So we had my Mum’s 70th birthday party on Saturday night and it was a good night except for one thing. Oliver, my sister’s scumbag husband, turned up when he had been specifically asked not to, when my sister had assured my Mum he would be nowhere in sight.
They turned up together, over an hour late, bearing flowers and gifts as if that made everything all right. Oliver actually got on his hands and knees, in tears, begging my mother’s forgiveness. My Mum didn’t know what to say or do. She was humiliated and embarrassed. I was angrier than I have ever been in my life.
It has been so hard for my Mum to play the tough love role with my sister. But she did it. She put her foot down and told Millie that Oliver wasn’t welcome at her party. For him to turn up anyway shows such a huge lack of respect for all of us that I start to shake all over when I think about it. How dare he. Respecting our wishes is all party of the reconciliation process.
There is nothing worse than someone who appears to care about what you think, who acknowledges the part they play in your stress and discomfort, but who continues to do whatever they want anyway. It’s like when someone is picking on you or harassing you at school or work and you confront them about it and they apologise, saying they had no idea they were affecting you so much. Only the next day they do it all over again.
How can you win against someone like that? To me Oliver’s behaviour is not a good sign. He seems to be slotting back into those trademark abusive patterns – the disregard for others, the manipulation, the over-the-top apologies. ‘I am the sorriest man in the world,’ he says.
‘You will be,’ I think. ‘You will be.’
My Dad asked him to leave. My sister looked worried and I wondered if she might pay the price later. We all did. But my Dad held firm. Oliver didn’t argue, just slinked off.
Afterwards it was like one of those scenes from a movie where something awkward has happened and everyone starts speaking at once. The entire room had been transformed into a gaggle of geese. The relief was palpable.
Then Millie started. ‘Why can’t you forgive him?’ she whined. ‘Can’t you see he’s repentant? He feels he can’t move forward without your forgiveness.’
Aaah, the games people play.
To me it’s not about forgiveness. It’s about knowing that what Oliver says is what he means. It’s about knowing that my sister isn’t living in fear for her life. It’s about honesty, consistency and trust.
If I knew for sure that by granting Oliver my forgiveness he would treat my sister with love and care for the rest of her life I would do it in a heartbeat. I would write it out and sign it in blood. But I’m not ready to do that yet. None of us are. He needs to prove himself first. I am disconcerted by his urgent need to get us back on side. His impatience unsettles me.
The rest of the night was good but we were on edge. My Mum kept looking towards the door, worried Oliver was going to come back. I suddenly realised how hard it must be for her to let her little girl go home to someone whom she thinks is a monster. How impossible must that be to bear? I know she lies awake at night wondering if she will see her youngest daughter again in the morning.
Towards the end of the night I went to the bathroom and caught sight of myself in the mirror. When I am nervous or worried I bite my bottom lip. There was a tiny speck of blood in the corner of my mouth, a fragment of my rage.
There is a kind of bleakness in knowing that the situation you most want to change may not. That you are holding your hands upraised, seeking rescue and that your rescuer may never come.
Dreams of misadventure filled my head on the drive home. Oliver’s misadventure. Hiring a hitman, a fatal injection, a fall from a twenty-storey building, a poisoned cup. All fantasies, of course but nice thoughts while they lasted.
Somedays no matter how things have turned out in your life, you think : ‘How did I get here?’ It’s the curse of being human, to question things, to wonder if your life would have been different if you had turned left instead of right. It’s easier to imagine what if instead of dealing with what is.
Today I saw a little butterfly. Pure white, fragile as tissue paper. She was buffeted by the wind, sinking and flailing as she tried to fly towards the sun. Over and over again the wind pushed her back, her little wings trembling, her tiny body almost bent in half. Over and over again she flexed her wings and pushed forward, determined to outfly the breeze. With one final burst she did it, swirling and dancing in the sun. Her success was such a joyful moment, she inspired me to do the same; to keep on trying. To be stubborn, immovable, bravely facing the what is with my head aimed squarely at the sun.