Another Virus Devastated My Family
- 12 April, 2020
- Linda Brogan
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Chapter 15. I am not usually this honest. I probably shouldn't even be telling you. But it's true and it's my life and the telling of it belongs to me. What a strange Easter. What a strange time.
The moon is huge. I have a sore mouth that makes me look like the Joker. It is Pam’s birthday today. Yes, I have sisters. I enjoy not being in touch with them. I like my own company. I like my own space. I like not being tied to anybody. I like who I am. It is safer. My favourite book is actually Siddhartha. I like that he makes a journey through all the world’s ordinary normality to end up by a river as the ferryman where only the sounds of the soul of the river concern him. What does that mean? What is that a metaphor for? Prem Rawat, who I have been listening to since the 70s, talks a lot about your breath. At first I thought it was mystical. I thought everything he talked about was mystical. But of course it is not mystical. Without your breath you are fucked. He talks a lot about a bottom line. You came through one wall when you were born. Time. Where the fuck did we come from? You go through another wall when you die. Where the fuck do we go? Where the fuck are we going? I don’t expect to go anywhere. I expect to end. Dust to dust. He even takes the mystery out of that. Dust. We literally are oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and 2 other main elements that I can’t be bothered to look up. We really are dust plus this breath. It fucking annoys me that I can write all day about my pain and get 100 likes but I write about this shit and no one gives a fuck. Ridiculous really. If you are not breathing as Prem Rawat says the family who profess to love you will drag you out and bury you. When he explains it like that your breath is of course a blessing. I would, we would, not exist without our breath. Why do I bother to fight for equality? Who gives a fuck? I should just siddle off with a book deal and mind my own business.
I had psychotherapy. A lot was wrong. A lot of pain. My meditation had not penetrated. I could not do it on my own. Meditation helped me hide. I had been living a false reality of thinking I am better. With my life fucked. And my heart bleeding. In psychotherapy I find out I am not better than anyone. In fact when I found my heart I was in a truly vulnerable place. Up until this point I had not felt my heart. The purge began with mentalization. A terrible word for a simple process. They are teaching me to process. Peter, Paul and Mary are teaching me to step back, to not see the red mist, but ask myself what the other person is thinking. You give me a process and I will practise. I will practise till I become perfect. Listen to what someone else is saying. It’s hard to listen. It’s hard to shut up and listen. To not have an answer. To not analyse. To hear the entirety of what someone is saying without judging their every syllable. To point out what they are thinking. Where they are coming from? Why they may be thinking it? Why they may be saying it? What do they want? Because every minute of every day human interaction is about survival. It’s about keeping that breath in your body. There is not really any kindness. There is only a way to get someone to do what you want to do that is also beneficial to their survival if they do it. Or counter beneficial if they don’t. The bottom line. Taught to me by my psychiatrists. I must, you must, be clear about what you want. Peter, Paul and Mary teach me this great simple story about appearing to be selfless. Mary tells it. There’s an old woman living next door and every day you get her milk and then this night she knocks on the wall and she needs another bottle of milk what do you do? Dressing Gown, Primark, and Wheelchair answer what is expected of them, ‘she’s an old woman, you go for the milk.’
‘But how will you feel?’
‘Because the old woman knew when you went for the first bottle of milk she should have asked for the second bottle.’
‘Or waited till the morning.’ Paul says.
I pondered that one for days. Yeah, resentment. All my life I had worked hard to keep my family afloat. My first act of empowerment was to watch them float away.
Resentful. I am feeling pretty resentful at the moment. We are hosting a COVID-19 Zoom One Conversation Please podcast tomorrow. To talk about how COVID is affecting our lives. Some people are pretty miserable. I have been killing myself all day tagging people. The others, apart from Melba whose idea it is, aren’t. Melba is breaking her bollocks tagging people and following up beautifully. John sets up an FB event. Fabulous. Phil wonderfully sends out 80 invites, even though 2 of Phil's family members have been taken by COVID-19, and one is not likely to survive. Events don’t promote themselves. I am so fucking resentful at the moment, I can’t remember the thread of what Peter, Paul and Mary taught me about resentment. Oh eye it was that I have put myself in this position. I have to work out what I want from it? How does it apply to the old woman and the milk? I think it relates to I would go for the milk because I am putting her feelings before mine, her wants before mine, allowing her to manipulate me because I want her to see me as a beautiful person and, and, and, what? I have been full of resentment all my life. First, I didn’t want my mum and dad to have any more kids after me, and my brother. It diluted what we had. I remember her bringing Pam home and me putting a flake up her nose to kill her. I resented Angela. Fucking bitch. Always in the background. Always stirring shit up. I resented my dad giving my mum syphilis. Yes, you read that right. I’m feeling really poisonous tonight. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this. What a shock. My mum had been right all my life. The cunt had been up to shite. Because it certainly wasn’t her. She loved him too much. She was full of resentment.
