On Sunday morning, three days after landing in London, I returned to Fix and met two people I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. I’m mostly writing this post so I can tell you I know an Oscar-winner – I don’t know Jane Fonda, for heaven’s sake, and Meryl Streep wasn’t drinking coffee behind the Barbican that morning – my friend won her award for costume design. I know her name, but not her husband’s, and I’m certain they don’t know mine. This is fine. They are warm, and funny, and helped settle my nerves before my mother’s stonesetting.
A stonesetting is the consecration of a headstone and is a significant ceremony. You may remember that my brothers, sweet as ever, refused to tell me when my mother’s was going to be held. I asked in four emails and they stonewalled me each time, refusing even to acknowledge my question. I knew it would be in the cemetery where my father is buried, but only that, so I asked other people when it was to take place. It’s the reason I returned when I did, even though the lease on my Tel Aviv apartment had another three weeks on it.
Amanda drove me to the cemetery, in Bushey, outside London. She tried to keep my spirits up, and had prepared a Pet Shop Boys playlist to do the job, but it wasn’t necessary. After feeling nervous since June about my welcome this morning, on the day I felt calm.
I’d lost some weight in Israel, I was deeply tanned, and I was wearing my smart, midnight blue, cashmere coat from Jaeger. I had a beautiful vintage silk square in my top pocket. I’m not tall, but I’m the tallest in my family. I am the only one of us still with all his hair, which Huw had cut the day after I’d returned. I looked the business.
There were a hundred or so people there, and none had expected to see me.
The first people I talked to were Yan and Sara, and I love them both. Yan had been my father’s best man sixty-five years earlier, and Sara had been a close friend to my mother. We hugged tightly, and Sara said, I don’t know why they’re behaving like this. She was talking about my family.
My brothers approached me with their hands held out. They hadn’t spoken to me for three years. I put my hand in my pocket, and I’m glad I did. It takes more than a handshake. I said Hello, cooly, and turned to Zigi, another of my father’s best friends. He held me close and said, They’re behaving terribly. I didn’t yet know how terribly.
Amanda reminded me that I was a principle mourner and should be at the front during prayers. I stood between my brothers and the rabbi. Amanda, on the other side of the hall, later described their faces when I did this. I won’t tell you what she said, but they aren’t handsome men, and sourness didn’t improve their looks.
In his eulogy, the rabbi said, Gloria would have been happy to see so many people here looking so miserable. He didn’t mean exactly what he’d said, but it was all I could do not to laugh at this unexpected truth. There was little my mother, Countess Schadenfreude, enjoyed more than others’ misfortune. I rolled my eyes, I thought they might fall out of their sockets.
We walked to my parents’ graves, which are next to each other, for more prayers. I left a stone on each of them to show they hadn’t been forgotten, that I’d been there.
My parents’ friends and their children were all happy to see me, each of them said they’d wanted to contact me when my mother died, but my family had refused to give them my email or phone number.
I hugged my cousins and their mother, and asked where my uncle was. He was a lovely man, sweet and kind. He had died in January, three weeks after my mother. They had wanted to tell me, but, I can hardly believe this, my family didn’t want me to know. My brothers, their wives, their children, didn’t look me in the eye all morning.
Sara came to talk to me again. I had a thought. I asked her when my mother’s funeral had been. I clearly remember the call from my younger brother, ten months earlier, telling me of my mother’s death. I asked him if the funeral was going to be held that day. (Jewish funerals take place as soon as possible after a death). He hesitated, and said, confidently, Yes. Sara told me that the funeral had taken place a few days later. My brothers had lied about this so I wouldn’t return. It was just before Christmas, I doubt I could have found a flight anyway.
I don’t remember a time that I was close to either of my brothers, and I once asked my mother why they treat me the way they do. She said, quite breezily, like it was normal, Because you have no allies, you’re the weakest. It is ridiculous that, at my age, I can be hurt by my family, yet it goes deep, it resonates, and, I suppose, it is meant to wound. It does.
I appreciate that it’s me, and not them, who is, as my brother called me, disgusting, but this is a bit disgusting, isn’t it. I have been exiled from my family and I don’t know why. I imagine I am the punchline to all their jokes.
Sara talked about my mother for a while, some of the things she’d done, the decisions she’d made. She shook her head and said that my mother was… she paused, looking for the right word… unusual.
I don’t know what I’d have done without Amanda, she’s as generous as my family are mean. On the way back we talked about, I don’t know, look at Hampstead Heath, look at this, look at that, but we were mostly quiet. On the way a jogger ran in front of her car. She became uncharacteristically angry, maybe more in response to what we’d discovered that morning than to the man running. She took me for lunch in Exmouth Market, one of my favourite streets in London. The restaurant displays huge cuts of raw meat to attract customers. It reminded me a little of M25, but different. I felt pretty raw, but tried to hide it. We ate silken charcuterie and flirted with the waiter.
I spent the rest of the day by myself. I ate fish and chips at Kennedy’s, for the second time in three days. I watched some tv, drank some wine. It had not been a happy day. I needed to think about what I’d learned that morning, but it is taking me a while to come to terms with it all. Yet what I should keep, will keep, is the warmth of my parents’ friends and their children, people I’ve known all my life, the family not called Wilder.
People have asked if I’ll make up with my family, but I don’t know how. I’m finding it hard to forget the things they’ve done. Nothing more can change, I have no more parents to lose. I’m beginning to think my brothers and their wives are not nice people.
The next morning, at Fix again, I saw Michael, who I’d met on my first morning back. He told me about the friends he’d spent Sunday afternoon with, who were full of the person they know who’d just returned after a year in Tel Aviv.
Friends took me for dinner and lunch almost every day. I loved how they wanted to tell me about their lives, what had happened to them in the last year. Andrea has signed up for the London Marathon, Dorothy is working for Ellen again, Camilla is starting a blog, Brian is talking about retiring to Spain, Sally is marrying Nick, and Richard is going to cycle Sri Lanka, north to south. Amanda took me to see the Lord Mayor’s Show. It was great. I went on two dates, yes, two! with the same lovely man, Yanis. I was shocked that two drinks in a pub costs £13.75. London seemed more expensive that it had a year before, and not just because I had little money.
I’d tried all week to find somewhere to stay in London, but no one had any space. I accepted Nathan’s offer to live in his apartment in Frankfurt for a couple of months and booked a flight.
Today’s word: mus-peek – enough – מספיק