|Row, row, row my boat, gently down the stream|
wearily, warily, scarily, verily, family makes me scream.
Any sibling communication is on a must correspond basis that leaves me with strong feelings of apprehension and anxiety over the inevitable health issues, funerals and any occurrence that would threaten to throw us into an awkward game of "Face the Music".
As the youngest of three, with siblings that are 8 and 9 years older, my place in the family has always been low "man" on the totem pole. Often it seemed I was an only child, as we were in different stages of our lives and would always be; something that I know many people experience, so I rolled with it. But I always felt that when I got older....when I got married...when I had kids...we'd relate. We'd have a relationship. But as each of those milestones came and went, nothing changed and I grew more and more dissatisfied with the status quo. I started trying to fix it. First, by telling them how I felt, then by distancing myself and finally the frustration and anger set in.
When I was younger, single and wrapped up in my own life, the idea of extended family wasn't as much an issue, although I always made sure I was in some way involved in their lives. But I was either living out of state or touring. Even so, I tried to remain a presence. As I got married and had a family of my own, I was met with a "been there, done that" attitude from them and I realized that once you have a family of your own, extended family does matter. Kind of a lot. You want your kids to know their aunts and uncles and cousins. You want to host holiday family dinners and you want them to call you at Christmas. Or at the very least, when you call them, you don't want to hear them say "We were just getting ready to put dinner on the table, can you make this quick?"
When you give birth to your first child and you call your brother, reversing the charges because you don't have a calling card or a cell phone, you hope your sister in law won't say "can you make this quick, this is costing me money."
Two years ago, when it came time for my mother's 80th birthday celebration, I knew that things would be the same as they had always been: I would not be considered or consulted with respect (I could end the sentence there, but I'll keep going) to the plans and cost. That is precisely what happened and during a recession, when my little family was struggling financially, the ambitious proposals that were pitched to me were out of reach. The plans were nixed and my attempt at a solution was less than satisfactory to everyone involved - including my mother and horribly, horribly received, as was I.
World War III.
I thought surely things would settle down and we'd all get back to the status quo. Even if the status quo did completely suck, it was better than the dog house.
Boy, was I wrong.
Less than a year later, my mother casually mentioned that she was going on a cruise to the Bahamas. With my brother and sister.
I know ours is not a Jerry Springer category family dispute. There's no abuse, molestation or neglect. But after years of therapy and more than a couple of therapists all agreeing that it's not some sort of whiney bitchfest on my part, I feel fairly confident that I've done everything within my power to try and change things for the better and when that didn't work, the best thing for my personal well being was to walk away. Self preservation, baby. Arm's length. I'm not cutting you off, I'm tying a tourniquet on you so tight that none of that tainted stuff can get to me and fuck me up anymore. Or the milestones in my life. Or my marriage. Or my kids. Like it has in the past. I'm not spending the second half of my life like the first half - seeking and not getting your approval, your respect, your love. I'm talking about actual love - not the trite things that come out of people's mouths, but the act of extending one's self in order to give the impression that you give a shit.
I don't think that's asking too much.
They went on that cruise, my mother admonishing me for not being happy for them, citing that I wouldn't have been able to afford it anyway and "Would you have wanted us to ask you anyway? Would that have made you happy?" Then up went the Facebook photo of the three of them on the ship. One smaller happy family.
And when, on the morning after my then 3 year old son almost died, my "brother" got on the phone to me at the hospital and told me that he was "willing" to drive our mother out to see him, but that he wouldn't be staying or coming up to the room because he was "busy" and had "things to do", I think my brain wasn't comprehending it at the time, because otherwise, I would've told the insensitive clod to fuck off and never, EVER attempt to contact me again.
So today, when I saw his name on my list of voice mails, the apprehension and anxiety kicked in. Would my mother be okay? Had the surgery been successful and gone without a hitch? And what would he say? How would he say it? I'm sure he was filled with his own angst at the thought of having to make the call in the first place. It was a brief message delivered in an emotionless, detached, impersonal tone that made Siri come off like some kind of fucking bleeding heart. And then an abrupt "bye" and click. And that was three hours after the surgery was completed. I had to wait three hours before somebody called me to clue me in on how it went.
I called my mother an hour ago...despite her instruction not to, because she "wouldn't want to talk to anyone". My brother answered the phone and as he handed it off to OUR mother, I could hear him say "it's your daughter". He and my sister were both there. I guess she did feel like talking. To somebody. And I'm glad I called. She thanked me, telling me it was "nice of me" to call. I responded "You're my mother, of course I called you!" And then "I'm a nice person." And we joked:
Mom: That's what I tell people.
Me: Despite what you've heard...and what you've read on bathroom walls, she's a nice person!
Mom: Nobody would believe it though. (Pause) You know I'm kidding, right?
Me: Of course!
And then there was some laughter about something my sister posted on Facebook along with a photo of my mom. Something I won't see, since we're no longer Facebook friends. And then my mother told me she was having pain and that she would have to let me go.
And really, I think that's what they've already done. They've let me go. And I wish I could let them go too. I wish I could quit you people. But it's hard, you know? How do you just forget that you had a life and a history with people and that you're separate now. They're going on...together. And you're on another team. Even if the team you were all on before couldn't win.
I hung up the phone with that empty feeling that goes with the realization that they were in that hospital room tending to our mother's needs and I was here - hundreds of miles away. They are a family and I am not a part of it. And I try to tell myself I don't care and that I'm not missing anything. But I do. And I am.
I'm not giving up hope though. Maybe it's insanity...doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. Or maybe it's dim witted optimism. But I hope I won't be standing in some room someday with "family" members glaring at me and not speaking. Me with icy receptions and extreme awkwardness. Because this feels like the kind of thing that happens to other people. How did this become my life?