Forget the adage about sticks and stones, words can certainly hurt and they did just that, one evening before Christmas. Add in the effect of actions, with their capacity to speak louder than words, and the occasion had many of the features of a nightmare.

A young couple, with their small child, had come to stay from France. Neither spoke much English so chatting was mainly done in French, something I love, but which still remains quite a strain.

We had first met Jacques, the husband, when he was a toddler. Now in his mid thirties he was amusing and thoughtful and fun to be with. We were very fond of him. In his life he had had to weather some very difficult periods, the worst of which was binge drinking. This was ten years ago and a thing of the past. But while fatherhood seemed to have consolidated his recovery, recently there were ominous hints that control might have begun to slip.

Their son, Marcel, was a lively, funny, bright, and responsive two-year old. He was also headstrong, occasionally to the point of being disruptive, but somehow that could seem endearing. As a rule he loved joining in. I knew from previous occasions that Jacques was averse to cooking, so while he was with us I persuaded him to help me prepare and cook our meals. We both wore aprons, he served as sous-chef, and the apprenticeship seemed to be working well. Inspired by this, Marcel was appointed the sous-sous-chef.

The mother, Marie-Laure, was very entertaining, vivacious, and whenever she was around there was no risk of conversation drying up. They were with us for almost a week and for several days all went well. Then, on the penultimate day, relationships changed. They went out together nominally for a stroll while we looked after Marcel and prepared the dinner. When they returned it soon became clear that the outing had mainly involved drinking in the local pub. This then continued during the meal, with Marie-Laure seemingly egging Jacques on. When the meal was over I cleared away the dishes and went off to write.

An hour later I returned to find them still at the table, and very obviously drunk, him rather more so than her. By now their comportment had entirely changed. Slouching rather than sitting, they repeatedly mocked my French, particularly my accent, highlighting my mistakes, pointing at me and giggling. They also belittled elements of our household. Soon afterwards they struggled up to bed.

Much of our night was then disturbed by Marcel who, from around 2.00 in the morning, cried incessantly. Whether his parents offered solace we never knew, but we were worried.

The next day the atmosphere was tense. Rohan and I felt absolutely miserable, in modern speak, ‘gutted’. Our guests said nothing about the events of the previous evening – there was certainly no hint of an apology. So much that was wrong had happened in those few hours. It was desperately sad to see Jacques drinking again, and so tragic after all he had achieved. Our hopes for him were shattered. It was worrying, not to say frightening, to realise that the wellbeing of little Marcel might be threatened. Suddenly he appeared very vulnerable. Their abuse of our hospitality felt so unjust; how could guests behave like this? And finally, and at personal level, it was painful and undermining to be the brunt of their jibes. I see myself as a hardy character rarely ruffled by criticism. Through their words they had found a way through my guard and their mocking hurt.

We have now recovered from that horrible evening, although, of course we remember it well. One obvious outcome is that we may have lost some good friends, although careful bridge building has already begun. But whatever the effects on us, they will have been much more serious for our erstwhile guests. They may well be living with those few hours, and their consequences, for years to come. For me, at least, no bones were broken. Perhaps the old adage is right.

 

2 thoughts on “Sticks and stones

  1. That demon drink, has had an effect on me and those around me. I used to drink too much in uni aswell as being drunk on more than one night i saw my friends drunk, i even had two friends that for a whole year were rarely sober. I remember being a happy drunk, loving all i came upon and being polite as a drunk mnan can be polite that is. But there is indeed a flip coin to the happy drunks among us and the violent, evil, mean drunks are out there i know a few, people who when sober could be the best people you might ever meet. Could be great friends, notable parents or teachers, solid members of your own society. People you one minute might learn from and enjoy on a warm and intellectual level. Will mere minutes later go from interesting Dr Jekyll to abusive and rude Mr Hyde. My only cure is to treat these people when drunk and in form as if they were an unruley child and to talk to them as such, ever ready for them to verbally lash out and never rising to any bait. I still know a few mean drunks and i try not to be around them when they drink, so as only to know them as sober, it does not help the situation but “out of sight, is out of mind” i find. Its a sore subject i find as to lose a friend into the bile of being mean drunk is such a heavy loss to the good friend you enjoyed while he/she was sober.

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  2. It is very difficult to reconcile being good friends with those who mock and offend when drunk or not. I think the need for people to express their superiority and offend, when one has (as it appears) done nothing than be supportive and a good friend is a tough one to get over.

    A very very dear friend of mine who I offered a home to, looked after when the boyfriend bashed them, bailed them out financially, cooked, cleaned, holidayed with and made feel very special and indeed became part of the family did a very similar thing a few years ago. I kept thinking if they explain or apologise it’ll be fine, but the longer it went without contact the more the pain intensified.

    I am not sure if bridges can ever be re-built, too much was said by one party and worse so…too much time has elapsed without apology. Sometimes you have to say enough …

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