Wendy Woolfson

Travelling Back Home

It was  my second day in a new job and I was travelling home on a train from Perth after an induction day when I received a text. It was from one of my brothers and effectively it was a suicide note. He’d sent it only to me, and my other brothers. I was with my manager who was sitting next to me. As I read the message a rush of adrenaline went through me. I glanced up at my manager who looked at me and smiled, and I returned his smile as best I could. When we arrived at our destination we said our goodbyes, and as I walked off I considered what I could do about this message. He was in trouble and needed me but he lived on the other side of the Atlantic. I had another train to catch so I got on it while I thought some more.

I walked off the second train up to the street and onto the bridge where I stopped to think. I looked over the edge of the railing into the raging waters below and I felt their anger. I felt his anger, and I felt my own too. I understood his message and all it meant because it was all I had felt over the years as well. This was before I had accessed any therapy and prior to any recovery of my own. I decided to just phone him. As I dialled his number it felt like an emergency call. I felt like I needed to save him. I believed I did. He answered straight away, thank God. I just got into it and asked him about his message and if he was thinking of killing himself. It was so long ago now, I really can’t remember the details of our conversation. What I do remember is that for the first time in our lives we both spoke the unspeakable. We talked about all the things we’d never talked about before. We’d hardly seen each other over the years and hardly even knew each other really. We weren’t close. But somehow that message opened something up and it all just came tumbling out.

It was as if we’d always talked like that, like it had all been waiting there, desperately waiting to be looked at. We marvelled at how we’d never discussed this stuff before. It was all about our childhoods. All about the unspeakable that neither of us had spoken about to anyone. Or if we had they hadn’t really fully understood what we meant or even believed us. But we had both grown up in the same house. We had seen and felt the same things and that was important; we knew it was real. We knew we weren’t lying. We knew what we were saying to each other had really happened. It was all true. We kept talking and looking for scenarios that matched up, and there were many situations and things that had happened, that concurred. The whole conversation was a revelation and we couldn’t believe that we’d never talked like this before.

It was a cold, dark February night as I paced up and down on that bridge stopping now and again to gaze into the dark, choppy waters and wonder what it would be like to throw myself over the top and into them. Meanwhile we talked and cried and talked. I talked him off the ledge, so to speak, and we agreed that after this we would keep on talking and that we would make everything okay. It was all going to be okay.

That was one of the hardest but most amazing conversations I’ve ever had. To find solace in the similarities we shared, to realise that it was all true, to remember the unrememberable. Most importantly to recognise that we were not going insane and we were not mad. It had all been true, and now, now he felt seen, and so did I. Now, he wouldn’t kill himself, he was going to be okay, and maybe I thought, I will be okay too.

As it transpires, we have both turned out to be okay in the end. I sought therapy and recovery. He talked to me and got a therapist too. We sorted ourselves out and did keep in touch and kept talking. It turns out that having a brother who grew up in the same household with similar experience is really important. It’s like having a witness, otherwise I would think I was making it all up. There were so many things we talked about that we both asked each other if it was true and what exactly happened. We were able to unpack it all and try our best to understand it. It really was incredible to suddenly have this person in my life that understood. We had always been brought up to be distant from our siblings. Love and closeness had not been encouraged so we all drifted apart. This was the beginning of us drifting back together, and today we’re all much closer and keep in touch, remember birthdays, visit each other, and care.

I don’t know how we all turned out so well considering the type of childhood we had which goes to show that we are in control of who we are. Abused people don’t necessarily become abusers. Some of us have had our issues, I certainly have with alcohol and self-harm which is something I’ll write about at some point. But I’ve got past it and recovered and I hope that’s encouraging to anyone who might be struggling who’s reading this.

As it transpired, that conversation was a catalyst and changed everything for me. It was a revelation that just a few days later would help me make one of the biggest decisions of my life.