Saturday, 16 April 2016

Rant: Things not to say - part 2

How are you?

Why do we say this every time we see someone? It begs only one response. Fine. Or other pointless rejoinders. And how many of us are really fine? When someone stops me at the school gates and says 'how are you?' as they're pushing a buggy with one hand and looking over their shoulder at a toddler, what do they want me to say? That I am desolate today, thank you. That I'm struggling. That my eyelids are a fragile dam barely holding back the torrent of tears that are waiting to fall as soon as they turn their back.

Unable to say fine, I sometimes say "up and down" and immediately find myself wondering where exactly the 'up' has been. I'm a writer and a pedant. Inaccurate words won't do. Rough to putrid my dad used to say. Maybe that would work. Down to desperate, maybe? Or perhaps I should say that I'm swimming on, but that there's an undercurrent of sadness pulling me under from time to time. Or maybe I should try a meteorological reply. Say that, at the moment, it's mostly clouds with occasional downpours and the threat of thunder.

I know they mean well and that I am bitter and unforgiving. That, if everyone ignored me, I'd feel worse. That it's just a British custom, like talking about the weather. But at least the weather is something we could agree on.
"Nice day for the time of year."
"Yes indeed it is. Horrible time I'm having but at least the sun is shining."

His mum understands. She phones me every day or two and says "I won't ask you how you are. We don't do that do we, you and me." We know that we are not ok and that the passing of another 24 hours or 72 hours has not moved us into a new zone where everything is better now.

I wonder what the right question is. A friend asked me today what the right thing would be. I'm still not sure. I said maybe "what's happening?" might be better, though that sounds a bit too hip and happy. But it feels more like an open question that invites a response: I'm feeling blue or, this week I've been sorting through his things. Or, as a friend said tonight, "how has this week been?" At least it's a question that suggests that this week has probably been tricky and full of complexity and that maybe she has time to wait for a lengthy reply.

If there isn't time, I don't know, maybe let me just get the child to school without asking how I am. Observe the clouds and the thunder on my face and steer clear. Let me settle him on his carpet space with a smile and let the dam burst when he's gone. And maybe later, when you have time, I'll tell you what's happening and how I'm feeling and that today, it rained again.