I didn’t expect my brother-in-law to be dying. That’s the curve ball.
He’s younger than me. When they came over from Canada after Labor Day (always after Labor Day, when air tickets are cheaper) he spent two days painting my bathroom green. Except to him it looked yellow, because he’s colour blind. He did a really good job – not sloppy, like I would have done. Two days of sanding, masking and painting while my sister and I sat downstairs catching up on old times. She said he was tired a lot nowadays, but neither of us thought. He was waiting for a test. The test took a whole year to come round, and by then it was too late. He’s got about a year; maybe longer, with treatment.
I never thought I’d miss him in advance. I mean – he’s not my husband. And I suppose that’s what’s always been the trouble – such similar men, such spookily similar personalities – he’s always reminded me. I wasn’t nice, sometimes; I was prickly; I just daren’t let him take me over, start telling me what to think and do. I’d had twenty-two years of it. Twenty-two years of looking for the strength to leave, and more than that since, of paying the price. I escaped. Except you drag it all along with you, trailing clouds of resentment; clouds of mistrust; all men to be tarred with the same brush.
I was distracted: bound up in Mum and her problems. Mum with her dementia – and even before the dementia, that genius she’s got for sucking everybody in, bending all the attention in her direction. Being deaf will do that, of course. Everybody needs to face you; everybody has to focus on you, mime to you, repeat for you. Nowadays, when you don’t want to listen you screw up your eyes: so everybody writes you notes. When you don’t want to read the notes you screw them up and throw them on the floor. We haven’t told you, and we won’t. By the next day you’d have forgotten.
In the midst of all this it was spreading, this thing you have, and none of us knew. As always you flew over, and as always you did stuff for people. You keep a set of overalls in a cupboard at your Mum’s house. You bring your own drill and all the bits to go with it in a heavy-duty plastic case. A place for everything. You painted my bathroom green and thought it was yellow. Then you drove up North and did stuff for your Mum and your sister. You sorted us all out, like you always do. You did that stuff, flew home, and found out you were dying.
So that’s the curve ball.
My sister phones me most nights. She doesn’t know what to do. I just looked it up – we’re precisely 6,793 kilometres apart. What can I do? Only sit in that uncomfortable chair and listen. Only refer back to my own life, only repeat half-remembered stories from books I half-remember reading. What good is that?
I shall be glad to get out of this house.
Glad not to see those newly-painted walls.
Glad to be somewhere else entirely.