"Sometimes, I wish you were more selfish, so I could be more selfish and not feel bad about it"Nick Bartlett

For as long as I can remember, I have always been described in relation to you. There is a photo of you as a child: a white summer dress balloons in the sunshine, your body angled away from the camera. Short, cropped hair falls just below your ears, swinging above your shoulders, white as sugar. I had the same hair as a child. And, I suppose, people saw this as the first of many parallels.

Lockdown was always going to be difficult for you – difficult for anyone, and everyone, but particularly for you. I don’t say that in an accusatory way. Hear me out first, Mum! Prior to lockdown, and when I was living at home, I would bump into you each week rushing out the door. A hamper, or box of miscellaneous food packages – jams, brownies, biscuits, cheeses, fruits – obscured the bottom half of your face. “Arnie’s Mum is unwell, darling. I’ll be back in an hour.” And, the next day – “Aunty Ann has bronchitis again, you know how much it knocks her around.” Smack. I picked up the bottle of Armaforce – a naturopathic medicine you swear by, placed it in the inside corner of the box and watched you stride out the gate. I marvel at the time and energy you put into the people in your life. It makes sense though; I don’t know a more loved person in this world than you.

“You found any excuse to knock on my door, to interact with me”

In the period from August to September – the harshest of the lockdowns in Melbourne – we fought and we made up and we fought. I was working long hours at the time; taking the overnight shifts with Thibault, working from midday one day until early morning the next. I almost always arrived home depleted. Into bed I went. And, bang, went the slam of my door. You found any excuse to knock on my door, to interact with me, or to engage with me during the day. “What’s on this morning, darling?” “Darling, just making some tea. Would you like some?” “Do you want to have lunch together, darling? No pressure!”

Nick Bartlett

The little time I had to myself, I wanted to spend alone: not with family, nor friends, or anyone for that matter. “Darling, do you want to go for a walk together?” An exasperated sigh in response – one which I had hoped would be inaudible, but which snaked out of the corner of my mouth, rotated one hundred and eighty degrees and sank its claws into you standing at my bedroom door. After that, there was nothing else I could say to convince you otherwise. “Darling, you know there’s never any pressure. I just love spending time with you.” “But Mum, I genuinely want to go for a walk with you; I wouldn’t go, if I didn’t want to.” If I said it with enough conviction, maybe you would believe me.

I hated the guilt I felt because I knew it wasn’t a reflection on you, but how do you convey that when rejection is rejection is rejection. “When I get home from work Mum, I just want to be by myself,” I said to you after a particularly difficult shift with Thibault. “But I feel pressure from you to hang out.” And the look you gave me, made it even worse, because, above all else, you understood. I saw you pushing down your own disappointment, the pain you felt at your son not matching your excitement at the prospect of spending time with one another, and, in its place, you elevated empathy. As always, you managed to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own.

“But we can’t control time: only how we use it”

Then, there was my departure to university which further compounded the absence of physical interaction in your new lockdown existence. At first, it seemed so far away, an oasis that shimmered in and out of focus, irrelevant so long as it remained on the horizon. But we can’t control time: only how we use it. I knew you were bracing for its impact. Though when it came, there was nothing against which to brace. I was there, and then I wasn’t. There was no one to blame, and nothing to be done. The days came and went, and my bed remained empty. If I had been willing, you would have called every day. If it was possible. And, if I had been willing. But you knew that I needed space and freedom, and so you gave it to me.


Mountain View

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Every time. Every time, Mum, you find it in yourself to put our needs first. When I left, you cried. And between the tears, you told me how happy you were for me, how excited you were, how this is what I was supposed to do. When I became older, and my personality developed more and more, people stopped comparing us so much on the basis of our physical attributes; instead, they commented on the similarity of our hearts. Though I’m not sure I’m deserving of such a comparison. I don’t think anyone is, Mum.

Mum, I am grateful to you for so many reasons and there are too few words to do them justice. Sometimes, I wish you were more selfish, so I could be more selfish and not feel bad about it. But it’s not who you are, and I love who you are, and I consider myself the most fortunate son in the world.