How did the family barbecue go in the end? I guess it went OK. On the way there I wanted to get off the train and turn around several times. Towards the end of the journey I heard myself asking: ‘why am I putting myself through this?’ As I reached the front gate of my aunt’s house the same voice in my head said ‘oh, fuck’. I really shouldn’t have been so petrified, but I was. Anyone could have answered the door; a cousin I hadn’t seen in months, a half brother I hardly knew, an uncle or aunt I’d never met before. Luckily the aunt who had invited me, the relative I knew the best, answered the door apparently happy to see me. I walked out to the back garden where the food was nearly ready and I found my uncle Patrick, the final part of the family that I had never met, and he looked the spitting image of my father and it was a little spooky. I saw not for the first time what I will probably look like in thirty years from now, which can be weird.
My father was there with his wife and kids and he was the one I spoke to most yesterday. Though we hadn’t seen each other in a year we managed to slip back into friendly small talk quite easily. Even my step mother was being friendly, not that she isn’t always pleasant but she might have been a bit less pleasant yesterday, given that I was supposed to go over to their house a few months ago and just didn’t turn up.
I didn’t really get past the feeling of not wanting to be there. It was nice seeing dad and my aunt Mary again, but as far as all the others were concerned I might as well have not been there. Oh, I had a very brief chat with my aunt Anne’s carer Harriet, a lovely woman who seems to understand what I’m going through more than anyone else, and when no one else was present she asked if I was really nervous. I told her that I was, and I think she was about to respond with something useful when Anne showed up needing her. It was nice to know that someone had spotted the fear in my eyes. I hope the others realised at some point that I was so quiet because I was nervous, and not just because I was being unfriendly.
In desperate need of a meeting I left the barbecue at 5.30 so that I could make it to Notting Hill for 6.30. Saying goodbye to everyone was an ordeal in itself, ridiculously. What if someone thought: how rude of him to leave before dessert? I was full up and knew I couldn’t manage dessert anyway. Logically I knew that I had every right to leave, that I wasn’t committing any crimes and how could anyone possibly be offended? I know I’m not that important, but in my head I guess I still am. The people-pleasing instinct has kept me at many uncomfortable social events long past the point where I wanted to be there before.
Mary drove me back to the train station and we talked a bit about how the day had gone, not about anything important. I would love to think that we will see more of each other in the future. I still feel close to her and it would be great if we could get back t o the way things were when we were meeting up for coffee in Hammersmith and talking honestly about everything important. It would also be nice to think that I might see more of my father now that we are officially back in touch. Until this week I thought maybe things had died between us again. After I didn’t show up for that family meal earlier in the year I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself, convinced he would be angry enough to not want me as a son again. Why wouldn’t he be angry? Yesterday he didn’t seem angry at all (not that he’s the type to show feelings anyway – sometimes I don’t think he has any feelings) but in fact he was being rather nice to me. I hope we can continue seeing each other. Sometimes I ask myself why it is so important to maintain a relationship with people who you only share a biological link with. Why is that biological link so important in our society? With most of my family it’s not like I have loads of things in common; I don’t know enough about my father to say that I like him as a person. But whenever I see him I can’t help feeling a deep fondness for him. When I see him I see where I came from. Maybe I do know him, maybe I see myself in him. The pull of the genes must be stronger than I ever thought it could be.