We all do it. I do it all the time. It’s just what we do when we’re faced with a friend who is having a terrible time and there’s nothing we can do or say to help, but we want to show how much we care about and support them. We want to acknowledge how horrible what they’re going through is, but we also want to offer some kind of solution, a verbal hug, and, before we know it, we’ve started a sentence with the words “at least”.
Sometimes it’s bleakly funny (“at least you don’t have to use the bathroom after E anymore”), but often it’s just a bit disheartening, the opposite of a hug. It’s one of the reasons I tend to confine my thoughts and experiences regarding E to this blog these days and don’t really talk about it (unless asked) in person. I know it’s kindly meant, I know it’s usually a genuine expression of support, but I must admit I brace myself and grit my teeth when I hear the words “at least.”
It tends to be said after I’ve confided about what’s happened with E, or what I’m worried about happening in the future, and instead of just saying “fuck, that’s shit – would you like me to help you bury his body?”, the words “at least” creep unbidden from their mouth and before you know it you’ve been told to look on the bright side.
When I’ve said that I’ve been worried sick about what will happen with E and money, I’ve been answered with “at least, he’s still paying the mortgage.” If I’ve fretted over where the kids and I will live if we sell the house, I’ve been told “at least you have a home to sell”. When I’ve explained that I struggle to function some days because of depression, I’ve been told “at least you’re getting treatment for your illness.” When I fret over the kids and how they are, I get “at least they’re all healthy.”
Do you know what? I know I’m lucky to have a home, I know I’m lucky to not have a terminal illness. I count my blessings every day and I am overwhelmingly grateful that my kids are healthy and well and I never take any of the amazing things in my life for granted. I also know that there are loads of people who are much worse off than me – that there are people dying of cancer and people sleeping on the streets – and I’m massively grateful that I’m not one of them. But sometimes there’s no escaping the fact that what has happened, what is happening, is completely rubbish and, constructive and optimistic as I always try to be, on some days there is no escaping the rubbishness of it.
I caught myself doing it yesterday; a friend, who had broken her leg, confided in me about how horrible it was being on crutches, not be able to drive and not being able to get about like normal, I said something like ‘at least you’ve got a brilliant excuse to be waited on.’ As soon as I’d said it, I realised what a stupid thing it was to say – what I should have said was “that’s crap and I’m so sorry you’re having a rubbish time, I wish I could help.”
“At least” is the well-intentioned, more pleasant, younger brother of the over-worthy older sibling “you’re lucky”. I’ve lost count of the number of “you’re lucky’s” I experienced when E first left – most of them along the lines of ‘you’re lucky, my friend had to bring up four children on her own too but she had no maintenance, no job and lost her home.” “You’re lucky” is slightly more censoriousness than “at least” because it implies you’re ungrateful for, or oblivious to, the good things in your life. At least “at least” is meant kindly I suppose.
Anyway, this month (so far) E hasn’t paid me any money at all and it’s horrible. I’m not sure if he’s just making a point because I’ve ignored, then blocked, his emails, and is now trying to bully me into selling the house by demonstrating how easily he can withdraw his financial support. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s in so much financial strife that he genuinely can’t pay another penny. Whatever the reason, it’s cruel, it’s deeply distressing and it’s hurting the kids and I hugely. If he doesn’t pay anything into my account this month I literally won’t be able to feed us all in a couple of weeks’ time. Ah well, “at least” I have a well-stocked freezer.
Also, on the plus side, “at least” I’ve thought of a few other places I can hide the body if anyone wants to help…