As usual, you and I got a bit drunk. Then it was all so perfect, wasn’t it? You with your nieces, acting some perfect feminist, not in principle but in practice, of course, they weren’t feminists, and they didn’t understand your life. You were too old to have any real connection with them, after all, they had their own lives. But they listened, and perhaps you impressed them. Then your dad treated you with the ultimate respect, too much respect, the respect which you reluctantly paid to him too. It was all a ceremony of respect. Family respect, a respect of silence. The English do silence too well. They bear their suffering and never voice the truth. Isn’t it better to comment on the sunlight through the trees in the garden and say how all the family are doing so well?I noticed you didn’t like your dad’s girlfriend. She was sixty and proud, I liked her, she was full of life, a creative type, she painted and was outgoing, said what she wanted to say, and she had nothing to do with your dad’s double life. She had arrived afterwards in his history. Still, she was a metaphor for his life, in your mind. Not her fault. Then she wasn’t family, neither was I. She left relatively early – I guess she knew how to do these things.Later in the evening, when you were in the house, and your dad and I were alone on the lawn, he had a quiet word with me, as any Dad might. ‘Do you respect my daughter?’ he asked. And it was a shock, given I knew the history. And that you, I knew, both loved and hated him. ‘Of course’, I said, truthfully, and he seemed quietly content. It was a concept maybe he wanted to know. I thought despite earlier extremes of passion and jealousy between us, you and I now had found a loving, calm relationship. I had no other idea than that was who we were, and who we were going to be, a part of this English tranquillity – family, lawn, and living summer happily.He seemed contented. More than contented, He had resolved his duty to his daughter. But you were not resolved. He left, and you got drunk with your brother and me.
Now is the time in this story to tell the backstory.
Your dad had lived a double life. When his wife, your mum, was at home dying, true he cared for her, but he had had another woman in a long term relationship, another family down the road secretly for years and years. You had discovered this at thirteen and left home at eighteen. You never talked about this. So when he had asked me on the lawn, ‘Are your intentions to my daughter genuine’, it was pure English irony. And the second irony was yet to unfold.
I loved her, my partner then, his daughter. Unfortunately, she was made a woman by her father. She had been a girl destroyed. At thirteen she was alone, with a dying mother to take care of and duplicitous father, who she could never trust.
You accepted me as a lover but never trusted me, for no reason other than I was successful, in life, like your father, so I must be therefore untrustworthy like your father. I had thought that we had left all that behind. For months now we had been loving and stable.
I can’t say what happened that evening made perfect sense. I sat with you and your brother drinking wine chatting late into the evening, when suddenly violently you attacked me. Afterwards, the past slowly became clearer.
You left the table going to what was our room. And when I asked your brother a civilised, thoughtful Englishman ‘why did she do that?’ He turned away, not even acknowledging the event or the question. Then he left the table too.
So I looked out at the perfect English family garden at night, at a silent manicured manufactured lawn, an apple tree growing, slowly. I knew then – I was an outsider to this family.
People make their truths by silence, their fate by avoidance, and if so, however they claim to be free, they are not. The first freedom is truth, and it is nothing if you do not speak out.
My lover was first and foremost committed to something I could never touch, a family history covered up. None of this was a secret to me, but I had thought we could walk into the light, into the future, but I had failed. She had made her world hiding the fear of herself.
Plato’s world of shadows danced in the trees, as I sat in a family’s English country garden with no future, but was that a bat that just flew into the cave?