Monday, August 28, 2006

Family

I have my family and my family. A friend, Jim, spoke at our double wedding about the importance of family. How so many of us have to start over, design new images, new relationships that reflect family because as gays and lesbians we often end up disowned by our families of origin. Walter and Allan, as the kids dads, are a choice. I have a tight circle of friends who are my family, who I call on when I need help. Who call on me when they need help. No biological tie or familial commitment could be stronger.

My family of origin and my family of choice. I have chosen a wonderful family. The joy I felt sitting on the deck Friday night in Down East, hearing the excitement from my kids about their week of Dads’ camp, was profound. It was a stark difference from how I feel about my family of origin.

My family of origin right now is a painful place. I cannot go there. I don’t know if I ever will be able to again. Deep scars both make me want to leave and in a painful irony, make me want to go. I don’t know how to say no. I have never known how to say no. The feeling of emptying every ounce of my being into someone else, to care for them regardless of the cost to me, is in fact, comforting. It is familiar.

My family of origin loves me when I’m good. And have loved me in such wonderful ways, as an adult. When I play the game the way they want it played I am celebrated, my family of choice, embraced. When I accept the family lies as truth, I have a special seat at the table- one next to my mother, heir apparent, the favorite child, the trusted one. When I agree with the stories told around the kitchen table, never adding the real endings, I am accepted in their world.

There were very real endings, though. They are unthinkable. To acknowledge them is often unbearable. I have started to remember. At first, it was like watching a blurry movie but the details are starting to become painfully clear. I am unable to keep quiet. No, I am unwilling to keep quiet anymore.

The rules and the game. My mother accuses me of playing a game with unfamiliar rules. It is a game. We all dance around what we each believe is the truth. If you tell the wrong story or give the real ending, game over- you lose your place at the kitchen table.

I have lost my place. I’ve spoken the truth, my truth. I’ve told the real endings, my real endings.

Like how I spent years sitting in the living room on Turk Hill Road having my mother rage at me, my brother and my sister. The house I grew up in is so deeply imbedded in my psyche I am only now remembering all that happened there. How we would be pulled out of bed, lined up on the couch and humiliated for our imperfections, our selfishness, our self-centered behavior. When we were children- 7, 9 and 12 years old.

I’m not allowed to tell that story. My mother was divorced. Raising us alone. She had no choice, she says. The story I am to embrace is to tell how as a child, I had to figure everything out for myself. Regardless of her attempts to steer me in the right direction, I always had to do it my way. I was stubborn. Difficult. She, however, did admire my strength. She let me make choices no other mother would ever have done, giving me unusual freedom as a girl.

Not how she crushed that freedom when she had drank enough bourbon and I would sit as still as I could, willing myself out of my body, out to the woods where it was quiet.

One Christmas she came chasing after me, pounding on the windshield in fury because I was leaving. It was midnight. I was twenty years old, home from college on break. I had a car. My mother tried to slap me. Again. Sometimes she’d catch me off guard and make contact but usually, she was intoxicated enough I could anticipate and stop her hand. But that night, I grabbed her hand and threw her against the refrigerator and told her no more. Try again and I’ll kick your ass. I will not take it anymore. Ever again.

The story told is how we would all gather around the tree on Christmas Eve and open the presents all the nursery school children my mother taught had given her. How we would all take turns, and she would delight in our eagerness to open the ones that were clearly Russell Stover chocolates. How we all laughed the year someone gave my mother a green sweat suit, something she would never in a million years be caught dead in. How we managed to have holidays even though it was so hard for her, as a divorced mother of three, to make it happen.

I need to tell all the stories, not just the pretty ones. I need to resist the pull to be the good girl and make everything okay again. It is not okay. It was never okay.

And yet, on some level, it is what I believe I deserve. I cannot get over their description of me- selfish, self-centered, lazy, always looking for the easy way out. If anyone really knew me they would know how worthless I am. I feel myself being tugged at by my family of origin. There is a scramble to keep us together because if we lose the stories and their fanciful endings we have to all face the truth. We have to face the pain. You have to come back, I am told. You should come back. You must come back. How can you be so cruel? That’s my favorite. How I can be cruel. I pull away to heal and I am cruel.

The first step, of many, is changing the rules. Telling the truth. For me, the game is over. I don’t want my place at the kitchen table anymore. I can’t do it anymore.

The other day, I had a friend say to me, you are an extraordinary person. It is painful to watch you work so hard to be accepted by people who may never love you. A family of origin for whom I have never been good enough. I have never been smart enough. I have never read enough books, seen enough art, I didn’t go to a good enough college and ultimately, I have never realized my potential. My job now is a lovely little distraction. But not what I’m capable of. My children are wonderful but my time focused on them was wasted. I am constantly bumping up against the walls placed around me, trying to get past them to have them know me, love me and understand me. For me. Not for what anyone wanted me to be. But for who I am. The walls, I know, are impenetrable. They will never know me.

No, I won’t do it anymore. For my children but mostly for me. I will not give up my soul anymore. I am learning how to say no. I am learning how to see I may actually be worth something. I don’t need to be extraordinary. I just want to be okay.

As Jim said, sometimes, we have to create family. A family of choice that will hold us, love us, know us for who we are.

And maybe even think we are extraordinary.

3 Comments:

Blogger Casey said...

Ouch.....I'm part of your family of origin and I have never felt that way about you.....ever.....

11:41 AM  
Blogger jmichaelhayes said...

Truth is subjective. right?
"we all have our own personal truths" my mother used to say.
"that's bullshit," I would tell her (My wife says my mother curses like a sailor and it's true, I try not to but she has a way of bringing out the sailor in me), "we all have opinions and feelings but things do actually happen one way."
So we agree to disagree. My mother (also a divorced mom) loves all things "new agey" and indefinate. I, since childhood, look at things dead on and call 'em like I see 'em. And my family of origin chastised me for it.
My mother's family is full of abusers of every kind and I reached a point in my life where I said I cannot and will not have that in my life... I made efforts to try and get family members who were victims help but they preferred the comfort of their lies. So I lead by example and left, walked away from a good job and very wealth group of family members.

And thank god I did.

In just over a year my wife was pregnant and I knew our child would never have that kind of "sickness" around them. My chosen family is small but amazing, in support, selflessness and talent.
My mother (the only one who I maintained a relationship with) although heartbroken at the split in her family, was proud of my strength and willingness to stand-up for what was true and right. She was touched that I would stand up for her and claims that her family deals with her in a different way now.
My mother's "personal truth" however still has large holes when it comes to my childhood, the men she brought around and her own violent tendencies. Thankfully I was not a victim of the same kind of abuse she suffered... but my childhood stories have brought many of my chosen family to tears (no matter how humorous a spin I try to put on).
My mother and I have a relationship of restrictions... not as many as we used to but they are still there. My relationship with her (which my wife has patiently helped me to maintain) is what it is.
She sailed off into the sea not too long ago... literally, she lives on a boat and floats around the world. Which is good for us and good for her. I have so many wonderful relationships in my life that I don't miss what could have been. I just try and bask in what is.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

first, casey, you are my sister. no, you are not part of the group that has treated me that way. I am sorry for lumping you, verbally with "them."

second, thank you for agreeing it is better to leave abuse than to stay- for any reason. money, power, influence- all at my finger tips if I would just behave.

I won't.

You child is lucky.

I gave my family room to have their own truth because otherwise, I would be nailed to the wall with tiny, small, inconsistencies, giving more room to tell me I'm wrong. I'm lying. I'm crazy.

I know what happened.

but you bring me to an interesting question- why am I still taking on the blame?

4:14 PM  

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