Wednesday, 24 February 2010
One way streets
During the weekend Dr P and I were discussing ways of spending the afternoon, and how to allocate time. I reminded him that SD1 was likely to call in. He said, 'Oh, she will ring to let us know.' 'No she won't, she never does.' I replied. He went off for a sleep, and I sat reading the paper. Suddenly a voice said 'Hello', startling me considerably. There was SD1 and her younger son B2. Yes, they have a key, and no, they did not knock. They never do. Nor, of course, did they phone.
I woke Dr P and then we started trying to get a conversation going. Now Dr P is actually a good conversationalist, and can get people to talk and have interesting discussions. Often, being a stirrer since time immemorial, he likes to get an argument going about such burning issues as green politics, or climate change. Or whatever, so long as it contradicts received opinion. This can be very aggravating at times. Often equally disputatious people fall into the trap. They take the bait, and vigorous argument ensues, with both sides taking fixed and unyielding positions. Sometimes eyes flash, and tempers rise. In contrast, I am a peaceable soul, who would rather have a discussion than a contentious argument. However, if there are guests in our house, he generally makes the effort and is courteous. Now that he is so deaf and forgetful, conversations are more difficult, but he does try. When my daughter visits and we dine together, we all talk to each other, and try to find subjects of mutual interest.
Having a conversation with SD1 is truly hard work, because the conversation is always only one way. Us to her. Never her to us. It is never reciprocal. She never initiates conversation. It is like drawing hens' teeth. It reminds me of those cricketers who block every ball. They don't go for runs, they never go out, they just block. B2 sprawls in the chair and says nothing, and if we ask him anything, there is only the most minimal of replies. Ditto with his mother. Ditto with B1, who is almost 21, evidently an intelligent boy, about to start his honours year at university. Dr P, his grandfather, has a formidable intellect, and had an active and distinguished public life. They ought to be able to find something to talk about. Try as we might, we cannot get any discussion going with him.
We ask SD1 about her week, her children, the school, the progress at university, etc. She/they never ask about us, let alone me. It is not as though I want to dominate the conversation with rivetting facts, insights, intelligent comments, or detailed recitations of my doings. No. I just think that every so often she could help out a bit in the conversational stakes.
On her previous visit, I told her I wanted to go to Canberra to see my children and to see the Musee d'Orsay exhibition at the National Gallery, and asked could she help during my absence and help look after her father. Yes, she could. We emailed about dates. I sent an email to let her know my plans, adding that my sisters and I want to visit our older sister, who is seriously ill. On this visit I asked her if she had she received my email. Yes, she had.
If I had received such an email, I would have replied, expressing concern and making enquiries. And on meeting I would have said something like, 'I am sorry to hear your sister is ill. How is she, and what is the matter? Yes, of course, whatever I can do to help.' Not a word. When I mentioned the prospective visit, Dr P, asked 'This is so you can all see your very sick sister?' Yes, I said. Still not a word. The message I am receiving is that she does not want to know about any of my concerns, anything about me, and that as far as she is concerned I am a non-person, or at best a regrettable necessity.
A couple of people who have known her for far longer than I have (which is 20 years) told me that she never had anything much to say about anything. Perhaps I should not take it personally. Except. We have a mutual concern, someone we both love. Her father, who is my husband. You would think we could occasionally discuss his state of health, and his care. And that she could improve her manners.
Even Dr P thinks they are hard work!