Things Fall Apart

It is sad how sometimes the relationships within a family can slowly disintegrate, how one can stay away for a period of time, how one doesn't even ask about the welfare of another, and how things, slowly, fall apart.

Almost thirty years ago, a class of fourteen-year-old girls studied Chinua Achebe's book, Things Fall Apart. It was such a long time ago and, if truth be told, I don't remember what the book was about. Besides, English Literature, for some reason, was not my best subject. I loved the English language, and I enjoyed English Grammar and Composition. Studying a book was not something I enjoyed and I never really learned to argue and discuss and whatever else that one was supposed to do although it is something that is slowly growing on me. That particular book always intrigued me, however, because of the author's name and its title. And, sadly enough, because of what this page is about, I can bring up that part of my past that comes up every once in a while. And that little bit of trivia is now joined to the present. And it doesn't paint a pretty picture.

They call it the human condition. They call it "being human." We have faults; we have been known to harbour resentments; we see what is wrong with others; we have also been known to hide secrets. We may not like how someone within the family treats another. And yet nothing is said. Or, at least, nothing is said out in the open. We talk behind closed doors or in soft voices over the telephone. Everything is kept in the back room so that we won't see it if we don't want to or need to. The dirty laundry is kept out of sight. But the dirty laundry is still there, hidden away in the back room. And no one wants to see it. So they stay away.

And I think, "Another secret, something not talked about." It is not always a pleasant situation and one might say that life isn't always pleasant, that there will be hills and valleys, storms and rainbows.

The unpleasantness is shared with me. And I'm not to mention it to another. And even though I think that she has a right to be happy, that she has a right to lead a better life -- not necessarily a perfect life, just better -- I agree to keep it to myself. Part of me wants to bring it all out in the open. Please ... no more secrets. But I have to respect her wishes. It is not a life or death situation. But it is her life and I wish to make it better.

I don't blame her for what my father did to me. I don't blame her anymore for those years of feeling belittled and compared to another. I have never blamed her for my father's actions. Besides, I am an older woman now, almost the same age as she was when she became a widow. I don't want to grow old and bitter. I want to grow old and become a better person, a wiser woman, if that is ever possible. Maybe it can.

Maybe I can start by bringing out the dirty laundry and dumping it out in the front room where they cannot avoid it. Something in me wants to do that. But I am also afraid and wary. Afraid of what might be said, afraid of what she might say, afraid of the consequences. It could improve the situation. Then again, it could worsen it also. And who am I, really, to say anything, as I live thousands of miles away from it all? I am her daughter, that's who.

My father is deceased. While he was alive, he was the one who held the family together. It wasn't always wonderful and, as in any household, there were problems and unpleasant situations. And the sad thing is that he may have contributed to some of the problems -- with another -- that exist to this day. I don't know that for a fact as I am only speculating. A tortured soul seems to accompany a brilliant mind. You see, I understand pain. I suppose we all do, all of us within the family.

We just go on with our lives, wanting to create our own families, away from what we once knew. And what did my brothers know? What did they know about one of their own? With the exception of my second oldest brother, the others don't even know about my own intimate experiences with our father.

So no one knows. And everyone else is kept in the dark, furious and frustrated within the privacy of their own hearts. Perhaps it is out of our control. Perhaps it isn't. And so, sadly enough, things fall apart. It happens slowly. But it happens. Nothing is said to the one concerned. And maybe it's easier for those of us who live far away to make contact and talk about our lives as usual. And I suppose that we still do put up a wall but it is a wall of pretense. And should there be a family gathering, I don't suppose that anything else is said. Are we pretending? Are we just dealing with it as best as we can, hoping that the situation will change?

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

(from The Second Coming, a poem by William Butler Yeats)

I do not analyse poems very well and I haven't had much practice in doing so. I may not even know what I am talking about. But that line speaks to me when I think about my family. And if it does, never mind if another contradicts me or critiques me. Because if it does, then I suppose that I have analysed it in my own way. And that is enough for me.

If only life were an English Literature lesson, that we could bring it out into the open and discuss it from all angles. Sometimes it is. Sometimes ... there are those of us who choose to stay away.



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