Closer than a brother

As I sit here, thinking what to write, I can hear my husband and his friend chatting upstairs, reminiscing about cycling trips through Wales, camping trips and boyish escapades. Both are from Chester in Britain.

Their relationship is something very precious. Both are now 68 years old but have known each other over half a century, coming to Canada at about the same time, and then deciding to go into business together. They never miss calling on birthdays or Christmas and have been there for each other through death and divorce, and now through illness.

For me, it is difficult to imagine holding a relationship so dear for so many years. I love and leave them quite easily, moving on means making a break with ties. I wonder if that is a characteristic or learned behaviour? I do not have the roots my husband has, maybe I can make that excuse.

My mother, who was an asthmatic, died when I was four in the great London smog of Christmas 1950. My father was away in Iraq working on the oil pipeline in Kirkuk, he had been told to get his wife out of England to a drier climate, but he wasn’t able to do it fast enough. He never really recovered from what he perceived as his failure to my mother, and he became an alcoholic. Perhaps he would have done so anyway, maybe that was just his excuse.

I was sent to an aunt for a while, no one ever explained to me where my mother had gone or why. After that I saw my father about every two years when he came back on leave, but when I turned nine I was considered old enough to travel by myself to the Middle East for the summer holidays, unfortunately by then my father was a stranger to me.

Later, I was sent to a boarding school in Ascot, UK where I remained until I was sixteen. Boarding school is a very unnatural institution, survival of the fittest probably would explain it best. Join the group or go under. I have never been a groupie so I learned to like my own company, and I still do. One of the drawbacks of going away to school is that you do not have any buddies for the holidays. You don’t know anyone, plus being parcelled out to different relatives for vacations you spent most of your time alone then also. When I went out to the middle east for summer vacations I met others who also attended boarding schools, and friendships simply did not have the time to grow and what was the point, you may never see them again.

By all that I don’t mean to imply that it was anyone’s fault, or in fact that it was so terrible, but I think my personality has made adjustments, maybe I would be a different person if I had had siblings, or a close family life. The relatives I stayed with were kind, but they were not close, in fact the very nature of boarding school, I found, was to wean one away from family. We had nothing in common anymore.

Are we truly a product of our environment, or do we just like to make that excuse?

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