Readers and friends,
I recognised so many of those names as they came into my inbox with donations. The 63 people who donated are people I've known personally for many years, people I've known through writing and blogging, people I've had heated arguments with in commboxes, people I've worked with, people you might have heard of, people I barely know and some I've never heard of until now. I'm astounded and humbled.
But I think perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, and I'll get to that more below.
To let you know, in the last few days, donations have covered the airfare for two friends, one coming over from Scotland for the first half of August and the other all the way from Raleigh, North Carolina, to stay for the second half.
There is also enough left over after airfares that ancillary medical fees will be easily covered at least for the next month.
My reaction to this has been a little surprising. I'm embarrassed. I feel as though I have gravely and unjustly underestimated ... well, everyone really. I have given my friends and readers and everyone one else terribly short shrift. The experience has shown me that I have a pretty deep-seated set of assumptions about people and that a lot of them are simply wrong.
Some of you may know that I left home very young and have very little family. By the time I was thirty, I'd been fending for myself in the world for half my life. I am often reticent to talk about my personal life as you know. I've learned that it does not do to share too much. But some of you know some of the background, so you will understand when I say that I have, what a friend calls, "family of origin issues" (the acronym is pronounced "phooey"). This has left me, as it will, with a profound distrust of other people and the assumption that when the chips are really down, I can count on no one but myself.
The other evening, I was having a talk about this with a friend. I was watching my friends here booking flights to go back "home" for their annual summer exodus from Rome, a process that usually leaves me somewhat depressed. It highlights the fact that there isn't really a "home" for me to go to. For as long as I can remember, whenever I am having one of those conversations, and the question arises, "What do you really want, Hilary?" my gut-instinct answer, the one hidden underneath a lifetime of cynicism and carefully trained wit, the one I never say out loud, is that I want to go home. It's been the one thing I've wanted since I was fifteen, and it's the one thing that will never, ever happen.
This year, it made me more than depressed to watch all my local friends leaving; it made me frightened. I hadn't bargained on the cancer thing still going on so late in the year. I got the diagnosis on March 9 and things have dragged and dragged. There were weeks of waiting for test results and whatever else it is one waits for in a public healthcare system. I don't know really how it happened so slowly, but now that things are finally happening fast, it is the worst possible time and I was in a near panic that I would be facing the worst part of it alone.
Until now, I've had a whole team of people to take phone calls from non-English speaking doctors, and to arrange appointments, to deal with government red tape, to make runs to the pharmacy when I can't, and one at a time, each one of these people has either left or will be gone soon.
I am now going to share: those of my readers who are like me and find such things excruciatingly embarrassing, should avert your eyes.
I've mentioned before, I think, how my brain is evil. Well, one of the elaborate theories my Evil Brain has come up with, and refuses to drop, is that there are two classes of relationships between people. Primary relationships are the ones that incur the most duties on the people in them. For the most part, they are the ones you are born with: mother, father, brother, sister, children. These are the kinds of relationships that take priority in life. When it is a choice between duty to one of these and anything else, that relationship takes first place. The only primary relationship you can acquire without being born into it is marriage.
Secondary relationships are everything else. Friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbours. With these, the duty is still there, but is not as strong. In a secondary relationship, you are bound to help when help is needed, but only so far as it does not interfere with other important things in life, with your duties to your family, say, or to work or school.
I don't have any primary relationships. My mother is dead, my father has been out of my life for decades; I'm an only child and so was my father, so there were no aunts, uncles or cousins. My mother was estranged from her family and I've never heard from any of them. Until I went back to England in 2008, I had not heard from my mother's foster family in Manchester since I was six.
I have been aware of this relationship hierarchy since I left home and was confronted with the reality of having no one in the world to really rely upon. It's a hard lesson to learn when you're a teenager, but at least in my case it was swift.
When I was fifteen, I took a bus from the arctic where I had been living with my mother and stepfather, back to Victoria. My father picked me up at the bus station. I stayed with him a week and then he told me we had an appointment with the family court. We went into a court room and my father told the judge that he didn't want to care for me and that I should be made a ward of the court. The papers were signed and I was taken from there to the first of a series of foster homes. I was a ward of the state until I was 19, then a social worker told me I had to get a job. I never heard from my father again.
I can imagine what you are thinking, having read this, and I'm right there with you (I can also hear a few of you saying, "It answers so many questions..."). But you might be surprised to hear that it did not occur to me until I was in my 30s that anything untoward had happened. It wasn't until I told it to a priest, who had been trained in psychology, and saw his reaction that I started to understand how appalling it was. At the time, I just accepted it and got on with surviving, which might have had something to do with my already well-developed familiarity with my father's character.
In the years since then, I have to admit that I have developed a set of emotional and psychological barriers to other people, that have shaped who I am and that would be very difficult to overcome. I can't assume that they are all bad, but there are ways in which they have hardened me.
All of which leads me back to the cancer crisis. This is really the first time that I've faced something with which I am actually not capable of dealing alone. This has, naturally, set up a kind of war between my ears. When the cancer thing started, my friends and helpers, co-workers and colleagues, readers and supporters, and a whole bunch of other people I've never met or heard of, all dove into the breach to help. Often without being asked. Despite this, my Evil Brain continues to insist that depending on another human being, particularly a group of humans, is at the very least, extremely unwise. It's a funny thing about habits of thought, as I'm sure any confessor will tell you, they powerfully resist the evidence of our senses.
I hardly know what to say at this stage. Everything I need to deal with this is in place. I suppose that my Evil Brain is more or less unkillable and I will continue to be "astounded" by people helping me. Maybe at some point, I'm going to give my friends the credit they deserve.
Until then, I hope y'all won't be offended by my surprise that you all are decent, kind, honourable and caring.
I'm really trying to be less of a jerk.