I awake filled with the milk of human kindness. I briefly wonder why, but, working on the premise that only misery responds well to analysis, I let it be. This seems like a good opportunity to visit The Mother, requiring as it does reserves of good will and tolerance.
I have been seated at her kitchen table for approximately 3 minutes and already I am aware that the local park is once again home to a flasher (and the Pope, is he still Catholic?); she is devastated as a very distant relative has prostate cancer (I wasn’t aware of his existence until this moment), and The Father is a lazy, selfish shit (which I have known since I was able to understand the words ‘lazy’ and ‘selfish’. The ‘shit’ part she added when I reached the age of consent to swearing).
The Mother has elevated the one-sided conversation to an art form. Her expertise is so widely recognised that the local college has approached her to teach an NVQ in ‘Lack of Social Skills'. The Father has availed himself of the opportunity for respite and is recumbent in front of the television. Before long I have adopted a familiar, defeated pose. My eyes glaze over and my energy saps. I begin to muse on my options:
Option 1. Elbow my way into the conversation until I force her to acknowledge that I too am in the room. Benefits: sometimes this actually works. Cost: it takes a lot of energy and leaves me feeling irritated.
Option 2. Give in, and let her bombard me with her unique version of white noise until she gets tired. Benefits: It’s familiar and we all know our role. Cost: it takes a lot of energy and leaves me feeling irritated.
Option 3. Find a genuine interest in her deliverances and accept who she is with love and compassion, even if that person is critical, carping and self-obsessed and even if I am, more often than not, on the wrong end of it. Benefits: she may find some compassion back. Cost: it still takes energy, which in itself leaves me feeling irritated.
It seems I am destined, at least for today, to leave feeling irritated. So I opt for the path of least resistance and succumb to a crushingly boring collection of stories about people I can’t remember, people I never knew, and people she insists that I would know if I ever showed an interest in her life. I make no murmur of dissent, which is about the nearest I can get to showing compassion for her lot. After about 3 hours, which in fact only lasts for 30 minutes, she says indignantly ‘So, there you go!’ and folds her arms triumphantly, as if I have demanded that she inform me of every thought that has gone through her head in the past week, and she, martyr that she is, has stood up to the task. I feel bewildered, and, of course, tired and irritated. She still hasn’t asked me how I am. I make my excuses and leave.
Later that evening I speak to Sister # 2.
“I went to see mother today,” I tell her.
“I know” replies sister. "She thinks you must be crap at your job. She says you don't listen."
We both laugh.