Conversations Without Spaces Erase Entire LivesBy Emma Pearson
September 22, 2023
Main image by Red Zeppelin on Unsplash
24 February 2023
I was invited for dinner at a friend’s house last night. Medjool was also invited and joined. We so rarely get invited out as a couple. His friends invite him out, and invariably he goes without me. My friends invite me out, but without inviting him.
Actually, no they don’t. My friends don’t invite us out, and they don’t invite me out either. Hmm…
I have re-realised that rarely does anyone invite me out. I tend to do the inviting if I want to see people. But that’s a whole other story.
Back to this story.
Absolutely unusually, not only was I invited out, but Medjool was invited too. A very special and generous treat.
I had thought it would just be my friend and her husband, Medjool and me. Nothing was mentioned of there being other guests invited, but when we arrived, I noticed the table was set for eight.
I was interested and curious about there being more people. Which seriously feels like “progress”. A year ago, and definitely two years ago, I would have made an about turn and left, if faced with such an unexpected sight.
For it is still hard for me to “do groups”. It is still hard for me to be with “many people” (many people is more than two, perhaps three, people). And it is incredibly hard to be with strangers.
The four other people invited, it transpired, were not 100% strangers. Of the four, there was a connection to the hospice with two of them, and one of them I had even met once. Each of them brought along their spouse. So, four couples, three of which were in their original format, so to speak.
Gosh do I find that so hard. So very hard. Still. Nearly six years after Mike died.
Not because of any shame or embarrassment about being in a reconstituted relationship.
Not even from any embarrassment about being married to someone who is dead, and therefore not available that night. Or indeed any night.
Nor due to any embarrassment or unease with having Medjool by my side.
A gift – always a huge gift.
I am truly grateful to have him breathing in my life.
I am truly grateful to have an alive partner alongside my dead one.
Even if I miss the dead one so much.
But still, being in a reconstituted relationship is not what I wanted. I don’t feel quite complete. Not quite whole.
Not quite Emma.
It is not my norm.
And so, as it can be with strangers, especially not quite 100% strangers, most particularly those with whom there is a “common point of interest” (volunteering at the hospice), it felt like conversation careened all the more rapidly around the usual speed tracks of life.
“Where do you live?”
“How long have you been together?”
“How old are your kids?”
Whooooaaaah! Slow down!
Not one of these questions has a simple answer. For me, at least.
“Where do you live?” (Well – one of us lives in Geneva and the other lives in neighbouring France), before bashing straight into,
“How long have you been together?” (Three years sounds so pathetic to me when you’re in your mid 50s, and when everyone else has been together 30 years or more),
And without a break, and before I knew it,
“How old are your kids?”
No time to breathe
No time to react
What – if anything – did these almost but not quite 100% strangers know about me, my life, my loves, my losses?
What could they hear – with grace, with respect, without fixing, without needing fixing?
Each person duly answered the ages of their kids. Rapid fire.
Medjool gave the ages of his daughters.
I kept silent. No-one seemed to notice.
The conversation was just too fast.
Too fast for me to get a feel of what people knew, what they might be able to hear. Or not.
Too fast for me to decide which of my “standard lines” I might pull out that ALWAYS includes Julia as one of my children.
Too fast – because it was such a narrow, tight question.
I knew I couldn’t say, 23, 21 and erm, 18. I knew I couldn’t say, 23, 21 and erm, 15. I also knew I couldn’t say, “23 and 21”. And most definitely, I couldn’t say, “My surviving children are 23 and 21”.
There was no time. No space.
I couldn’t even catch my breath.
So I stayed silent.
No-one there, except my gentle hostess friend, and Medjool, knows how old my three children are, whether they are alive today, in this moment, or not.
So, that’s a first. That not only was Julia’s life erased, but that Ben’s and Megan’s were too.
And yet, it was the right response. From me. In that moment.
That too tight, rushed, “ask questions but don’t really listen to anything” is not how I want to talk about any of my precious loves.
I’d rather stay silent, even if it means temporarily erasing their lives.