B and I had dinner out a few nights ago. We had words. A disagreement. I upset him, I think that’s closer to the truth.
I have a problem lately in that when we go out for dinner, the conversation is stilted. I’ve spent my day at work so I can easily talk about what I’m working on, what a ridiculous colleague said to me today, a pointless meeting I attended etc. When it comes round logically to B’s turn to speak, it all goes quiet.
There are a few issues here. The first is that B, by the very nature of his days at the moment, isn’t doing much that he can talk about. Having a nap and putting a load of washing on probably doesn’t seem worth mentioning. It’s been even worse lately as he’s been ill. He’s barely left the house.
B is naturally a solitary person, but it worries me that this situation is making him even more insular. Sometimes several days will pass in which his only human interaction has been with me. I know what you’re thinking: ‘lucky devil’. But it really can’t be healthy.
He’s aware of this and agrees with me, but so far isn’t doing a lot to change it. I know that since the brain surgery his speech is not as proficient as it was before. It’s not something that is immediately noticeable to others, but he needs to think more before he speaks, and he often chooses simpler words to say than he would have previously.
B’s speech exercises have fallen by the wayside too, although he will be seeing a speech therapist again in a few weeks. In my opinion he needs to do a lot more reading aloud and writing and many other things, but I can’t force him and I won’t continually nag him about it.
I’m not asking him to join a support group and sit around in a circle talking about cancer, but I do think he needs to be more social. Even incidental communication with others ‘in the community’ would be helpful. The longer he avoids it, the harder it’s going to be.
The other issue is that being German, B doesn’t do small talk. For Brits (and Australians) casual chitchat is essential to social interaction. Not for the Deutsch. The German edition of Paddington Bear is an amusing and illuminating example.
This exchange of small talk occurs in the English original: “‘Hallo Mrs Bird,’ said Judy. ‘It’s nice to see you again. How’s the rheumatism?’ ‘Worse than it’s ever been’ began Mrs. Bird.”
In the German edition, this passage is simply cut.
Therefore while it’s relatively easy for me to blather on about mundanities, B finds it considerably more difficult. Even before the tumour, he could be conversational hard work at times.
So the other night, did I discuss these factors calmly and rationally with B? Not quite. I stalked off to the bathroom, asking him to think of something to talk to me about while I was away. I returned. I said ‘I just want to have a normal conversation that isn’t about cancer!’ He got upset. I felt like a right bitch. Situation normal.
I’ve since apologised (again) and everything is fine between us. These little things seem to come up all the time now. It feels as if the cancer is insidious, not only in its relentless pursuit of B’s brain but also in the way it infiltrates our relationship. Or perhaps I’m just in the mood for melodrama today.