“In the months that followed, my grief became disturbed by a guilty sense that very little had changed: with the passage of time Mama was barely less present than she’s been during the many years in which, separated by an airplane journey, we’d spoken once or twice a month on the telephone and seen each other for a week or two in a year. At first, I understood my uneasiness as the product of self-accusation: I had incriminated myself, perhaps inevitably, on a charge of filial absenteeism. But soon a still more disquieting idea took possession of my thoughts-namely that my mother had long ago become an imaginary being of sorts.” – Joseph O’Neill, Netherland
I read this part of Joseph’s novel about a week ago, and it made me cry, feel sad, guilty, and far away from my family and friends. “Did he really write this? Could he really have felt this?” and “Shit, why can I identify with this so much?”…
And I do…identify with what he wrote…how this character feels. A disconnect, partly because of the distance/time difference, but also due to the completely different lives we have. You know, even though my parents have visited me at most places I’ve lived, they still don’t know all my friends, what I do every day at work, how I feel about life decisions I’m struggling with and so on. So the times I talk to my parents online, with the web cam, most of the things are just small talk, little things of nothingness or a brief summary of something that would be too far away from what they can comprehend in such a short time span.
And this is part of my life…the life I choose to live. Moved around much, long flight away from friends and family, 9 hour time difference which complicates calling, and this brings a disconnection with some loved ones on other sides of the world.
A couple of years ago I wrote about the guilt feeling I had to work through thinking about what would happen if something happens with my sister, who’s mentally handicapped. Do I give up my life here, or wherever, to be a bigger part in her life? The answer to that is no, I shouldn’t, and I won’t. Will I go back to visit her more often? Yes, if work and money allows me too. That’s also a big thing: time off and money to be able to make the trip back to visit family and friends. So far I have been able to go back once ever year and a half or so. But a lot can happen in that time. I missed joyful and sad, difficult moments in the lives of my family and friends. The following is just one example of feeling so far away:
The last time I was in Amsterdam, January 2008, I stayed with “the female version of me”, my friend Kaline, who moved into her first bought home together with her boyfriend a couple of days before I arrived. I was able to share that moment with them. Since then, Kaline became pregnant, gave birth, suffered complications right after the delivery of my Goddaughter Senne, and has been struggling since then with adjusting to this new life of hers.
I missed every part of her pregnancy, the birth of her beautiful baby girl, the moments after that, and the last couple of weeks when she was going through though times. Guilty. I feel extreme sadness and guild for not having been there for Kaline when she needed me. Maybe it’s also a selfish sadness of thinking that I’m not even needed anymore, that they can and have gone through everything without me.
So I cried last night. I cried myself to sleep, feeling the pain of my “other half” Kaline, the pain of feeling I failed my friend, the sadness of having missed one of the most joyful moments of her life…my life.
And the knowledge of that there will be many more of those moments, not just in Kaline’s life, but in many lives of my family and friends because of the distance now, and in the future. The physical distance that keeps us apart, but will hopefully never disconnect us.