Mark’s parents came to visit this weekend. When I was away working, Mark agreed that they should come over, and just before noon yesterday their car stopped outside our door.
As Mark’s dad is used to doing, he beeped the horn twice to let us know they had arrived. After the usual flurry of hugs and exchanges of plastic bags with goods they’d brought for us, they parked themselves in the sofa in the living room, and Mark’s mum ordered my Auntie to come over by phone.
Full house then, and not the quiet recuperation I had expected. Dogs, cat, parents, relatives, and us two. Our house isn’t big, so it fills up quickly, and the sound level settle somewhere between loud and cacophonous. Mark and I are quiet with each other. Normal voices, spoken at normal voices, delivered over a breakfast table or when we’re piled in the sofa together in the evening watching the telly.
When Mark’s parents are here, that all goes away. People talk constantly, and over each other. Mark’s dad and mum talk on parallel tracks, at the same time, and then you have Mark trying to get a word in. Somehow they can hear each other, and start to comment on something that’s been said earlier. This is a most curious ability. It has always impressed me. How you can deliver a monologue and listen to someone else’s monologue at the same time, and then remember it later.
Sometime between Mark’s mum ringing Auntie to have her come over and three o’clock, Mark started on dinner. The Beef Burgundy for two that he had planned to compensate me for the computer troubles earlier became a thing for five people, with enough for refilling. A riot of wines from my little stash plopped down. Spanish Rioja mixed with Italian Chianti and a Beaujolais.
Back when I lived in my Auntie’s cellar, we used to do this every week. Back then, Mark’s parents lived in this house. We lived over with Auntie. Everyone was just a stroll away, and the Sunday meet-ups was a thing. I used to miss them because they were this controlled form of chaos.
Our house was even smaller back then: just a living room and a kitchen rolled into one, a sleeping alcove, and a bathroom. We have much more space now, but it still feels small. It still feels like we’re sitting in each others’ laps when we all meet up. And it’s still a good feeling.
This family intimacy is not something we ever had in my family. Dad and mum are quiet people. Efficient and minimalist in a way. Dinners were – everyone grab a plate and then go back to what we were doing before. With a plate of food beside us. Communication is functional and utilitarian, to convey a meaning and a message. Not this ambling, unstructured, aimless wall of sound. Maybe I like this noise because I never had it, and it’s still a new thing. In between Mark and I can go back into the negotiated life-pattern we’re used to now, with the quiet, the closeness, the silences. The fusion of what he grew up with and what I grew up with, reduced to two essentially quiet people.
Auntie has a back-problem, and was a wreck when she came – but she came. She didn’t give excuses. I think she gets lonely over in her big old house. We don’t engage her as much as we should, do we? We could invite her over more than we do. We’re really socially inept in our side of the family, aren’t we? We live on in silence, ignoring each other because we don’t want to intrude on people’s spaces. Then something like this happens, and we love it, and we want to do more of it, but tomorrow we’ll be back into the rut of things.
We will not ring a family member over, because we’ll think they don’t have the time or the need or even the desire to interrupt their solitary existences to see us. “They’re probably busy with important things. Mustn’t interrupt.”