meant a 7pm curfew, preferably no socialising in the home, no more than six people standing outside at a safe distance together and no socialising with friends 3km across the border whatsoever.

He won’t know that I wrote about R and WC here — https://kathlockett.medium.com/you-know-that-awful-feeling-after-backing-out-a-satisfactorily-big-turd-only-for-the-water-to-84e0c5299e3

- or that her email to me, from nearly eight years ago, I can almost recite by heart:

Subject title: Final letter to the Locket

Hi Kath,

You have not done anything to hurt me. The plain truth is: You to me, is like pumpkin to you. I have tried for 12 years to like you.

I do not agree with 99% of your decision, do not approve of your behaviour.

We do not share the same taste in everything (even chocolate, you love creme eggs which is the only chocolate I will not eat), don’t share the same outlook. I do not enjoy our time together.

My motto is: Life is too short to pretend to like someone or to waste time in doing things I do not enjoy. So, I do not see the point of continuing our relationship.

Simple fact is you are struck off my friend/family list. I made my decision and announced it to your parents, your brother and his wife and your brother R. I did not ask them to do the same because I neither need approval nor support from anyone for my action.

Yes, I am selfish, arrogant, intolerant, ungracious; so, it is no loss to you then for me not to contact you any further.

Yes, I could do the ‘normal’ thing, just simply make up excuses and avoid future contact (e.g. too much work to go to Victor Harbor during Xmas, feeling unwell to go for dinner etc). However, I respect your parents too much to lie to them and they will see through it anyway.

That is the thing — you haven’t done anything specifically wrong to me. So, there is no wrong to correct, and no side to take for your parents. I don’t wish to have any further discussion, your email will remain blocked.

Analogy: you don’t have to justify to people why don’t you eat pumpkin, so I don’t have to justify to anyone why don’t I associate with Locketts.

You have a great life, I know you will.

Sincerely,

WC

He won’t remember that email, even though I forwarded it to him at the time, because he’s since hinted that this ‘disagreement you have with each other’ is one he believes is conducted on equal terms, yet he’s also suggested that it would be best sorted out if I made the first move.

I did not — and would not — write an email like that to a family member. Blood relative or in-law.

But I cried as Felix sniffed the rapidly yellowing canola crops, because this paragraph sprang into my mind:

“I made my decision and announced it to your parents, your brother and his wife and your brother R. I did not ask them to do the same because I neither need approval nor support from anyone for my action.”

All this time I had been stupid enough to not realize that my whole family had been told of her decision to rub us out of her and my older brother’s life before she told me. They all knew. My father and mother have since told me that R and WC refuse to give them the reason why they shut us out of their lives, but apparently, that’s OK. After all, they all still get together, have fun with R and WC who seem to have avoided any awkward questions, recriminations or judgements and to live as happily and as carefree as ever.

My whole family knew. I wasn’t angry about them all holidaying together, but the numbing endlessness of lockdown here in France on our own and the fact that dad would prefer it if I didn’t call or make my presence known for a week or so because it might be ‘difficult’ for them hurt. It hurt like hell.

Hurt is such a small, inconsequential word for the impact it makes. Hurt is associated with pain, but is not a good enough description. I felt hurt by being demeaned, by being written off by someone for no reason or worthy of an explanation and for my family to not be able to recognise this beyond making sure I didn’t make things awkward for them. Hurt is pain. Physical and mental pain. This hurt has been working its way through me for nearly eight years now.

The world outside today, when I was with Felix, seemed too bright, too cold, too noisy, too busy with other walkers, dogs, cyclists and cars. I wanted to double over again — not to pick up poo this time — but to lie on the ground and keep crying.

I cried on Dean’s shoulder when I got home and cried again during my pre-dinner walk with Felix today. I’m crying as I write this. Anxiety I can handle; but hurt….. fucking hurts.

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