Before you start thinking this is a COMING OF AGE story, I’ d like to point out that once I’d gleefully cast off the plague shroud of my virginity precisely NOTHING changed. It was, I’ll admit, a bit of a relief but I didn’t feel like ‘a woman’ – I didn’t start wearing trouser suits or using ‘bronzer’. I still don’t know what that does. In fact, as Christmas came around I saw less of my friends and reverted to a stroppy adolescent state instead.
This is going to sound INSANE, but now that I had friends I actually liked, school was preferable to being at home. Christmas actively removed me from them, dragging me Up North for ‘family time’. I wanted to die. We had to stay with my Auntie Minna and Uncle Sarwat: awful people who were the very definition of money not buying class – the sort of people who tell you exactly how much things cost as they recount stories. ‘Oh it was beautiful, but you’ll never guess how much it set us back….go on….GUESS.’
Even worse were my cousins. Naveen is a fat dope-fiend who can do no wrong in his parent’s eyes while Anjali looks like a human Bratz doll and has roughly the same IQ. They thought I was a freak and for the first time I was proud of the fact. I spent most of the stay trying to weird them out on purpose: talking to my split ends and pretending to go into demonic trances – chanting fake Latin under my breath. Up North, you have to make your own fun. You want freak, I thought, I’ll give you freak. I also managed to convince Anj that I’d seen a little ghost boy in Victorian clothing squatting in the cupboard under the stairs. I was especially chuffed with that one.
Christmas morning at Grandma’s was equally depressing. She’s not entirely on- board with us doing Christmas in the first place, but as long as we also make a fuss for Diwali, she lets it slide. I swear time with your family contains EXTRA HOURS to normal days – it dragged forever. At present giving time, I was given an Ice Age boxset. ‘Well you like cartoons,’ Mum explained and I could have cried. ANIME IS NOT CARTOONS.
It actually made me feel really guilty. Not only did my parents no longer know me AT ALL, but they’d pissed, I’d estimate, over a hundred quid up the wall on stuff I’d never use. What a waste. I guess it’s partly my fault for not communicating clearly enough and I should be grateful, I know…poor kids in African orphanages and all that.
After the obscenely huge, sprout-filled, banquet dinner, Dad suggested a game of Monopoly before Doctor Who. Nav always cheats and Dad always catches him and it devolves into tears and recriminations every year so I opted out. I decided to do the altruistic thing and go help Mum and Auntie Minna in the kitchen.
I stopped outside the kitchen door, which stood ajar. I could hear sniffling, sobbing. It was Mum. I pressed myself into the alcove by the back door to spy. ‘I’m being so silly,’ Mum said. I wondered if she’d reached the tipping point with the Chablis and the port. ‘I just feel like I’m all by myself down there, you know what I mean?’
‘You’ll settle in,’ Minna told her, trying to be soothing. ‘Give it a bit more time.’
‘I am in that house all by myself all day long. I never bloody see Eric and Vicky’s always out with her friends.’ That was a mighty tit-punch of guilt right there.
‘Well how’s the job hunt going?’ I could hear her loading plates into the dishwasher as she spoke.
‘There’s nothing. Absolutely sod all. I just…I just hate it, Min.’
‘Well…well what are you going to do about it?’
‘There’s nothing I can do is there? I just don’t know.’ My eyes stung. I’d been so selfish and so immature. Immature to think that my dad uprooting us would only affect me, me pirouetting at the centre of my own jewellery box universe. I never stopped to even think what Mum had left behind – a job, her friends, her family.
I took for granted that my parents would always be together. Not because I was stupid but because I thought they were about as happy as two people who’d been married for fifteen years could be. That they’d accepted their concurrent life sentences. She wouldn’t leave would she?
A worse thought entered my head. Would that be such a bad thing? That little voice was pushed right to the back under a pile of mental junk mail. That was a terrible thing to think. For better or worse, they balanced each other out. Without each other, Dad would basically become a hobo and God only knew how much Mum would drink if he wasn’t around to tut at her.
‘Just ignore me!’ Mum said. ‘I’ve had too much to drink.’ Well that was certainly true. But it was another thing to worry about. Another inconvenient angst nugget to go with all the others. I’d taken my eye off the ball with that one – even the things I thought I had nailed down were starting to slide around the deck.
I tried to cheer up for the rest of the day. I didn’t let them know I’d heard the conversation in the kitchen but made the effort to be nicer to Mum. If nothing else, she deserved a stress-free Christmas, even if Doctor Who was the only highlight.
While I was away, of course, I text everyone back home constantly – we’d set up a chat group and almost live-blogged our respective holidays. I took comfort in knowing Polly was inching ever closer towards matricide, Beasley was fending off ‘when will you meet a nice girl?’ probes, and we all helped Daisy face what was by far the most challenging time of year. Nico had gone to Italy with his mum and sisters and the distance was torture. It turns out sex is quite addictive. Now that I’d started I didn’t want to stop. If that sounds slutty, that’s your problem.