I’m going to the U.S. next week for a ten day visit. Yes, I’ll make sure the house in the Catskills is still standing. Fortunately, we know it is: a helpful friend nearby keeps an eye on it for us.
In any other year, I wouldn’t be going right now without my wife. The true reason I have to is because I want to spend some time with my father in Pennsylvania, who has a birthday while I’m there. It’s his first since my mother’s death in October.
And I’m dreading it. Insofar as I can tell from here in Britain, he does little weekly but go to his physical therapy (he’d had heart failure in 2014) two days a week, Mass on Sundays, and sit in front of the TV most of the rest of his waking time. My mother’s ashes are permanently on the mantelpiece over his fireplace, and the nearby dining room (where she had died in the hospice bed) has become a “shrine.”
My (younger) sister (and only sibling) lives with him. She has long been “troubled.” We have had several blazing rows in recent years about her “do-nothing” life outlook and entitlement attitude. I’m now also furious at her about her irresponsible and immature behavior (that’s being kind) during our mother’s illness. And I know in turn she despises me, too. So there’s little warmth between us except for the phony surface sort.
Recently I’ve been feeling somewhat lost myself, and if it weren’t for my wife I would feel as if I were nowhere. My mother, gone. My uncle, gone. My father, eagerly looking forward to his own funeral. My sister, forever consumed by whatever her personal demons are. My family in America essentially fell apart within weeks in the autumn of 2015.
For the first time, I don’t look forward to a planned visit there. Frankly, on some level I wish I weren’t going; but by going I’ll also get away from family nonsense constantly lapping around me here in England, too. I’m discovering that in some ways “family” is a wildly overrated and fanciful notion that burdens our souls often far more than it lifts us.
I suppose this sort of “trauma” is great for a writer; but it’s an awful feeling as a human being. In our world, unless you wear your heart on your sleeve, moaning about how awful you feel, or what life has “done” to you, if you smile and carry on everyone thinks that underneath it all you’re doing fine. By the same token, we all tire of someone who never “snaps out of it” and whinges constantly about their current lot in life.
The twenty-something and thirty-something “James” in the Atlantic Lives novels was once essentially “me.” Yet I identify now increasingly with a much older character looking back on his life and believing himself almost finished. I’m finding that I feel almost too much of a disturbing connection with that aging “Robert,” living alone in the Catskills remembering happier times, who I’m writing in Conventions.
I share this today because I want you to know I know what “isolation” and “futility” feels like. Whatever your age, if you are feeling lost, something of an after-thought, or even “invisible,” trust me I’ve been where you are. Indeed, I am more than a little there myself now. Others of us do understand such hurt, believe me.
Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