“Why do you never tell anyone?” The woman I grew up calling my aunty says (she’s actually my mum’s cousin, but our families are really close), leaning back in her chair as we all sit around a beach tent, a picnic basket and blanket at the edge of a cherry orchard. I seem to be the only person that notices that she has said it, but she, like so many other members of our family, is hurt that she isn’t kept up to date with my health, and only just this minute learned that I was recently in intensive care and stuff.
We talk about it just the two of us as we walk to the extra cherry trees we have been given to pick (the crop this year was poor in our variety of tree, so she complained and got given more trees). She says she really wishes that she knew about these things when they were happening, and that she occasionally only finds out by brief mentions of events on social media after they have happened (and after my parents have told me it is ok for me to mention them to people). She is clearly bothered that my parents don’t tell people or keep them up to date, and I explained the reasons why I couldn’t tell her – my parents feel it has to come from them I think, or people get annoyed that they didn’t say anything themselves, but they definitely always want to inform my grandma first (who also complains frequently that she isn’t informed until after the event) and then… Often don’t tell anyone. Like… Anyone. And so I can’t, because then they think people will start asking why they weren’t told from then, especially when people ask about me and my mum doesn’t tell them I’m in hospital or something. It sucks for me and it sucks for my relatives. (I’ve been here before, pretty sure it is in another post somewhere).
But anyway, here I am face to face with another relative who wishes they had been kept up to date, and Aunty Cousin (as I shall now refer to her on here) is different. She used to come and see me in hospital when I lived in the children’s ward, she’d drive all the way from a London suburb – not to see my family or my parents, just me by myself, and then she’d go home. Sometimes she brought her two daughters with her, who are almost 14 and… 9/10? I get along really well with the 14 year old and we message all the time. I forget she isn’t my age, and it feels like we are sisters, which I think both of us really like. Aunty Cousin treats me like I’m an adult and we always have each other in fits of laughter to the point where we cry and we can’t talk and it’s just brilliant. She cares, but not in an over the top worrying way, or a patronising way, or a way where the sympathy makes me squirm and cringe and want to hide away so much I feel if I were a cartoon I’d turn inside out just to escape… She cares in a way that feels nice. And I want her to know when things are crappy, and she is one of the people I always want to inform when I’m in hospital, because then she messages me or magically appears and she’s just there.
“I mean, I guess it’s my life and I can do what I want. I could just drop you a text next time?”
“Please, I’d really like to know these things!” We have a general chat after that, about how difficult it is being back with my family after a year of independence at university and all sorts of other topics, and then we rejoin the others.
There is a whole situation about the family holiday that… My family are going on. They’d rather I didn’t go along. That’s been made clear. Because of my health, rather than because I’m me, as would have been the case if my relationship with my dad was the same as it was a few months ago. My mum brings it up in front of Aunty Cousin, who can see that I’m finding the topic uncomfortable. She asks me how I feel about it and I don’t lie, I say I’d rather go on holiday and that I don’t really like the idea of my grandparents moving into my parents’ house for two weeks to keep an eye on me (home alone should mean home alone, I kind of don’t want babysitters at the age of 20 – in a month and a half I will be living by myself again in the city I love… That’s too long to wait oh help).
“Well if they go away you can always stay with us. We’re around until the 24th” which just so happens to be the day that my family will get back. I really like Aunty Cousin and her family, and to be honest this wouldn’t be so disastrous. My parents are at breaking point with me and I’m not enjoying being here at the minute. I feel like relationships are strained and they treat me like a kid – when we arrived at the cherry orchard I was told off for sitting on the edge of a picnic blanket. Their reasons for telling me off are that pathetic and they should no longer, as an independent fully fledged adult, be telling me off. My little brother punched my dad over and over to show off and that was fine by them… Aunty Cousin continues to discuss me staying with them as if it will actually happen, and I settle into the idea slightly. Sidcup is alright, their new house there is very nice, and they have a 5 year old black cockerpoo (cocker spaniel/ poodle cross) who loves attention.
But this family holiday starts with a week in France staying on the banks of the Loire (?) river in a flat owned by French family friends who we used to go and stay with when we were little kids. They watched us grow up until I hit about the age of 12, and then they sold up their big massive country house with the lake and the pool that they also ran as a bed and breakfast, and went to live somewhere else. We haven’t seen them for years and years and they are quite old now. I don’t want to miss out on seeing them.
Family friends who live just round the corner from us are meeting us in France and staying for a few days. My dad has known the guy since he was 11 years old, and they are best friends. The guy’s wife is a midwife. They are so lovely and we went on holiday with them a couple of years ago, but my dad went on a lot of holidays with them before he met my mum. They’re so much fun and so chilled out compared to my super stressy and strict parents. We’re then all driving up to Holland where my dad’s best friend and his wife (the ones I just mentioned) have rented out a big cabin in Centre Parcs for 4/5 days, and we are meeting their two grown up sons (unfortunately one of them is the idiot I mentioned on here before that made some very unfunny and insensitive jokes about my health, but I love him really because he’s like a big brother to me) and the oldest one (who can be insensitive) is bringing his girlfriend and the younger one is bringing his wife and two kids…
And I don’t want to miss any of that. But my mum said that if I get ill in France they are going to have to leave me there and come home. And we don’t speak French. It’s usually between 1-5 weeks between my intensive care admissions (or ALMOST intensive care admissions). I haven’t gone more than 5 weeks this year. The week we are due to leave is 5 weeks since the Norfolk disaster I think. Aunty Cousin jokes that I should try and get my next near death experience out of the way before then.
We take family selfies and they all laugh and I just don’t feel like laughing. I don’t talk to Aunty Cousin and her family like I usually do and she notices. She feels really sorry for my parents because of how stressed they must be, but there is an emotional void in place of any guilt. I am tired and overheating at too exhausted to feel.
“Just tell me next time, please.” Aunty Cousin says quietly, hugging me a little longer than everyone else as we say goodbye. I promise to. I need to. I want to. And I will.
“Tell me” she says as she lets go of me. It feels so amazing to feel like I matter so much that I almost cry, and I don’t cry easily unless I’m in a hospital (when I become a human fountain because hey PTSD).
I get in the car and I start playing Red Hot Chilli Peppers through my headphones and hold my hand out of the window as we drive through the countryside, until after about ten minutes I fall asleep. I get home to a lot of loving from my labrador, who refuses to let me do anything but sit with him on my lap for a good 15 minutes.
So now I face a dilemma. Do I stay, or do I go to France? Or do I try to find a way to just get a lift to Holland with my unofficial big brother and his girlfriend and skip France.
And then oh wow – when is the next meeting with the grim reaper going to be? I had, until this point, forgotten to anticipate or dread this inevitability or even remembered it was a thing. But I’m happy today. It was a good day with great company. I am majorly, majorly freaking about the second appointment I have in London on Tuesday, but I’m trying to bury that with cuddles from my dog (of which since I got back there have been many). It’s all starting to work out I think.
No way but through.