Wednesday, 10 June 2009

A familial exchange

On Monday, 8 June - a full 12 days after my birthday - an email popped up in my OCMS inbox.

"Dear Irim,

I had sent you a note using your Yahoo e:mail address. But did not get a reply. Hope all is well. Anyway Happy Birthday again.

Love ,


On first glance, nice, right? I'm less sure. Over the last 16 months, since he's been in touch, he has claimed to have emailed to my yahoo adress several times without getting a response. For some reason, his emails never get through.

I don't buy it. Everyone else emails me at my yahoo address and has no problem; how is it that he's the only one that does? And if he KNOWS there has been a problem with Yahoo in the past, then why KEEP EMAILING ME THERE? Or, at the very least, if it's time sensitive, as birthdays are, why not email BOTH addresses to make sure it gets there on the day?

And when you KNOW I will reply to you with 24-48 hours, WHY didn't you email my other address earlier?

Sounds like somebody is:

a. Fishing for information
b. Laying on the guilt
c. Maybe more than a bit angry that since he got in touch, I haven't exactly jumped back into the family with great joy - I wonder if he thought I was pining for them or something and would be eternally, cringeingly grateful that he had deigned, as the patriarch in my father's family, to bring me back into the fold.

Why would I return to the fold?

This wasn't the place I was going to write about it, but I will now. I haven't had a big celebration for my birthday - instead, I'm going to treat myself by catching up with everyone in ones and twos over time, so I can talk to them properly and actually BE with them, which I couldn't do last year. Did that make me feel - less loved on the day? Less cared about?

Blessed Mother, no way. My birthday morning started with my logging into facebook and picking up an early morning, heartfelt message from a friend in South Africa that choked me up for the rest of the day, not least because I could see his expression and hear his voice as I read it.

And it went on from there - as message after message popped up on my facebook wall, on my phone, in my various inboxes, I couldn't have felt more loved as I saw the faces and heard the voices of everyone from high school friends to new friends; friends from Australia to South Africa to Stateside to Oxford - MY family. I grinned as I imagined what they were doing: juggling a baby on a lap (several of you!); walking purposefully up St Giles, drawing deeply on a cigarette and texting; furtively facebooking at lunch; taking a day off in my honour - to feed gerbils ;-).

I got cards in the post, a bottle of Cava from the boss I was with on the day and when I finally made it to OCMS the following week, the entire contingent of staff and students surprised me in my carrel with a rousing round of 'Happy birthday' and a card.

No matter how near or far you were, I felt your affection, love and friendship. I spent my birthday feeling absolutely adored and supported, and ended it with one of the heart-to-hearts I'm planning as my gifts to myself over the summer. It couldn't have been more perfect - thank you.

Back to my uncle.

So I responded, trying to give a little more news than usual, but I'll acknowledge that the bit about not having a sig other might have been too much of a swipe at the unhappy marriages of my parents and so many others in my family:

"Dear Uncle,

And yet again, I didn't receive it, or I would have replied :). It's - not .com - does that help? If you don't receive a reply, always assume I didn't receive your email - I'll always reply when I do.

Many thanks - had a lovely one on the 27th with lots of messages from friends and am spreading out the celebrations so I actually have TIME to talk to my friends this year: I had a party with 35 people last year - fabulous, but didn't really get to chat to anyone.

All good here; the training to become a psychotherapist proceeds apace and should have done it years ago; still no man in the picture, but that leaves me free to do my own things and I'm not trapped in an unhappy relationship for the sake of being in one or b/c of what people will think. If the right man comes along, he comes along. If not, I have a great life. Not worried.

And you? What news at your end? Oh, and does [family friend] have an email address? xx"

Ja, I could have done a bit better. There's a tightness, defensiveness and anger beneath the forced lightness that didn't really need to be there. I can see the 'Don't tread on me' and 'don't come any closer' stamped all over it.

And yes, the bit about being single stands out as defensive, no question about that. But as a South Asian woman, your success IS judged, at least partly, on whether or not you're married, so in some ways, that was a pre-emptive strike. But too much of one, I think.

Next time.

And the response reflects that tightness, I think:

"Dear Irim,

Glad to know that you are well and good. All is well here.
N has come here to do his Fellowship in Cardiology at Walter Read [sic, should be Reed] Hospital. [Family friend] does not have an email address;however her telephone is xxx-xxx-xxxx. I gave her your email address and she is going to write you from her friend's computer.
She was asking for your telephone number which I did not have.
Your mother does talk about you a lot and miss you.
Well : stay happy and enjoy your life. Our prayers are always with you."

One of the reasons I like to write is that it helps me think things through, and sometimes my feelings and my point of view shift from beginning to end.

Do I think this response is manipulative? Terse, certainly. Tense, without question. The not having my number is a 'misremembrance', because I gave it to him last year and have the email to prove it.
The line about my mother IS manipulative, but doesn't hit home, because frankly, if she wanted to be in touch with me, she could be. Her excuses about not being in touch with me hold no more water than her excuse about having to be at work and being unable to drive to Dulles the day I left to come to England. If she really wanted to get around my dad, she could.

Miss *me*? Unlikely. She doesn't really know me and spent my childhood weaselling information about how I really felt to hand over to my father as a weapon and to use as one herself. She was never worried about me as a person, but worried about how I would reflect on her as an extension of herself, someone through whom she could live vicariously.

What she really misses is someone she can live through and the appearance of the perfect family.

She can talk about missing me as much as she likes. I'll believe her when she acts.

Hard? Yes. But if I were a mother, I'd be even harder on myself.

As for my uncle, what strikes me is my friend Ari's comment that his prose is 'stiffly formal'. So, yes, I think a, b and c may well hold, but there's something else here: an awkwardness, an uncertainty about how to act with...a stranger.

A stranger who used to be a bright, pliable child. The one child who WAS going to be a doctor or a lawyer for sure, but ended up not being so. The good child, the child who was going to be IN the family, no matter what, because she'd never have the guts to leave. The child who would keep the culture more than the wayward others. The child who would always NEED them. Who had all the spirit beaten out of her. The quiet, studious one.

Amazing how wrong we can be when we don't know someone's inner world, isn't it?

Always watch out for the quiet, still ones. More often than you think, you're looking at a backdraft waiting to happen.

"Well : stay happy and enjoy your life. Our prayers are always with you."

A dismissal? Maybe. I think he just didn't know what to say, and I think he doesn't understand; it's like a foreign language. I'm touched by his prayers and grateful for them.

And for once in my adult life, he can count on my obeying that command. Enjoying my life is exactly what I plan to do - and if he wants to open up and be a part of that, he will be welcome.

If not, my prayers go with him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It may be that your uncle has truly come round, but my instinct (having never met him, but knowing you) is that he has not necessarily done so. Fortunately you know to be cautious in that direction; and you are enough of a whole person to know to trust your instincts and not to go against them because someone suddenly seems to be pleasanter in spite of what your NF-ness tells you.
If that makes sense.