I don’t know where to start this column. I’m in tears. It’s the second time in two weeks. The first time was David’s fault, for telling me to ‘Shush’. The second time happened yesterday.
After I’d done what I thought was a good deed, a man, a farmer, walked up to me and started yelling, right in my face. I find it very stressful to be yelled at, because I can see the anger, but I cannot hear it. Even with hearing aids, when I’m stressed I go completely, utterly deaf. I kept saying, ‘Pardon?’ and cupping my hand behind my ear. This only made him yell louder. My heart started crashing in my chest and I found it hard to breathe. You might wonder why 20-something PR girls at Topshop never spoke up. I’m a grown woman, and all I could do was apologise, and shake, and throw up later into a hedge. I wonder if this bully would have yelled like that at a posh man? I somehow doubt it.
I learned to avoid conflict as a child because of an older sister whom even my parents were scared of. No one stood up to her, so I learned to tiptoe round her: when we shared a bed she would kick me all night. Once, I borrowed her red sweater, then put it back in the drawer. She came home from school, felt it was still warm, and flew into a rage so terrible I’ve never forgotten it.
I understand completely why I was made bankrupt. I learned as a child to give, give, give, because otherwise someone will explode. Which led to everyone treating me like a tap they could just turn on. When the well was dry, they disappeared. I haven’t heard from that sister, the one whose mortgage I paid for six years, since I asked a year ago if she was going to our niece’s wedding in Scotland and, if so, would she like to be picked up from the airport and stay at the Airbnb apartment I’d rented. She said she couldn’t go, but even so there was no ‘thanks for the offer’. I’ve not heard a dickybird since.
It’s puzzling, because I did nothing wrong other than placate her for 59 years. I’ve been self- medicating with Friends, and the bit where Rachel calls Ross to congratulate him on getting a cat strikes a chord. ‘And that, my friend, is what they call closure,’ she slurs, before hanging up the phone. That’s what I need. Closure. And so I text my sister’s 21 year-old son, someone I’ve known and loved his entire life. I text three times, asking what on earth is wrong. I receive not one single response. I email another nephew, in Australia, asking why was it that we got so close to me coming over for a visit – I had even arranged flights and times – and have since been blanked. I suppose you call it ghosting, but to be performed by members of your own family?
Patterns are so hard to break, aren’t they? I’m upset, too, because, when you rent instead of own your home, I’ve found out you’re treated like dirt. My landlady in London told me, using, the virtual equivalent of yelling, that water mustn’t get on the kitchen floor, and that I should put a mat down. That I mustn’t let the front door slam. That I have to water the plants on the balcony.
I’m not to drink red wine on her sofa. Or light a candle. She texted the other day to say, ‘You do know that pets are not allowed in my flat.’ She said a neighbour had phoned her, having seen dogs in my car outside. I replied: ‘There was a stray cat on the balcony the other day, did someone call MI5?’
She had the cheek to tell me not to be sarcastic. It all reminded me of when I rented a villa near St Tropez with my friend Isobel. I was sent so many rules and regulations (‘Soft furnishings must be brought in from the terrace every night because of dew; do not feed the tortoise’), I fired off an email to the owner: ‘It’s supposed to be a holiday!’
It’s interesting, the butterfly effect. I felt intimidated as a child, which meant many, many years later I had to rehome the cats I’ve loved with all my heart for 17 years. Who would have dreamed in a million years that would happen? Life’s a bitch, isn’t it?