Four important words
It has been eight years since my older brother and his wife sent me an email saying that they ‘disapproved of ninety nine percent of my decisions,’ did not like me as a person, were removing me from their ‘friends/family list’ and, most importantly, would ‘no longer associate with Locketts.’
This meant that they had also disowned their then-thirteen-year-old niece and my husband. Both ‘Locketts.’ The sentence was supposed to insult and to sting and it did so completely. They knew that it would. To be described as ‘Locketts’ dehumanised the three of us, turned us into creatures or things not of their kind or worthy of their respect or attention.
The hurt has been immeasurable and comes in jagged punches at unforeseen times. The eighth of July, for instance. This is my brother’s birthday and for the past eight years I’ve marked it internally, knowing that the rest of my family don’t want to hear about my sadness or be forced to ‘take sides’ as they visit him to celebrate. This too has contributed to the layers of hurt and confusion that my husband and daughter have seen me wallow through on the other side of the world.
But a couple of months ago, our daughter turned twenty-two. She was stuck on her own in a flat in Edinburgh during a very strict lockdown. Her flatmate had fled back home to Aberdeen, leaving her a fridge full of decaying beef burgers, mayonnaise and bacon that our daughter had to dispose of, and mice that were becoming more and more brazen, scuttling past her desk during daylight hours.
She contacted my eighty-year-old parents and my other brother and his wife, who are both fifty. Through a series of facetime calls, emails and thoughtful discussions, she explained to them what I had failed to communicate — time after time- the hurt I felt at being ostracised and the pain of being left alone to stay silent in order to not make trouble.
I wasn’t aware of any of this. It was only when my daughter contacted me, gently saying, ‘Hey Mum, you might be getting a phone call from D and S soon.’ My little brother wasn’t known for his chit chat skills, preferring to get the news from our parents.
As I expressed surprise — it was no-one’s special birthday — she explained that, over the course of a few days, D and S had listened to her. Respected her. Even scribbled down notes while she spoke. All so that they could phone me, red-faced and nervous, and say the words I had desperately wanted to hear for eight years: “You didn’t deserve it.”
Felix was busy sniffing the newly-sprung petit pois at the edge of the fields when my parents rang. Modern technology is new to them, so to see their names flash up on my phone was a shock, and not a pleasant one. It is too easy to instantly assume that it’s bad news: someone has died and how the hell would I be allowed to fly back to Australia with the borders closed and France on a ‘dodgy delta variant hotbed’ list….
Mum had been crying, I could see, as her face was puffy and her eyes disappear under her brows, just like mine do. I explained that I was out with the dog and did a nervous, jerky little spin on the spot to give them a panoramic view of green fields, stumpy grapevines and the alps in the distance.
“You didn’t deserve it.”
Two cyclists rode by and stared as I sank to the ground, uncaring of the mud and slime. My crying was ugly, incoherent and loud, uncontrollable.
“Hey, stop showing us the puddles, show us your face,” my parents said, trying to lighten the moment. They were treated to Felix’s rapidly wagging tail and a close up of my shaking hands groping for a tissue.
It hasn’t solved anything or seen any of my family insist my brother and his wife explain their decision or the things they wrote. They still all holiday together, share special occasions and speak on the phone to each other at length for hours each week.
But it was my daughter. OUR daughter, who at twenty-two, got two eighty and two fifty-year-olds to at least say the four words that have allowed me to forgive. Forgetting is not possible and may never be, but forgiveness has been something that I can decide to do and to control. And that is enough for now.