The Inheritance of Gossip


The generations of gossip in my family have never known the word “boundaries”, despite the conservative roots from which my most salacious genes stem. Case in point: my grandmother knows that I have Herpes. She knows how I got it, who I got it from, how old I was when I got it, and, due to my own blabbermouth that has spawned a word-vomiting wannabe writer, she also knows about how much sex I’m having. She knows the context of the sex I’ve been having when I’ve chosen to disclose, or when I’ve chosen to keep “the Herpes thing” to myself.

My grandmother is 93 years old. She has known all of this since she was 88. She knows this from her sister (of course), who lives in a different state, and whom she hasn’t seen in person in literal decades. Family gossip is always the hardest to pry from the hands of those wanting to keep it a secret. That’s why it’s so satisfying when you hear about the love affair between two family members who are cousins, or the gratuitous age gap amongst old-timers who swear “it was just a different time”, or the estranged sisters you’ve never met from your father’s first marriage, or the tragic details of a family friend’s divorce; it feels as though you’ve earned the stories you hear, because they were so hard for all parties involved to admit.

In my case, the story of my Herpes journey published on Global Hobo was somehow found by a creepy second cousin with a high profile job in Sydney (whom I’ve never met) and who happened to share it with his Mummy-Dearest, my great-Aunt (whom I’ve also never met). They are both apparently celibate, living alone together (presumably) and getting up to all kinds of mischief in their parlour mansion (presumably). They were so shocked and appalled by the news of my sexual misconduct, slutty behaviour, and sheer filthiness that they decided to call my grandmother straight away and recite the entire article down the line.

My mind goes wild envisioning how the conversation went down, my grown-man-child cousin sharing a phone that still has a cord with my great-Aunt as she reads aloud my words in hushed, scandalised tones. Sometimes I wonder if this cousin of mine is even more of a creep than imagined… I wonder whether he got hard as he read my pretty depressing, factually accurate but sexually charged article, imagining his 20-year-old cousin getting railed by a bunch of dudes (bareback no less!). Perhaps telling my great-Aunt was his Anglican version of confession – I know that side of the family loves the big man himself. But, I digress.

Knowing that my grandmother knows of my sexual proclivities and sexual health is uncomfortable to say the least, but I’ve only known that she’s known for the better part of this year. This bombshell went off unbeknownst to me. I’m not too sure why, but my mother decided to tell me all about this over a glass of rosé the last time I was in town, and I found myself reeling afterwards (unrelated to the vino). My Mother also alluded to the fact that she thought this indiscretion of mine (my grandmother’s views, not hers) might have also impacted a change in my grandmother’s will shortly after the bomb dropped.

I’ve come to accept, over many late nights and a lot of cups of tea, that because of my notoriety as a…slut!…on my mother’s side of the family, I’m probably going to lose out on a bit of the old inheritance. My grandmother thinks I’m a slut, so I get written out of the will; a plot I originally thought would sound like something from Girls or Sex and the City. In reality, what I seem to have conjured up for myself is a life more akin to that of darling hanger-on-er-er Bold and the Beautiful. A tired and true soap-opera with over 30 seasons, a tragedy for my teenage self. I have managed to find the humour now though… I tried watching Girls the other day and it truly fucking sucked, so I choose to see this change in my narrative as a positive.

See, my grandmother doesn’t know that I know that she knows I’m a slut, so on our fortnightly phone calls, her sometimes snipey remarks actually make me hold down laughter rather than sniping back. Such is the lightness of all a person’s shit being aired and allowed room to roam the down the lines of interstate telephone wires. It makes for fantastic story-telling, a release of resentment, and the self-reflective realisation that you actually live for a bit of gossip – so having a grandmother slut-shame you actually gives you something to talk (and write) about.

For instance, this week when we were chatting, we were discussing the sale of my grandmother’s house, what we’ve both been doing in our spare time and what we’ve been cooking. After a solid 20-minute catch-up, I happened to mention that I have a partner now. Being the inquisitive soul that my grandmother is, she sounded pleased that I was dating a man, and wanted to know his name and what he did. Her hopes for my marital status have not been enthusiastic in the past, so her lacklustre response was half due to her being exhausted (rightfully so, she’s 93 for God’s sake) and half due to her having heard it all before. However, due to this time, and this partner, being very different and legitimately sincere, kind and loving, I willingly obliged her with this information and felt myself starting to gush a little bit.

Not for too long though, as my grandmother interjected suddenly and asked without a skerrick of irony or humour, “So what is he? In a relationship? Or married?”

I stifled a laugh, and assured her, “No no no, he’s single Nan. Or he was. He and I are in a relationship now.”

I did, however, forget to mention that he’s divorced.