‘He didn’t give me back the money for the bread.’ Her fucking mantra. Day in day out she used go to the shop. The shop he wanted. Poor old fucker. And all the while he had this deep dark secret. Probably happened when he went back to Jamaica. He sent me back in 1973. He went back in 1977. I was with Tom. But I didn’t have Rachel yet. I am with Tom. He sent me back to make sure the coast was clear. Now he knew he was welcome. Packed suitcase after suitcase with shit for them. He was going back as a king.
‘Make sure you look wonderful tomorrow.’ This was when I finally saw through my dad. I am about 30. 1989. He is talking about how I must look at his brother’s funeral. ‘Make sure you look wonderful tomorrow.’
I didn’t go.
He boarded the plane with half of Sue’s the dress shop on Princess Rd in his suitcases.
‘Showing off. You haven’t got a pot to piss in.’ Her parting words.
But when he got back she was all over him on their bed. We wasn’t used to seeing that. They were friends. It lasted about 9 days.
‘That bastard has given me something.’
‘That bastard has given me something.’
He looked like he wanted to die of shame. She screamed it for days. We thought it was her paranoia. Her believing he shagged everything that walked.
‘When mum, when? He goes to work, he comes home?’
‘That dirty bastard. He'll have flashed his wallet and they’ll have dropped their knickers.’
Not my dad. My dad is a king. My dad is faithful.
’My dad’s put up with you for the last how many years.’
‘He’s give me something.’
If she hadn’t cried wolf for the last how many years, 18 to be precise, for all of my 18 years, she had been accusing him for 18 years. Getting stronger since the day of Brother Lee’s retirement party where she tossed the cake. She tossed Brother Lee’s budgie cage and killed his budgie after another party. Caused hullabaloo at a funeral. Murders at my dad’s niece’s iron lung expedition.
‘You think you are clever.’ That’s how she would begin. One whiskey too many. Always. One Guinness too much. Always. Usually handed to her by Angie.
‘That bastard has given me something.’ The green fake embossed curtains are behind her head in her beige striped Mekralon chair that faces his matching Mekralon chair beside his gram where he listens to cricket when he isn’t watching it on the telly opposite, beside her. The terrible tiled fireplace with the gas fire stuck on the front between them. I am even resentful about the fucking décor on top of everything else. But I don’t live here anymore. My home is far way in Whalley Range. Where they can’t get me. But they keep coming to get me. Last time is when she was in the taxi accident just before he went back to Jamaica. ‘Your mumma der a hospital come look after de pickney dem.’ He doesn’t come in my flat. He’s stood on the doorstep. They are still at school. They come in from school. She has taken all her pills. She’s fallen on the floor by the coffee table. She’s been sick. She has pissed. He walks over her. We wait for the ambulance. Me in my un-ironed enlightened cheese-clothe dress. Them in their little girl school uniforms. Before Jamaica. This is before he goes back to Jamaica. The ambulance comes. The blue light of its open doors is flashing into our open front door. The neighbours are out. He rips the fuse from under the stairs so the ambulance men can’t see. ‘Make her die in here tonight a raase.’
She survives. He goes to Jamaica. And brings them back a time bomb.
‘He’s give me something. That bastard has give me something.’
So me, and Angie take her to St Lukes.
‘It’s your coil. Your coil need replacing.’
I’m so relieved I climb on the statue in Whitworth Park. Queen Victoria. I’m laughing. Waving at buses. Her and Angie are mortified. But I am free. They are part of the old order. It’s 1977. In 1999 her doctor knocks on my door. I know it is bad. When does a doctor knock your door?
‘You better sit down.’
‘She’d gone for his bread and didn’t come back. We found her in Chorlton, We think it’s Alzheimer’s. She is 73. She’s lost her purse on several occasions. Misplaced her pension book. Doesn’t always know what words she needs.’
‘Who is the Prime Minister, Margaret?'
She answers immediately. I can’t even remember.
‘Where were you born?’
‘How many children have you had?’
‘9 and 2 the cat ate.’
They take a vial of her thick deep deep red Irish blood.
We walk home peacefully through Alec Park that day. I hold her hand. We have made peace. I am 40. She is 73. It is nice to be with her. ‘’Remember that ½ a fool.’ My brother. ‘Eating the sleeves off everything he owned?’
‘I love bluebells.’
‘Yeah, they’re a great colour.’
‘My nanna used grow them, daffodils, marigolds. Reams of marigolds in the priest’s garden. Wash the dead. Birth the poor.’
I hold her hand tighter. I love these moments.
‘You’d best sit down Mrs Brogan.’
I sit down at this table. He sits opposite me.
‘Your mum has syphilis.’
Immediately, ‘he’s give me something’ comes into my head.
‘You will all have to be tested. She could have had it since the 1950s. It was prevalent then.’
‘I know exactly when she got it. But we took her to be tested.’
‘It couldn’t always be detected in the 70s. The symptoms disappear after a month or so. Then the virus settles in the base of your spine. Slowly over the decades creeping through your vital organs. The last place it inhabits is your brain.’
