Returning to the fold

Some of the things I set out to do on this break have gone by the wayside, thus far anyway. Other things I’ve neatly ticked off. And then there’ve been unexpected eventualities. This week, particularly, is a week of reunion and reconciliation.

Last week I called my Aunt. I’ve not seen her or any of her family for years, and the occasions they’ve invited me to attend I’ve refused. They’ve probably thought me rude and aloof, but there were reasons for this. One was purely practical. They live 90 minutes from where I do and a couple of times I’ve been invited to events when my car was off the road and I had no way of getting there. The other reason is that I’ve had no wish to run into my sister or father, also invited to these things.

Last week I wanted to make that good. My call probably came as a surprise but was well received. I proposed we catch up for lunch at a time suitable to them. Later I suggested a venue – the Eltham Hotel – which I knew very well once upon a time, but haven’t been back to for decades. Tomorrow I catch up with my aunt and uncle and two of my cousins. They seem to be quite excited, and I’m much relieved – this is the right thing to do.

Then on the weekend, I received a call from a long-lost nephew living in Brisbane. He had contacted me out of the blue the Christmas before last after a gap of more than twenty years. I’d attended his father’s funeral back in about 2003, but he didn’t attend, nor did his sisters, nor his mother, my uncle’s ex-wife.

I’ve had erratic contact with him since that contact. He’s clearly intelligent and a passionate supporter of Labor politics, openly gay, but seemingly troubled. His call to me was disturbing in ways. He was unhappy and hated Brisbane he told me and wanted to get away from his mother, who he still lived with. He seemed to have no close friends and he admitted he basically had Aspbergers – unsurprising in retrospect given his feat of memorising the Brisbane street directory when he was a kid. His speech was faltering, doubling back on itself and almost stammering at times, though the stammer was not syllables but words, which he would repeat 2-3-4 times before going on or doubling back.

I found it hard knowing what to say. All I could be was encouraging and supportive, but the conversation – in my ears – was awkward as he repeated himself and failed to pick up verbal cues. He wants to move to Melbourne after he does his Masters and I told him to call me whenever he needed to.

When he asked about my sister and father I reluctantly conceded I had no relationship with them. That was all I wanted to say but he pressed on, oblivious to my discomfort. The conversation turned to his father’s death and something he said sparked a vivid memory in me, that of my father – a hard-arse, strong and intimidating – breaking down as he gave the eulogy for his younger brother, distraught that his children weren’t there. My cousin had expressed regret at that – he wanted to go but his mother wouldn’t let him – but long afterwards and in the days following that memory lingered in me.

It seemed ironic to me that if my father died tomorrow then I might never know and not be there for him. I wouldn’t want that. I’ve been mulling it over ever since but done nothing about it as yet. I suspect I’ll wait until after my lunch tomorrow to decide, but I’m inclined to send him an email relating to him some of this story and let him know that I would be there for him should he want it. It’s the right thing to do but it doesn’t mean we get buddy-buddy.

Last night I spoke to a friend who lives interstate. We spoke for about an hour about current events – sport and politics mainly – as well as shared memories. Funnily enough, he made reference to a skiing trip many years ago which was a part of the group of pics I digitised last week.

Finally, an old friend is visiting town. I caught up with him for dinner on Tuesday and will again tonight and tomorrow. We were very close once but had a falling out. In the years since I think he’s learned a lot, as have I. We made no reference to our division but caught up as two men who knew each other well. I know well his faults, but I always cherished his gifts also – a sharp mind, but most particularly a deep sensitivity when he allowed it and a generosity of spirit. I can have conversations with him I can have with no-one else and I’ve missed that.

He’s back living in Australia now after many years in Asia. He’s not settled in Melbourne but perhaps that will happen. In the meantime, we’re getting to know each other again, and he getting to know again the people and places that loved him.

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