Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hanging curtains

'Do you know Brutus' speech, "There is a tide in the affairs of men"?'

'Yes.'

'That tide is almost here for you, you know. This country is about to explode. One has to be deaf and blind not to know that.'

I was relieved it was only the same old story. But still I didn't want to hear her say that my parents were deaf and blind. I knew they were. I knew I was too. The strangest deafness and blindness that let me hear and see and yet not care.

She stared at me. 'But not just the political situation, Ruth. Actually, I think that's the easier nut to crack. May I be frank?'

She smiled. I smiled at the pun.

'There are some situations—household, families, if you will—that one must remove oneself from in order to save oneself. Oh, what an awful way of putting it! I sound like one of those ghastly evangelists!'

'I know what you mean.' I thought I did. I thought she meant save myself from landing up like Catherine. Or Valerie if she married Bernard. I thought she meant marriage.

'Well, let me explain anyway. I grew up in a terribly middle-class, terribly unimaginative family. Without even knowing that they were doing it, my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and so forth gave us a very clear picture of what we would grow up to be. My world was very simple, really. A small village, the village school, the curate I told you about. Ha! Ha! When I was about your age I began to know that I couldn't fit into the life they'd planned for me. I thought I wanted to go to the university and become a teacher. But that's not important. What is important is that I knew what they wanted and I rejected it.'

She spread her legs and crossed her arms over her knees, like my father watching cricket, chin forward, eyes forward out over the lawn. 'With you, my dear, it's going to be a little more difficult.'

My hear began to gallop. How did she know that? And how had I known, seconds before her words were out, just what she would say? Before I even understood what the words meant?

'I don't think things have been made so clear for you, you see. Every family hangs curtains. They make up myths about themselves almost as if they were taking part in a play. The curtain hangs between themselves on stage and the audience out there—the real world, you see. My family hung such a curtain. But our myth was quite simple. The same one really that most other families I knew had. And as familiar as "Hansel and Gretel". Players and audience, we were all the same. I knew exactly what I was up against. I'm not sure yours is so simple.'

--Lynn Freed, Home Ground

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