Introspection is a series in which my current nineteen-year-old self has imaginary interactions with my fifteen-year-old self. For more information, click here.
I stop at the foot of the long winding driveway and stare at the large yellow house. I don’t get to come here nearly as often as I’d like to and that’s a huge pity. But that’s one of the sacrifices I’ve had to make in order to live in Dublin full time. The multitude of animals that usually greet me are nowhere to be seen. I don’t think there’s anyone here except who I’ve come to see.
When he answers the door, he’s fully dressed. I’m somewhat surprised. Usually when he’s lounging around the house he’s doing so in his pyjamas and fluffy dressing gown. But it then occurs to me that he’s now 15, meaning his brand new social life has begun. He’s probably on the way out to see his friends, in fact I’m probably keeping him from doing so.
He leads me to the kitchen in my own home, switching on the kettle and opening a press, making me feel like the outsider. I kick off my red high heels (which he gazes at appreciatively) and take off my pink jacket, tossing it on one of the chairs. I’m dressed quite casually today in black skinny jeans that accentuate my long legs, a long black and white checked shirt and a white cardigan.
“Will you have a green tea?” He asks innocently, taking out a green tea bag and popping it in my favourite mug. “I’ll have a coffee,” I answer, resisting the urge to smile at his reaction.
“You drink coffee?” His expression is nothing short of judgemental. “Like it’s going out of fashion,” I respond, a smirk on my face. He raises his eyebrows and shrugs his shoulders, spooning coffee into my second favourite mug. I shut myself up before I tell him that he’s in no position to judge me considering how much Diet Coke he drinks.
“Milk or sugar?” He asks dubiously.
“No, obviously not!” I exclaim.
“Well how am I supposed to know? I don’t drink coffee!” I can’t argue with his logic. When he hands me my black coffee, I cup my hands around my second favourite mug and walk to the kitchen table, gesturing for him to sit opposite me.
“I thought we’d talk about my family today,” I inform him calmly. His nose wrinkles slightly. I can tell he’s disappointed. He wants to talk about something more exciting, probably my sex life again. One of the ways he acts like a typical teenager is through his utter lack of enthusiasm about his family.
“Is there anything you want to know?”
“Are you still talking to everyone?” He asks immediately. I understand the question. He’s a fiery personality, not afraid of conflict. And he does have a lot of conflict with his family members. For no other reason than the fact that he lives within close proximity of each of them. “I am,” I answer, “but I’m not nearly as close with them as I’d like to be.” “In what way?”
He seems concerned. He probably can’t imagine ever wanting to be closer with them.
“Well I see my Mam the most, because she spends a lot of time at Gran’s house these days. I stay there a lot too and I get to go shopping or to lunches with her every now and again. Now that I don’t live with Mam anymore we don’t clash nearly as much which is good because it means we get a lot of quality time together.” He smiles at this. Even though himself and his Mam kill each other, he appreciates and respects her a lot.
“I don’t get to see Dad very much I’m afraid,” I continue. “This is only because we both have really busy schedules but it makes me sad sometimes. We keep in touch all the time but I’m simply awful at texting back.” He smirks and nods. He’s also terrible at texting people back. “We go for lunch sometimes and I always go over to visit him when I get back to Wexford. I just don’t get to do that very much.”
“Rachael lives in Wexford too and I don’t get to talk to her much except for the odd phone call.” He looks disappointed about this. Rachael’s probably the one he feels the closest to.
“We shared an apartment last year and that was really nice. We even went out together a few times and we’d do cute things together a lot.” He smiles. I take a sip from my coffee and look out through the French doors at a small bird on our decking. “I miss those days sometimes. I miss being close to her, but hopefully we can get back there in the future.” He nods enthusiastically. “Hopefully,” he echoes.
“Emma lives in Kerry now,” I drop in casually, waiting for his reaction. “Kerry?” He raises his eyebrows. “Isn’t that like ages away from here?” His eyes glint menacingly as he brings his mug to his lips. I nod, “I miss her terribly.”
His eyebrows shoot up even further than before. “Is this your sister Emma you’re talking about?” He smirks once again. I laugh but I ignore his sneering. Himself and Emma have quite an estranged relationship for reasons I still don’t really understand. They always clashed when they were growing up, but in the last year or so, he has really started to resent her in a very unhealthy way.
“I actually wasn’t much older than you when Emma and I managed to resolve our issues,” I inform him. “We’re very close now. She even took me to Paris for my 18th birthday.” His jaw all but drops. “She has an amazing job in something sciencey and she’s very generous with her money. And before you ask,” I interject, predicting his next question, “we’d made up before she got that job.” He smirks again.
“Well I’m glad to hear that.” He sounds uncertain. I finish the last of my coffee before adding “I’m hopeful that Emma and I can spend more time together because I think she’s considering moving out to Dublin, or at least nearby. We’ve discovered that we’re actually quite similar, with a number of matching interests. I can definitely see us making use of the many things to do in the city if she does end up living nearby.”
He stands up and clears our cups away, putting them in the dishwasher. He looks a little bit guilty before saying “I have to get ready to go out, I’m meeting my friends in Kilmuckridge. Do you mind?” “Not at all,” I answer, following him up to my bedroom.
He takes a seat at the dressing table, in front of the mirror, watching me as I reach out to touch the many different posters, pictures, quotes and other objects that are stuck all over my walls. I took these down on one of my visits a couple of months ago so my room could get repainted. It broke my heart to do so, but I had to accept the fact that my room wasn’t really my room anymore. You don’t get to only see a room a few times a year and still act like it’s yours.
