The year I turned eighteen, I came home one evening to an empty house and felt for the first time a loss of companionship I had never known before.
I clutched my first pay check in my hands from my holiday job with the post office where I lined up with several other students and regular postal employees at the conveyor belt sorting out letters by size and postcode.
It was a heady job for one who was not good with numbers and took me a while to recognise the four digits that signified the differnt suburbs.
It was a job that lasted less than a month in the rush to Christmas following my final year exams but it was a job that after that first week provided a yellow envelope with a payslip inside and a wad of cash, the largest I had ever seen in one place. And it was mine.
I had earned it and wanted only to share some of it with my mother so that I might join the ranks of my older siblings and be yet another helper in her bid to survive. But my mother was still away at work and my other siblings were out somewhere.
No welcoming party. No one to greet me and I cried furious tears at this moment of triumph when I had no one to celebrate with me.
Although my siblings were not with me at this moment, I have learned to hold them in mind for all the years since I left home.
They’re always in my mind, milling around, jostling for position, each trying to outdo the other in our judgments.
My siblings never leave me. Whenever I am part of a group, the people in said group morph into my family and I find myself counting, three, four, seven eight, as long as there are up to nine or eleven including parents we are at full compliment.
I look around whenever I am in such a numerical group and marvel at how much physical room my family took up when we were all grown and sometimes met.
I marvel at the space we occupy on the earth.
Much like my mother once said to me soon before she died, how pleased she was when her seventh great-grandchild had arrived on the earth that none of this would be possible without her.
This puzzled me as if my mother considered it all began with her. As if she had forgotten about her own parents and my father’s parents and the ones who came before.
I am often in a tug of war in my mind between the great chain of links from one to the other and how important we each are to one another and this other sense, my mother’s sense of wanting to matter and fearing that without her none of us would come into being, me and my siblings, who in my mind, never go away.
2 thoughts on “First companions”
I don’t not think of my brother and sister but I can’t say they’re always with me nor do I look for their proxies in my day-to-day life. I’ve not spoken to either of them in over twenty years. Occasionally I check my niece’s Facebook page and from there I’ve gleaned the odd bit of information like the fact my nephew (who, last time I looked, hadn’t updated his page in ages) had joined the family business. All I know about my sister is she appears to still be living at the same address and with the same husband. I should be sadder but I’ve outgrown it. I would doubtless experience a momentary spike of sadness (tinged with regret no doubt) if I learned any of them had died because I’m hardwired to feel sad when anyone I was remotely close to passes but that’s about it. My daughter sent me an e-mail a couple of weeks back telling me she’d learned her first husband had died suddenly of bowel cancer but forbade his family to contact her. Knowing what I now know of him—although I’m sure it’s not the whole picture, not by a long shot—I find that very petty. Perhaps some kind of peace could’ve been found because I’ve no doubt my daughter would’ve let bygones be bygones had she been afforded the opportunity.
I get where your mother was coming from though, wanting to matter. Were you to ask me what I thought the meaning of life was I’d say, “Exactly that. Meaning should be the meaning of life.” I like think that everything I do, it’s not important if it’s washing the dishes or putting out the bins, means something, i.e. that it matters. I can’t imagine a meaningless life, a purposeless life. Not that I believe for one moment I was put on this earth for a purpose.
I’m with you Jim, about the importance of meaning and mattering. So, of course, it’s sad that you have no contact with your siblings, and so deeply awful that your daughter couldn’t know of her ex-husband’s death before he died. Thanks, Jim.