The Mingle by SJV
For many of us, The Mingle is an integral part of our lives. It starts young. From even before the first day at nursery or school. The urgency to ‘go play’, make friends, find your tribe. Anxious parents pray for a full turn-out for that first, crucial, birthday tea. Validation that their whispered insistence to share toys and time, be kind and join in, have worked. That first school report peppered with praise for their child’s caring nature, their built in acceptance for ‘different’ and ‘other’. Play date invitations. Playing nicely. Inclusion.
For sure, there’s always the quiet ones. Isolated. Maybe lonely. Always alone. Maybe shy. Those that shun The Mingle…
I wasn’t that ‘alone’ child, bar a brief, unwise, ‘goth’ period in the early ‘80s when I chose to scowl instead of smile and wander the corridors of Potter Street Secondary School by myself with the weight of the world, worn like a shawl around my shoulders, for an entire term.
Other than that, I’ve never lost that innate instinct to join in, play nicely, mingle.
Even throughout the difficult ‘Debt Management and Dependency’ years in the 90s, I’ve always gathered people around me like treasures. The geeky ones. The ones with the bitchy resting faces. The troubled ones. The lonely ones. Seeking out the quiet ones and the awkward ones and the shy ones. The ones different from me. The louder ones, the funnier ones, the clever-er ones, the more beautiful ones.
Talking. Laughing. Asking. Sharing. Including. Mingling.
In work, it’s just one of those unwritten job specs, the utterly expected given that you can play nicely and mingle. Not just be part of a team. But at meetings and events. Build relationships and rapport with strangers. MAKE THEM LIKE YOU. Customers, authors, agents, suppliers, reviewers, ‘influencers’. Network. Integrate. Mingle. MINGLE.
And finally here’s where I get to a point.
I’ve been on lock-down these past three months. Coping with the death of my Big Sister the only way I know how to – by powering through, pasting the game face on every morning, screwing in the jazz hands and playing nicely for the next 12 hours. Fake. Phony. False. MINGLE.
I’ve had less than a handful of ‘social’ work nights, safe zones, surrounded by colleagues or contacts or book friends. But nothing that has required me to do anything other than maintain the illusion of The Mingle.
Until last night.
I’d had a pretty OK day to be fair. It kinda felt like a Friday for some reason in the Sales Squad. We’d had some banter. Some lolz. I’d joined in. In all honesty I’d initiated some of it. At one point there was even talk of putting on a play in the afternoon… we were giddy.
And I’d joined in. Done The Mingle. I took my headphones out, properly, for the first time since my Sister died and had fun. It felt good. For a while.
Immediately, of course, a tsunami of shame and guilt knocked the air from my lungs. Shame and guilt. Sadness and missing. Without my Sister how could anything be fun again? Guilt that she’s gone but I’m still here. Wanging on. Laughing. Living. Whilst my niece is mute with grief. Whilst my brother in law is ashen with loss. Whilst my mum is in so much pain she’s physically shrinking before my eyes.
And then I went out. To do more of The Mingle. But this time with strangers. No safe zone. Something I’d done a million times before my Sister died. Not once since.
And the thing is, my Sister would have LOVED the event. And I would have LOVED to have gone to it with her. It would have been a perfect night out for us two – the DFS & The Pool pop-up ‘The Staying Inn: How to Host a Bookclub at Home’ #DFSNightIn. Alexandra Heminsley in conversation with Amy Jones and Marisa Bate. With a supper club thrown in, created by Kenny Tutt, winner of MasterChef 2018. I mean, come on. Right up our boulevard. Surrounded by six beautifully designed lounge spaces, showcasing the new DFS sofa and dining ranges. All for just £15. Such a bargain. The potential to be such a great night in/out.
Without my Sister, I was alone. The lonely one. The quiet one. I had a 5 minute Mingle with the Brand Partnership Manager at The Pool, then sat alone, with my kindle and my class of wine avoiding eye contact whilst the starters were served. I mustered to join in with a comment about Jackie Collins during the ‘In conversation’ session… I even offered to fight anyone who might dis Hollywood Husbands. I did a version of The Mingle a minute, maybe two.
Then I left. Before the main course was served. I couldn’t bare it. I was alone and lonely, without my Sister, and I could barely breath. I didn’t chat, as I would usually have done, with the guest panel. I didn’t stop to seek out the team from The Pool to say thank you for a wonderful night…
Instead I called an Uber, and spent the 51 minute journey listening to the George Michael/Queen version of Somebody to Love. The last song we had chosen to play at my Sisters funeral. And I’ve been listening to it on repeat since. I’m listening to it now as I write this.
But I do want to say, amongst the sadness, I know my love of books, my love of reading, and my passion for sharing that love will return. My Sister was in a Book Club. She LOVED it. Not just the wine and the gossip – but the love of sharing books. And we’d talk for hours about books. Hours. We’d argue and judge. We’d laugh and cry. And last night, whilst Alexandra and Amy and Marisa were talking, I thought that perhaps the best way I can honour the memory of my Sister is to start a Book Club in her name. It’s still just a thought. I don’t have a clue how to set it up really. But I think I will. At some point…
For now though, please bear with me. The Mingle is still beyond me. I’m still Missing.