I decide not to tell him this, afraid that he’ll get annoyed after all the effort he put in decorating. I sit on the bed and watch as he does his intricate skincare routine. The skincare routine I do every morning is almost identical to his one, I’ve just added a product or two.
He’s preoccupied with applying an anti-ageing face cream when he asks me the question that I’ve been dreading. “Has anyone died?” I pick at a thread on the sleeve on my cardigan before nodding.
“Grandad died the Summer before 6th year,” he glances at a picture of his Grandad that sits on one of his shelves, looking sombre, “and Anne died the Summer after 6th year.”
My heart breaks as I watch his face fall. We both stay silent for a moment as we think about the loss of my aunt. He’s watched her battle cancer for a few years now and I hate to bear the news that she’ll ultimately lose that battle.
He doesn’t ask any more questions about that. I understand his urge to brush over the news.
“Are you still as close with Gran?” He asks. The question has an uncertain tone to it, almost like he’s reluctant to know the answer. It’s a reasonable question. I’m sure he’s looked at my clothes and my hair and my lipstick and wondered how the people around me have reacted to it all.
“Even closer,” I respond, “now that I live in Dublin I get to see her nearly every week. She’s extremely supportive and very proud of everything I’m doing.”
He beams momentarily before looking concerned again. “You said she almost died last year?”
I nod slowly. “She went in for a routine operation and there were some complications,” I say in a monotone. “It was extremely frightening and things looked very dire at some points, but she’s made something of a miraculous recovery. It was pretty amazing to see.”
His eyes widen, “she has such strength doesn’t she?” I nod. “That sounds like it was pretty awful.” His eyes meet mine.
I drop my gaze, “it was, but it wasn’t all bad. I spent a lot of time in the hospital for a couple of months. It meant that I was getting a huge amount of quality time with Gran, Olive, Mam and all the rest of the people who would visit. In fact, I’d honestly say I’m closer to all of them because of the experience.”
“How long was she in there?” He asks. “She went in in August for an overnight procedure and she was discharged in December. She actually came down to stay here for Christmas. We all felt very lucky to get to spend the holidays with her for another year.”
He smiles and touches a polaroid of him sitting with her that’s stuck up over his desk. “That’s so lovely.”
“What about the others?” He asks, looking back towards the mirror.
“There’s no relation that I don’t get along with,” I assure him. I go to plays with my uncle Christy a few times a year and because of recent circumstances, I see Mam’s side of the family a lot.”
“I don’t actually get to see Dad’s side very often anymore. That’s partly my fault. I’m so busy with everything that’s going on that it’s near impossible to do visits, but I’m going to try to improve on that because I really don’t want to feel estranged from anyone.”
He nods and I make a mental note to carry through on that promise.
His ancient looking (to me) phone buzzes on the dressing table and he purses his lips as he responds to whatever message he just received. Sensing he needs to be getting on his way, I stand up and reapply my nude lipstick in the mirror. He watches me with the fascinated expression he seems to get whenever I do something like this.
As we walk down the stairs, I look towards the massive rug in our hall. “You’d miss the dogs waiting at the bottom of the stairs for you wouldn’t you?” He nods and looks uncertain. “Do you still have them?”
I bite my lip for a second, composing myself before I answer. We still have Maggie yes, but Alfie died unexpectedly in January. I choke up slightly as I think about our beloved sheepdog, the loss of whom still plays on my mind every day. I don’t think I’ve really processed the fact that he’s not waiting down in Wexford for me to come home anymore.
He composes himself again pretty quickly. He’s a positive person, but I think he probably feels like the future, like the person standing in front of him is a long way away.
And I suppose he isn’t wrong. I do feel very disconnected from the person that he is, for an awful lot of reasons. That’s the very reason I’ve reached out to him in the first place. I wanted to at least try to reconnect to him in some way.
It’s funny because everyone around me acts like time is always flying, but I don’t really feel the same. In fact, I’ve been through so much in the last few years that when I look back, it feels as though I’ve had all the time in the world. This makes me happy, that I don’t feel like I’ve lost a moment.
I open the front door and step out onto the doorstep. He leans in to hug me this time. I feel the way he twists his body slightly as my arms go around him, trying to make it seem bigger, healthier, more acceptable than it actually is.
“You look lovely,” I inform him, gesturing towards his brightly coloured outfit. He smiles in a way that’s not at all self-conscious. He believes me. After spending time on his fashion and his beauty regimes he feels like he looks good. I can really respect that. It’s his main way of coping with getting constantly stared at and it genuinely works.
“Thanks. We’re going to the beach,” he rolls his eyes good-naturedly. I feel a jolt of sympathy in my gut.
The beach trips. Sitting with the bags, fully dressed while everyone goes swimming. The constant questioning as to why he isn’t going in. The panic in his stomach as people ask him why he won’t expose his body.
“Are my friends still obsessed with going to the beach?” He asks before tilting his head slightly. “Do my friends live in Dublin actually?”
The question surprises me. I look down at my feet and shrug. He can’t imagine a future without his friends, but it’s coming sooner than he thinks. “We’ll talk about it next time,” I assure him, turning on my heel and heading back down the driveway. I can feel his gaze on me as I exit the gate.
I immediately begin thinking about how I’m going to tell him everything that happens with his friends.
I’m certain that it won’t be easy.
Listen to my sister and I discuss racism below:
Read about how I doubt myself here.