It’s a night so cold you’d think snowflakes are about to fall from the darkness any second onto the metal rails of the Millennium Bridge, swung open and unblinking like an eye – as it was designed – the outer rim of its top lid blazing in changing colours that brighten up the night, set aside from the surrounding white lights of cafés, hotels, the Sage, the Baltic, and those trees dressed in Christmas wires woven around their branches, the small bulbs of which cause them to sparkle between the tables and chairs outside the Pitcher & Piano that you can still see from the bridge if you look back over your shoulder.
We’re stood above a black river whose bed knows a bicycle that a drunk let slip out of his grip during the New Years’ fireworks display a couple of years ago when I was still at uni, and we’d all thought someone had jumped into the Tyne. But it may as well be an abyss in this moment with its waves unseen as if now part of a gaping hole and so I choose instead to look with complete focus at the blazing outer rim which has changed into a luminous red and will stay like that in our minds as my cousin tells me what I’ve missed of her life.
She tells me about her experiences with the mercy of a tone that makes it all seem as though we do this often. We pretend as if this is just one catch-up alongside many others been and gone, as if this is our regular meet-up place, in a time when the spotlights are on everything, and yet the night is so dead that the combination makes it seem as though everyone can see everyone and hear everything being said. And yet it is night – a time in which the blaring light doesn’t cast pressure upon anyone to behave in any certain way; you behave in any which way, the light is simply something beautiful to stare into – to talk to, no matter who’s listening.
I’ve been here before with friends, on my own, in the car, walking. I live in this city; I’ve seen its metropolitan landscapes as a student, mostly as an individual. But right now I’m experiencing all of this for the first time with the person who, in terms of blood and childhood memories, is the closest to me as a sister anyone can come, and I had forgotten the truth of this for the past few years. I’d forgotten how grounded that can make you feel. There are a lot of issues within our extended family. I won’t go into any details of what has been amiss, whose mistakes, what has been neglected etc. There have been many divisions, patched up by no one. All of this was mostly before we were born and no one has had much interest in reconnecting relations within our family.
‘I’m sure you could probably tell I was suffering anorexia,’ she mentions it so casually that I’m reminded of the way people in our family seem to walk calmly through their tornadoes.
‘I was almost not gonna make it. I couldn’t even get out of bed at one point. My dad was crying in the hospital.’
I think of her father, my uncle who I hardly know, and wonder about the extended family I’ve always seen as cold and am shocked that someone cares for someone else, am shocked by the beauty of a scene of my uncle crying for his daughter.
‘They were going to send me to some place in Glasgow for treatment.’
‘It was that serious? How did you sort it out?’
She grins, ‘Your wedding. I said to my dad that I have to go to Roszeen’s wedding no matter what and that was the motivation for me.’
I have to blink and look elsewhere quickly to avoid her losing me to tears. And what shocks me more than anything else is that I’d wanted to speak to her a lot these past years, and more so than ever in the few months before my wedding. The feeling had been unparalleled; I’d felt an instinctual need to talk to her as if it was of the utmost importance beyond a feeling of guilt of having cut off from someone who was like a sister. I’d had no way of knowing what she was going through, but finding out that it was her will to be a part of the biggest day of my life which led to her beginning to recover made me understand more about the strength of bonds. Though younger than me my cousin understands the word family much more than I do when I’ve always seen extended family as a system of blood relations which have no emotional importance other than what is placed within them through societal norms; norms we’ve not been given in our family to care an ounce for each other – or so I thought, because her actions have changed my mind about that, and I guess that I’d just completely forgotten our youth.
My cousin’s recovery is miraculous, not that she lets that be a lingering thought between us, and we exchange memories this time from the things we’ve lived together.
Grounded. That’s exactly how you feel when someone talks about something you’ve experienced together so that for once it doesn’t feel like you’ve entered into an outside conversation. Grounded. That’s how you feel when someone can complete your memories, how you feel when someone has the same opinions about someone else’s deeds without you having to explain why you’ve come to such conclusions. Grounded is how you feel when someone speaks the same language as you, how you feel when someone is going through experiences you know how to guide them through because somewhere in the past you were taught the same things, or you taught them the things you were taught.
I could have helped her a great deal through her struggles. We could have been there for each other. We’ve seen the veins of our loved ones broken off in the body of our family and the blood of relationships and meaning and love spilling into a drain because no one seems to appreciate these things. We’re learning from the mistakes of the previous generations. We’re trying to make things better, and we’re starting from sincerity and religion.
Through this one conversation I’ve also been able to think about the other relationships in my life. I’m happy and grateful for the new family Allah has blessed me with that have come as a gift through my marriage. Alhamdulillah. I could not take them for granted even if I tried. In fact, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the warmth of the love from my family – both through blood and marriage – that I sometimes fear doing something wrong which would lessen these bonds, and sometimes the weight feels heavy and I am overwhelmed thinking of how to strengthen my relationships without constantly falling into the introverted separation my mind believes it needs in order to recharge so that it can get through life. My views of family and my distance in general is something I’m slowly being taught to reassess and correct. Practicalities of life stop me from spending as much time as I would like with my family which has now grown so much bigger alhamdulillah, and I need to do more to change this and myself.
But what I would say to the people that are warming my blood, in’sha Allah, is that I’m learning that the sweetest and warmest moments are from the heart and so I’m learning to keep my heart present when we meet, as well as throwing a rope for any bridges burnt.