What does it feel like to be a wife, to have a spouse, to live in a large, spacious house, to have that sedan parked in the garage? What does it feel like to curl up in a bedroom at night in the foetal position or with a book feeling safe with another warm, living, breathing body sleeping next to you? Someone who will feed the dogs, take the rubbish out. Someone who will call you a ‘brilliant chef’, someone who will call you ‘mummy’, someone who will call you ‘lover’ a million times in a married lifetime. There is someone, people, a son, an heir to the throne who loves the way my mother plates vegetables. Plates her broccoli. They do not find her spiritual meetings ridiculous. They might argue like people argued about the earth being flat not round, stupid or not within her earshot. My mother has become brave enough to namedrop her spiritual guides. Cynthia is prominent. She comes through often. Helps my mum decide whether it’s soup or chicken for supper.
Once upon a time a man took a wife. He wed her in a church. They had the wedding reception in the church hall. Between the church and the reception the husband in question lost one of his white gloves. They took the wedding photographs in a park. You could feel the affection that they had for each other just from looking at their faces. At their beautiful, sickening and awesome youth. You felt you did not belong there. You felt you did not belong in that year. Besides, I had not even been born yet. The idea of me had been conceived perhaps in my mother’s brain. I looked and looked and looked to see something of myself in that wife in the picture, the newlywed with her freshly washed and rinsed, perfumed hair. Women need love like air but men are altogether another kettle of fish. Fish and kettles. What does one have to do with the other? Go figure these English idioms. Men become very enthusiastic about sophisticated women. Women who are elegant. Women who will smoke, and drink with them.
Women who will laugh at their unfunny jokes, and then take walks with them in the dark park or sit with them in the backseat of a car. Men are stupid like that. They prefer vanity above sanity. They like it when women touch their hair (as if there is a hair out of place) or ask for a cigarette. The way she holds it as he lights it up for her. The way she breathes in the smoke as if it is slick in particular. I know for a fact that my brother has gone out with girls like this. He does not go for girls like me. Quiet, bookish, much too serious for my age, emotionally mature, chubby, nervous in crowds, anxious around dark-haired good looking boys who wore blazers. He does not go for a girl who sweats and who does not curse. His kind of girl perspires. His kind of girl says the other words for crap and sex. I am the kind of girl older men refer to as ‘dear’ and women, aunties call ‘okay love’ or ‘are you okay’ or ‘luvvy’ at the end of their sentences. As if I am meant to be talented but also a stranger in a strange world.
A self-imposed exile in an asylum. I could not see anything of me in my mum. She was a wife at twenty-five. She had it made or had made it. She had found love whereas I was looking at a lifetime of binge-eating, of takeaways, of dreaming, of hope in the centre of winter, of a relapse in a mental hospital, of pain, of chocolate, of tuna fish sandwiches with lopsided flowers of wilted lettuce. She had found love, made love to this heavenly creature, this fierce creature, this intelligent creature. She had done the impossible. She had found love in the time of tuberculosis. My father was educated and that made him posh but he did not come from money. My mother came from money. Her father was a policeman and that meant that she came from money. Her family had paid for the entire wedding. My father was mentally ill. He was not as mentally ill as all that. As all that his siblings made him out to be. He only suffered from spells of darkness visible. Spells of depression.
His mother had worked as a housekeeper, took in washing, and was a seamstress. His father drank. Worked at a country club. His brothers drank. Estranged from them all in the end they all had dysfunctional families. Childhood memories, like sunken treasure, can survive.