by Louise Searl
Meriel was waiting for a telephone call from her grown up daughter. She had learned over the years since
Lesley left home that the way to control the dread, always part of awaiting such calls, was to keep herself as busy as possible. She had therefore embarked on a full scale spring cleaning of the living room, to include washing the net curtains, polishing the windows and dusting the books individually.
Brian passed by the open door on his way out to play golf. He was not a new man. He had long since decided that his role was to bring home the bacon and little else. He was not prepared to cope with the emotional realities of modern life as experienced by his grown up daughter. He left all that to Meriel.
‘I see Lesley has decided to ruin our weekend’ he remarked, nastily, and he was gone. A familiar twinge of distress briefly overwhelmed Meriel. There had been a time when she would have remonstrated with him for making such a hateful remark about Lesley. But now she accepted it as part and parcel of her marriage. After all, Brian was a good man, deep down. ‘Very deep,’ her best friend Barbara would and in fact did often say. Just because he was not, as far as she knew, a bigamist, or a murderer, did that make him OK?
Occasionally Meriel played with the idea of divorcing Brian. It was a special ‘get out of jail free’ card she allowed herself to daydream about when he had been particularly unkind. His speciality was belittling her both in private and in public, as well as limiting communication to remarks designed to hurt her.
As she dusted, polished and hoovered she tried to guess what Lesley would have in store to upset her about today. Last week it had been a falling-out with her flatmates, threatening the security of her accommodation. Other frequent themes were crises with boy friends, ‘misunderstandings’ at work and, unsurprisingly, loneliness.
Lesley was in fact a qualified accountant with a good job, but her personality, obviously inherited from her father, made her dealings with others problematic. It had always been the same. Her reports bore witness to this all through her schooldays. Comments such as ‘Lesley is an excellent student, but unfortunately her inability to get on with her class mates makes difficulties for her and upsets other students.’ were a hint of future problems. In fact the school had suggested that their daughter needed help to cope with her problems, but of course Brian had poo-poohed such an idea.
‘Lesley just needs to learn to be reasonable and get on with people’ he had declared, failing to recognise advice he himself needed to follow.
Meriel was a victim of her own more forgiving and non-combative personality. Now in her sixties, she knew the time had passed when she could hope to influence either her husband or her daughter. Her dye was cast, as Barbara had recently kindly pointed out.
As a break from her self-inflicted domestic chores, she sat down and picked up a magazine she had just found among the books. Naturally she was drawn to the problem pages, always the most interesting and readable section. Who can resist reading about those with more intractable problems than one’s own? Among the usual sad accounts of domestic and emotional trauma she came upon a letter that might actually have been written by her.
‘Dear Catherine, I am at my wits end. My husband of forty years is a selfish git. He offers no support to our grown-up son who seems unable to cope with normal life. He lacks the ability to empathise with others in any way whatsoever. I am sick and tired of making suggestions about counselling and other ways in which he might be helped, all of which my husband says are not necessary, therefore not supporting either me or our son. I have tried to persuade him to seek help via his doctor, to no avail. Our son is on the brink of losing his job because of his problems in dealing with people. On top of that he has taken up gambling and is on the slippery slope to bankruptcy. What shall I do?’ Catherine’s reply was decisive.
‘I sympathise with the very difficult situation you are in. There are two strands to your troubles, your husband and your son. Because you have been married for forty years does not mean that you cannot end your marriage. I know divorce is a huge step but please do consider it. Obviously your son is causing you a lot of heartache, and from your longer letter, and after consulting a psychiatrist I suggest your son needs to go to his GP and seek help for his mental health. It may well be that, as you have already realised, counselling would be of benefit to him, but that has to be his decision. You cannot force your son to take any action, he must want to do so himself. So try to stop banging your head against a brick wall, you have done all you can. Learn to step back, look after yourself and think seriously about your marriage.’
Meriel read and re-read the letter. Then she made a resolution. She would follow Catherine’s advice. Just because neither her husband nor her daughter were capable of change, it did not mean that she must play the victim card. It would not be easy, but nor was life at present. The telephone rang.
‘Hello Lesley, how are things?’ She listened to her daughter’s rants.
‘Lesley, I have heard all this before. I know you have a lot of problems coping with people. Please take my advice and go and try to get some help. If you need me to pay for counselling... Lesley, please don’t interrupt. I’m going now as I’m busy. Do let me know what you decide. I cannot help you if you won’t help yourself. I love you,’ and she put the phone down. Never before had she been so abrupt with Lesley, but it was time to try a different approach. The next job was to find out all about divorce. She would begin by asking Barbara. She’d had plenty of experience in that area.
Meriel felt invigorated. There was a spring in her step. She put on her coat. She rang Barbara and asked if she could come round for a cup of tea. She would be out when Brian came home. There would be no dinner waiting for him. He always found something unkind to say about her cooking. Let him cook his own. From being half empty, her glass would soon be half full.
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