They stopped speaking to each other decades ago, two cousins who lived within walking distance of one another, cousins who had been good friends, who had a shared history, who’d spent holidays and weekends and countless family celebrations together, who always got along until one of them couldn’t forgive what the other insists was an unintentional slight.
It’s water under the bridge now, for these two anyway. The cousin who is left to tell the story says, “I apologized. I told her I was sorry. I told her more than once.”
But sorry wasn’t enough for the other one. She never talked to her cousin again.
I don’t understand this “silent treatment,” though I know it well. I grew up in a home where silence was a form of communication. Not between my parents or among the three of us, because my father refused to play this game. If he had something to say, he said it, loud and clear.
But my mother? She and her sister spent so much time not talking to each other that if not talking were an Olympic sport they would have tied for the gold medal.
It hurts to think of all the days they wasted, days they could have been hanging out, laughing, scheming, going to movies and plays. They lost so many days that they never got back.
When they weren’t “not talking,” my mother and aunt were the best of friends, laughing on the phone, giggling at the kitchen table, trying on lipsticks at the five-and-ten, posing in one of those four-for-a-quarter picture booths like teenagers even when they were well into their 30s and 40s. Side by side. Arm in arm. Inseparable.
That’s how they were. Until some word. Some deed. Some miscommunication, some ridiculous thing triggered anger in one of them. Then Lorraine would be gone for months, no knock on the door, no stop by for coffee, no long phone calls late at night.
Nothing but silence, sometimes for days, sometime for months.
I remember one December, they weren’t speaking. I remember that almost every night, for all the weeks leading up to Christmas, my mother would come home from work carrying some little gift she’d bought on her lunch hour for Lorraine or Frank or one of their kids. I remember watching her wrap these gifts. She made red-and-green plaid bows — there weren’t pre-made bows in those days — and she made name tags and carefully printed each name in red pen. And every night she’d place the newest gift in a big Jordan Marsh shopping bag, which she eventually put under our tree.
I remember how I stood looking out our dining room window that Christmas Day, staring at my aunt through the thin pane of glass. There she was in the front seat of the shiny, green car my uncle drove. And there she stayed.
She sent my uncle and cousins to the door with our gifts. My father got the shopping bag from under the tree, handed it to Frank, hugged the girls, and everyone said thank you. And then they turned and walked down the steps back to their car. I caught my aunt’s eye as they drove away. I waved, and she waved back. And then they were gone.
A day? A week? A month later? There they were buddies again, Lorraine back at our kitchen table, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and making my mother laugh. As if all the weeks before had never happened.
“What did you and my mother argue about that Christmas?” I asked my aunt after my mother died. As hard as she tried, she could not remember.
Time is precious and finite. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Not talking is a tragic waste of what is non-renewable currency. My mother and aunt eventually learned this. But those two cousins? They learned it too late.Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.