The much-considered holiday happened. It was half lovely, and half an absolute fucking disaster. The lovely part was time spent walking with A along the coast and through the heaths, meeting friends, and spotting butterflies (my number one favourite distraction from mentalism! It is pleasing on both the nerdiness and aesthetic fronts). Less lovely was the time spent around my family. The family as a unit seems to be totally unravelling, and there was an incredibly tense, claustrophobic atmosphere in the house. My siblings all seem grumpy, distracted, and anxious, as I would be too if I was still living there, trying to cope with the house being sold and the uncertainty over where I would be living in a few months. My dad was in a bad shape medically for a couple of different reasons, one fixable, one less so, so he was in pain and short tempered a lot of the time. And my mum appears to have no more fucks left to give. It was like having the mum I had as a teenager back. I keep typing and deleting sentences, trying to explain exactly what it was that she did to make me so upset, but it’s really difficult to pin down and it all sounds so trivial.
There was the issue of dinner. Every evening she would make it obvious that she had a plan, but then she wouldn’t do anything about it until late – not ask for help, not actually start making it, not tell us to sod off and get our own damn dinner. When we asked what we could do to help we were treated like we were nagging or told she was going to do it all herself, in a minute (or, rather, at 8.30pm when she’d run out of cider). There was dad’s birthday. He wanted to go to the pub with all of us for a drink, but there was only a half-hour window in which to do this as he had to pick up my youngest sister. Mum had spent the previous two hours looking at the newspaper, alternatively whinging about how much she had to do that afternoon (make birthday cake and dinner) while refusing any offers of help. Then A and I were told they were leaving right that minute to go to the pub, and complained at when we took five minutes to get ready. By the time we got there he’d already left, and mum launched into a tirade about how dysfunctional the family all were, how she was the only sane one and she should just give up and be dysfunctional too. She kept telling my wife she was part of the family now, as an excuse for being rude. She obviously couldn’t give a crap about spending time with us – she wasn’t working for the first three days I was there, but first she had to clean the study, then she went to have coffee with her friend because that’s what she did every Saturday, and on Sunday I can’t even remember what the excuse was, she just couldn’t be arsed. Without a trace of irony, she and dad had a long discussion about how awful child abuse was, with an extended monologue by her in the middle about how family was the most important thing and she would kill anyone who hurt one of us. When we were going to a town five minutes from her work and got ready early enough to not inconvenience her, she suddenly decided dad needed to give us a lift, even though dad wasn’t going to be ready for another hour and didn’t need to go to that town.
No one else was safe either. She shouted at my brother for smoking at midnight when we were sleeping. She called both my younger brothers assholes repeatedly, because they were both quiet and stressed out – one works incredibly long shifts at a hotel, the other keeps having unexplained seizures – and weren’t sociable or obedient enough when she wanted them to be. She called my sister’s friend a bicycle (a reference to the number of sexual partners she has) (not in the earshot of the friend at least: she once drunkenly told a boyfriend of mine she locked her bedroom door when he stayed over as he had bipolar disorder) and a dumb blonde, and then said she sleeps around because her mother spoilt her. She had moved into my youngest sister’s bedroom – my sister is moving away permanently soon, but hasn’t completely left yet. At twenty, I would’ve been terrified to have nowhere to call home if everything went wrong. My bedroom has been empty for five years this month, I don’t know why mum didn’t just take that one.
Some of this sounds ridiculous, I know. So mum didn’t want to make dinner – it’s 2015, she doesn’t have to make dinner if she doesn’t fucking want to, make someone else do it (we did, in fact, put this to her, but she wasn’t having it). It wasn’t that, though. I don’t expect to be waited on, or for there to be any sort of great fuss and fanfare about me being there. I’m happy to look after myself. But it was chaotic and unpredictable, and A and I whispered the whole time we were in the house so as not to upset anyone. Being there was like walking on eggshells, every so often breaking one and getting stabbed in the foot. No one in the family was doing anything for anyone else, and when we tried, we were shot down. They were all stressed and lashing out at the nearest living thing, when everything would have been much easier had they been supporting each other. There was no empathy and no understanding, and they were all out for themselves, with the exception of my sister closest to me in age, who tried to protect and cheer mum up so much it was painful to watch. She doesn’t get anything back, either – when she was stressed out over an interview-type situation mum and dad just insisted she would be fine and refused to hear anything she was saying.
I am finding this all really difficult to write about, for several reasons. First of all part of my head keeps telling me that I’m being ridiculous, these are all trivial things, I am a spoilt little bitch. Another tells me that I’m playing the victim, being so negative about my family, and that means I’m turning into mum, who is relentlessly negative about everyone. So I can’t be angry with her because that was always unsafe when I was younger, and because I don’t want to turn into her. I can barely remember half of what upset me while we were there either – I was so anxious to avoid a confrontation, and to smooth everything over, that I wasn’t paying attention to most of the poisonous comments floating about. I had to really resist slotting back into my role in the family: half scapegoat, half diplomat. I spent a couple of evenings in tears and dreamed about self harming at least twice.
We’re not going back. I’ve already told them we’re likely to be too busy studying to visit this Christmas. I said goodbye to the house, my old room, the dogs. We will visit people individually when they have moved out and are more settled, less stressed, but that is the last time I’m going to put myself or A through that.
I expected this trip to be hard, but not quite this hard. At least we had places to escape to when it got too much.