“Kel, sit down for a minute, I need to talk to you about something.”
I’ve never sat down after hearing a sentence like that with anything approaching excitement. Usually those words combust into a roil of foot-long worms in my belly, or start an acid burn in the back of my throat that drips and pools directly behind my breastbone. This specific time, just recently, I was looking at my beloved Mimi who smiled at me and patted my hand as I sat warily at my Nanna’s dining table.
I love my Mimi, Mim for short. She’s my aunt, barely a decade older than me, has a fantastic laugh, is allergic to stupidity, lives in a different state, and we only found ourselves in the same place due to my Nan’s ill-health. I had no clue what Mim wanted to speak to me about – I didn’t have footlong worms happening, but Tabasco gummiworms were certainly making themselves at home.
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad,” she nodded as she patted my hand, “I just want to talk to you about something you put on Facebook.”
Instant movie-reel of recent ramblings whizz, and I am still baffled.
“You know, the one about finding out about your… um… ah… dad… Ken – what do you call him?”
I’m blinking repeatedly, processing this stealth bomb launched across the table. “Uh… Ken. I call him Ken.”
“Ok. You know that post? When you were talking about how you finally found out about all that? And you said something like you couldn’t believe your family kept their mouths shut about it for so long.”
I’m sweating in the airconditioning, feeling my Mum’s concerned stare sunburning the side of my face, wondering if my Nan is paying this taboo conversation any heed. Thankfully the cricket’s on so she’s critiquing the umpire, oblivious, while I’m hyperaware of my breathing, Mum moving closer to the table to hear better, the shine in Mim’s eyes as she looks away blinking then back at me.
“Yes,” I tell Mim, swallowing hard, “I remember that post.”
I can’t not remember that post. I can’t not remember that date – it’s the birthday of the woman I grew up believing to be my grandmother, and I was told the truth of my paternity on her birthday. I can’t not remember growing up knowing I was never going to please my Dad, of asking my family to tell me the truth that I was adopted, I can’t not remember the mess and burn of finding out, the ache and mess of finding that family again, the puzzle and mess of trying to piece together who I really was, after all.
Mim looked at me, her smile heartfelt and sliding slowly off her face. “That post hurt me Kel.”
We both swallowed, and I bit the spines of the words trying to fire from my mouth – hurt YOU? Some words hurt YOU? – and kept the missiles to myself, steaming.
“It hurt me, darl, because I never wanted to lie to you. Never. All those years – what? twenty something? – years of knowing we weren’t to talk about it, not to say anything to you, it was so hard. It hurt me, darl, to not tell you truth. But I had to keep your mum’s wishes.”
Mim was staring at me, earnest and intent. “Then to see your post…” She tried smiling again, and a tear dashed away. “Don’t ever think that it was easy for us… easy for me, Kel. Not ever. I love you. I hated it, all of it. And I am so sorry for not saying anything.”
DEFCON minus 3697 engaged. All spit and vinegar vapourised. Tissues were grabbed, destroyed, and hurts soothed and bandaged. I am so impressed by Mim’s courage in speaking up about her feelings, about coming at the issue head on. Looking back on that conversation, I’m also knee-wobblingly relieved that I kept my mouth shut long enough to learn something important. Something about my past, something about a beloved aunt, something about the difference between reacting and responding.
I love words, in creating beauty and warmth in the dance of meaning and syllable. I’m also guilty of using my mouth as a weapon. I’ve used words to amuse, to entertain, to guide and show appreciation. I’ve also used words to splinter, to burn, embarrass and belittle. Sometimes I use my words wildly like throwing glitter and paint, and othertimes with savage, gutting precision. Then there are the magnificent, painful and tongue-biting times when I don’t use my words, but listen while someone else shares theirs, and I learn.
Do you think before you speak? When is the last time you shut up and learnt something? How do you see your relationship with words affecting others you love?