‘All her heart attacks? Her kidney problems? Her gall bladder removal?’
‘All of them.’
‘You can’t tell her. Please don’t tell her. You’ll break her heart.’
We arrange to have my dad tested under false pretences.
‘Come and listen to my story about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
And then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground come a bubblin crude.
Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.’
My next sister is always Granny Clampett, strapped in her rocking chair on top of their wagon, even according to my dad.
‘The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle
The Skipper too,
A millionaire and his wife,
A movie star.’
‘I’m the movie star.’
‘I’m the movie star.’
‘I’m the movie star.’
My brother is always Gilligan.
Broken biscuits. Brought by Angie on Friday when she works in Woolworths on Alec Rd. On the dining table, by the wall, that fell over when the 5 of us sat on it having our photo taken professionally. Him sat opposite her in his Mekralon chair. Him listening to the radio in the dead of night, his radiogram, as Cassius Clay fights Joe Frazer. ‘Lick him make him fart.’ My dad’s shoulders going like he is throwing the punch. Holding my dad’s little finger as he walks me, and my brother for our winter duffel coats to Bainsess on Claremont Rd before the other 3 are born. ‘Hello, Mr Samuels.’ Her taking us for our feet measured in Rushton’s for our Clarkes shoes on the corner of Claremont Rd and Lloyd St next to the bus stop where my dad gets the 126 to Thorpe Rd in Newton Heath to beat metal that makes tracks for railways sleepers. Him coming home at 4-30. As she walks out the door to clean the MRI operating theatres. ‘Mrs Little said she’d never seen anything cleaner than my skirting boards.’ Him giving his English mate angel cake and telling him it came all the way from Jamaica and laughing almost as hard as he did when his false teeth fell out laughing at Steptoe in the sink. It almost killed him. Him getting the bus to town when he can’t read or write. He could never read or write. ‘He wouldn’t let me teach him.’
Him reading the racing, the Grand National, always near our Pam’s birthday every year. Around now. The paper upside down, and us pretending we can’t see it. Him telling us to choose which horse we want. 10 pence each way, tax paid. Winning £1, £5. Keeping it. Our kid minding cars on Maine Rd. Making fortunes. Buying DC and Marvel comics. Vanya in the Mandy making it to her Fountain of Youth each week. Walking to the library through Clinton Gardens. Carrying my 4 books, then 8 books, to my room. Our room. The front room the 4 sisters shared. Stealing the polo fruits from Rice’s newsagents. My brother telling on me because I wouldn’t give him any. My father coming upstairs and pulling me from the top of the landing where I tried to hide, beside our bedroom door. Down the stairs. Into the street. Across the road. To give the sweets back. Pay for them. Apologise. Screaming in the middle of the night. 'If England is in Europe, Europe in the world, the world in the solar system, the solar system in the universe, where is the universe?' Her sat at the end of my bed, ‘I don’t know, but when you find out you come tell me.’ Her not leaving till I go to sleep. Him holding the newspaper to the fire with the shovel to keep flames going, and expertly folding the burning newspaper and pushing it back into the fire quick. To warm our bedroom before we go up at night just before she gets home. Him going to meet her in the fog, thick as pea soup, with his scarf protecting his nose & mouth. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Bringing her back from her cleaning. Us waiting scared for their key to go in the door. Curly chips from Crondall St and Gt Western St corner. Hot peanuts from Crondall St and Alison St corner. The Corona van on Saturday. His crate of double diamond. Hers of Guinness. Our huge flagons of ginger beer. The big railway lorry that drops the waste, oil drenched sleepers that we burn all winter. And store in the scullery.
Him saying, ‘give me a kiss.’
Her saying, ‘take no notice of him.’
When they are both pleasantly pissed.
Him saying, 'she’s a midget.'
Us laughing. Her going mad. Him pulling a face. That funny face with slanty eyes, ‘Cooya.’
Them losing their minds.
His went first. In Cedar Ward. At the back of the MRI. We’d walk the corridors where we would pick her up on Saturdays in happier times. In denial. In denial. In denial. He will come back to us. But he never did. And every night I used watch her make her way by the side of Whitworth Park to feed him. Give him Foxes Glacier Mints.
‘Don’t give him no more chocolate. He doesn’t like chocolate.’
He didn’t remember. He ate whatever was put in his mouth.
In 2001 our Xmas tree is large, real. They circle it. The victims. Like Midnight Express. Me, and her watch him, them, remembering getting spiked by our plastic tree every year, the paper chains falling apart, and the blow up Santa that never fell down.
We did do our Zoom One Coversation Please Podcast. I had been totally hysterical. The 6 that did take part as well as us 7 was ample. We struggled to fit them all on the screen. You can watch it here. I was on a high for days after. Great connecting with, talking about our fears with others. I know our guest participants loved it too. Maybe you want to join us next Thursday 6.30. Here's the link to watch last weeks.
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