As I said to a friend earlier today, in an email, “I’ve had a very trying weekend.” I couldn’t even really write about it, except in an elliptical way — I used the analogy of escaping my family being like escaping 9/11. Probably, to someone who has escaped 9/11, my comparison would be an affront.
The reason I made my comparison was due to The Examined Life, by Stephen Grosz. Grosz draws on 9/11 as an example of how people resist change. During the bombing of the twin towers, a fire alarm was sounding, but some of the people in their offices carried on like there was no emergency. A bit like we do sometimes if a fire alarm sounds — I know I have. People went into meetings, they died. One woman left, but returned for her baby photos. She died as well.
Anyway, in my own life the emergency has passed. I didn’t die. But now I’m well, so perhaps I’m in a new place and can ‘be there’ for my little brother who, without my knowledge, has been struggling — seriously struggling — with his mental health.
I’ve been in a terrible panic all weekend. I love my little brother inordinately. I missed him in the past year and a half that I blocked him out of my life. He’s a sweetie, and the bad that went down between us, I never blamed him for it. Even though I considered him to be very seriously in the wrong.
I had actually contacted him before all this trouble, to ask how he was, but received no reply. I hadn’t really worried too much over his silence. I didn’t draw any conclusions, least of all that he was in trouble. I’ve always considered him to be someone that was coping and functioning well. I thought he was fine. But on Friday I heard some very troubling news from my late mother’s ex.
Today I got further news — I’m not to worry. I have a Care Co-Ordinator, and she has some information on the situation. Obviously, she couldn’t tell me anything, but she said, “I’ll say the same thing that I told Lucky — no news is good news.” I said, “Oh that’s good to know. I won’t have to worry so much now.” She said, “You don’t have to worry at all.” What a relief that was. Someone who actually knows what she is talking about (Samba is under the care of the community team). I had been feeling so helpless, so shut out and guilty.
It’s very hard for me to write about my family. There’s an element of feeling protective over their private lives, I think. It would feel wrong to publish details about Samba’s situation. (Samba is my step-brother and Lucky is my father in law). But I think it’s more than that; it’s just material I resist. I think that, for someone that has always used writing to cope, this is a little bit strange.
When I was in London, studying novel writing at City Lit, I had a teacher called Stephen Thompson — a black British man. I really enjoyed his classes, far more so than any other class I did there. He structured the teaching very well. I was able to express myself and experiment. He was encouraging, but measured. He said what he thought. He was one of the few, if any, people I ever got on with at that institution. We follow each other on Twitter and pass the time of day occasionally. Not too long ago he got a BAFTA for his first film about his brother’s experiences with the British government — the Windrush scandal. The drama is called Sitting in Limbo.
The reason I am bringing all this up is that Stephen actually told me I should try alternative material to that which I had been pursuing. He said I should write about my family life. Something I had really never considered, except to mention when I was covering other, more important material. Stephen knew that my family was a multi-cultural one. In the years since I met him I have mulled over this suggestion of his. It’s a challenging, unexpected, idea. I don’t think I would know what to say about it.
I’m a Londoner, and I grew up in multi-cultural south London. Recently, watching the Steve McQueen series Small Axe, I realised that the whole thing reminded me of home. Of course, south London is home for me. But it was everything about it; the Black British accents, the clothes, the stories, the music, the landscape: black culture was home. This was especially true of ‘Alex Wheatle’. In fact I had followed Alex Wheatle AKA ‘Brixton Bard’ on Twitter before the film came out. I followed him because I recognised him from when Brixton was my manor.
One of the things I miss about living in London is it’s multi-culture, specifically black British culture. The black British feel like home. Maybe they are, inasmuch as my family, some of them, are black British (or Welsh).
I think this crisis of my brother’s that has been affecting me, hopefully it will turn into and opportunity. An opportunity for him to get support beyond the family and community circle here. It’s one of the things that has helped me the most. People that have nothing to do with my mother and all of her life that has been handed down both to Samba and me. I hope that we can repair our relationship and I can be there for him in future. That he will give me a chance to make amends for not being there for him when I was unwell. I don’t know what will happen, but I would like to be there for him.
One of the things I felt about Sitting in Limbo, Stephen’s story about the horrific ordeal his family had to endure, especially his brother, was that it showed the towering strength of a loving family. That is what had kept his brother from, probably dying. The spectre of structural racism in Britain is truly despicable. It makes me sick to my bones. Being anti racist is something I feel really passionate about. I think that is why Stephen and I got on, he saw that in me. That makes me feel grateful. Like I have something going for myself —I am an anti-racist (a self-diagnosis).
I’m glad that Lucky shared his worries with me. I’m glad I broke the silence I had imposed on Lucky and Samba. I think Lucky understands that I love my brother. I was seen, by Lucky, and I really value that. Isn’t that what we all want? To be and feel valued? To be seen for who we are, needed and appreciated? These things are the true riches.
So now I have written about my family.