Friday 19th May
Part Three – The Falling Apart
11) And then it ended
Jane realized that what caused her the most difficulty, the hardest thing to adjust to, was when Harriet went to University. She was eighteen and Jane was just sixteen, and though it had been expected and they had both known that it would happen for ages, it still came as an awful shock to her. She was on her own now, well not totally, because she came back lots of weekends and for long breaks during the holidays too. But for the first time she could remember she was walking to school on her own. Even when Harriet was going to Grammar School for those two years before Jane joined her she would walk most of the way to Jane’s school with her and they simply couldn’t wait to meet up again after school.
Jane remembers clearly the day she left for Leeds, well they all left for Leeds of course; Daddy drove the family there in the Bentley. And though it took hours and hours and they didn’t get back until the early hours of the Sunday, it didn’t hit home that she wasn’t coming back in the car with them, until all of a sudden, Harriet was waving them goodbye outside the halls of residence. Jane twisted round on the back seat to get that last glimpse of her smiling face and waving hand. And though she had assured Jane that she would be okay, that she would be fine on her own, Jane didn’t really believe her. It felt like betrayal, the greatest betrayal you could imagine, and though of course it was no such thing and Jane knew that deep down, it didn’t stop the feeling of loss and hurt. And Jane just couldn’t get over this feeling that somehow Harriet had let her down, she had always insisted she would never leave Jane, and here she was doing just that – leaving her.
And she was simply lost without her, or so it seemed to Jane at the time. She was just going through the motions, behaving as if nothing mattered when all the time there was this great big hole inside her, and the strange thing was that nobody noticed. They all thought she was fine. They all thought nothing had changed. But it had. Never more, she thought, would she be that confident young girl that she had so successfully been alongside her sister. And though she still performed, still smiled and went to parties and dressed to kill, she was empty inside. It was all an act; she was acting every day and crying every night. Crying for herself and for the sister she had lost, because despite Harriet coming back for the holidays she was most certain she had lost her.
And in truth, she had. She came back for holidays and for quite a few weekends but Jane had lost her already. She had new friends, and talked of new bands she had seen, and of her classes, and of the lectures, which Jane had no way of sharing – and she knew she had lost her. In so many ways Stowmarket had been too small for her, even Suffolk was too limited a stage for Harriet; she needed the world. And she was visibly bored with them now, with their old friends, with the Mikado, their very own coffee shop with its’ formica-topped tables and shiny juke box; and worst of all, she was even bored with Jane. She didn’t have to tell her of course, it was simply obvious. And though she still smiled, it wasn’t her old smile. This was a smile that, like in the song, ‘she kept in a jar by the door’. It was too sparkling, too affected, too instant, and Jane saw through it straightaway.
What she didn’t see through was the reason, why she had changed, because it wasn’t just University, it wasn’t the new friends, the new music, all the new experiences and stuff she was learning. Learning had never meant that much to Harriet, it had always been too easy for her, and she had never loved knowledge for knowledge sake, she just excelled at it so easily and all the reflected praise, the gold stars, the prefecture, being made head girl, it had never seemed an end in itself. Not the pursuit of knowledge so much maybe as the knowledge of pursuit.
She excelled because excelling made her liked, because that was what Harriet lived for – to be liked, well – adored, really. The centre of the circle, the it-girl, the one they all looked up to, that was what Harriet had craved, had been living for really, and for as long as Jane could remember. And in a way Jane had loved that too, because, as her sister she became the second most popular girl, the most coveted friend – she was someone too.
But now it was all false, it was as if they had become two actors in the Harriet and Jane show; Harriet putting on a show for Jane and everyone else that she was the same Harriet she had always been, and Jane pretending she was still the same happy-go-lucky sister of Harriet she too had been. And Jane thought that they were both desperately unhappy inside, and of course the greatest tragedy was that neither of them was being honest with each other and admitting it. If only they could have just let down their masks and been themselves again, if they could have just been open and honest about how they were feeling then maybe it would have been alright, maybe they could have recovered the situation and really sorted themselves out.
But what neither of them had appreciated at the time was that they were such a dysfunctional family in the first place. Why was it that neither Harriet nor Jane had cared, really cared about their parents? And that was of course because their parents hadn’t really cared about them. And why was that? Why were they so ignored, so – just left to themselves so much that they didn’t feel they needed their parents either? Their mother was such an ethereal creature that Jane sometimes had difficulty in even remembering, or considering her at all. She always seemed more interested in her friends than the girls. She would leave them all day with Aunt Julie or really anyone, anyone who would stand in for her; that the girls barely noticed if she were there or not. It had never bothered them at the time, it gave them a precious freedom, which most other children had been denied, but it also deprived them of that feeling of being loved, of being needed, of being valued.
And their father, their precious father, the solicitor who everyone in the town looked up to, where had he been all these years? When he wasn’t out visiting ‘some friend in a spot of trouble’ he would be closeted in his study, a scruffy and smelly old room with his big old desk and an armchair, hunting and fishing gear stashed in a corner. It had a really neglected feel about it and the girls weren’t really allowed to go in there, but would sometimes explore in their boredom. He used to escape there most evenings, as if the few short hours they might spend together each day were just too much for him. So, they had been left on our own for far too long, and by both of them, and now the chickens were truly coming home to roost. When they needed at least one parent to talk to, there was no-one, no history of talking with them, no easy way to get started at all.
And for her part Jane never even considered it. She had always had Harriet to talk to; but after Harriet left for University she felt so bereft of any purpose in life that she just drifted around, putting in her appearance at school, hanging out at the Mikado, accepting invites to parties but turning up and being bored, accepting petty advances from boys but feeling nothing, no thrill at all in those kisses, and too bored to even stop the octopus hands trying to grope her. She felt nothing, so nothing really mattered. But she never did that; a bit too much sense, or fear, deep down to do that.