someone else's family

I went to a party, a Blessing Way, on Sunday.  A Blessing Way is how hippies have baby showers, and to tell you the truth, I'm seriously considering becoming a hippy now.  

Well, maybe.

It is fascinating to observe family dynamics, especially now that I'm starting to be able to clearly see the workings of my own family.  It's especially fascinating to be in the company of a family whose sole function in this world is to build each other up.  

They love and they cherish; they respect.  They parent all of the children equally and fairly. There were no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas, no passive-aggressive anythings.

They came together from far away places, and I would very much like to give you a cooking metaphor about how they all just fit like vegetable soup but that would be too simple and too trite, and maybe I'm just hungry, and it's not at all in need of a cooking metaphor.  

But they really are like a good vegetable soup.

I don't know if I've ever been to a family gathering where everybody liked each other and wanted to be there.  I don't know if I've ever been to a family gathering where everybody was sober, and even as I type this I can hear Mother in my head saying, For Lord's sake, we're not drunks.  (Yes.  Yes you are.)

Even the teasing was different.  In my family, teasing was a brutal, hideous weapon.  Teasing was not for fun, it was for sport, and it did not stop until long after the object of derision was in tears.  Watching this family tease and joke was like watching fairies play tag; light, twinkle-eyed, graceful and delicate.

The best part?  They like us. They like me, my husband, my little ones, all of us, just as we are.  And that is home.


nothing like that.

"Were you hurt as a child?" he asked.

Sure. I fell off my bike, tripped, got kicked in soccer, broke a couple of bones in an unfortunate tug-of-war accident... Yep. I did.

He nodded.  "The normal stuff.  But did anybody hurt you?" 

I guess.  We got spanked a lot, for any reason.  I often had bruises on my back and bottom.

"So your parents hit you?  Was there any other abuse?"

What?!? Oh my God, no.  My parents were messed up but they loved me.  They'd never do anything like that.

Except.  Someone did.  I remember it now.  Not clearly, nothing I can see with my mind's eye.  But I remember the smell of sweat.  I remember the taste and gagging and I remember feeling guilty.  Nice girls don't do things like that.  Nice girls don't want that. Nice girls don't. Period. End of story.

I remember feeling like a not-nice girl.  My stomach is a knotted wad of grief just thinking about it; grief and guilt and disgust and rage.  I'm not a nice girl.  I deserve this.  I should feel guilty.  Nobody will love me.  They left me with strangers because they knew I was not a good girl when I was born. 

I hate that I feel inadequate, that I take every opportunity to judge myself by a ridiculously unfair standard.  I hate that I remember being abused.  I hate that I can't remember who it was.  I hate second-guessing myself and thinking that maybe it wasn't real if I don't know who hurt me.

It's terrifying, this flash of a memory, because it's so very real, but mostly because I know there is more.


the two of them, together

One day my father told my mother he didn't love her any more and was going to leave.  This was not a surprise to me.  It was, oddly enough, a gigantic surprise to my mother.  I  was all grown up when this happened, and I felt like the world's biggest asshole for not being surprised.  And honestly, now that I've been married for a while, I find that I'm kind of shocked that my mother was shocked that my father was leaving.  

I'm WAY shocked, actually.  But then, when I think about it a little more, I'm just sad for her, for them, for all of the people who get shocked that their spouse is leaving.  To slowly, slowly be turned away from the direction you were traveling, so slowly and insidiously that you are unable to recognize the landmarks as you pass by.

Slammed doors.  Fighting.  Threats.  Silence.  Lots and lots of silence.

And one day you wake up, horrified to discover that your honeymoon destination is a barren tundra.  How did you get there?  How did you get there together?  

My father took her there.  He betrayed.  He did this, he did that, all of these things are true.  But he didn't do this to her.  He didn't put her in "that situation".  

They went together, and as they went they came apart.  They.


don't know why. but i do.

Telling stories is hard work, especially when it's a good story, a meaningful story, one that requires. There is the planning, the thinking, the rearranging, the re-rearranging, the decisions of which part do I tell you first, and is writing the story out of order going to detract from the things and the stuff.

And there's the remembering.  It is hard work to remember.  I'm thirty-three, did I tell you that?  I should have a brain chock-full of thirty-three(ish) years of memories, and I don't.  What I have is a big, foggy mess, and memories pop out of the fog like the boogey-man.  Sometimes that guy just startles me for a moment, and I am able to move on.  But there are times when I am completely overwhelmed by the memory of how a moment felt to me.

I'm in one of those icky overwhelmed moments this week.  I try to find the words to describe what it was like to realize I was the object of intensely perverse desire, and I fail.  I'm sure there are words I could use, but my brain just can't sort it all out.  My sad little brain is running in circles trying to create reason where there is none.

It's funny, sort of, that this is giving me so much trouble.  Nothing actually happened.  Nobody touched me, nobody made me do anything.  But the feeling is so powerful, even today.  It still chokes me, it still has its fist planted firmly in my gut.

And I realize this: I have been walking around the elephant that is my past.  I have glossed over situations that are shocking for a reason that escapes me.  I'm sure self-preservation is a part of it, after all, I did live with and near my family for quite a while.  This avoidance served its purpose, but ignoring the things that happened, making light of the events of my life is not going to cut it any more.

I need to process.  I need this process.  I need to pass through.

Because I will not be owned by the choices of the people around me.  I will not be held hostage by the fog in my mind because it might hurt somebody's feelings.  I need to be my own priority.


there was this girl

I might be able to remember her name if I tried really hard.  She was the daughter of a friend of a cousin of mine, and she was staying with my cousin for some ambiguous, angsty, undisclosed reason. She was sort of boxy-shaped, had a close-cropped man haircut, and she milked cows.

Not that any of those things has anything to do with anything.  But there are so few things I can remember with any clarity at all that I like to enjoy remembering when I am able.

We didn't ever really spend a lot of time with this cousin of mine and his family, so I'm not really sure how they became acquainted, she and my father.  After all, he was in his fifties and she was sixteen, maybe seventeen.

She was a flirt.  But she came from the kind of home that would cause a girl to be an outlandish flirt with any man that crossed her path.  She teased and played, and it was so ridiculously awkward, but nobody said anything.

I was nineteen.

I came home from college and she was in our house and my father was wrestling with her on the living room floor and it was so weird.  My mother was in the next room, making dinner as if nothing bizarre at all was happening.  My brothers did whatever it was that boys do.  And all the while my father was handling a child in our living room.

She was younger than me.

I have no actual evidence, no concrete proof that he did anything wrong.  It was just disturbing.  She bought him a Carhartt jacket for Christmas.  She gave me a handful of lottery tickets, which was totally insulting for no apparent reason.  It just was.

But despite the not having of evidence, I still get sick to my stomach thinking of that man and that little girl.  And perhaps that speaks just as loudly as proof.


advance notice

I told my husband I was thinking about starting a blog about my family.  And he's met them, so he thought he had an idea of what he'd be reading here.  I mean, he's been here, next to me, walking this life for quite a while now, and even so I have already shocked him.

He's furious with my grandfather for the whole nearly-killing-my-brother-with-a-large-pillow thing.  Because in his head, the little boy under the pillow is one of our children.  His mind's eye will not put the correct face on the body.

It's things like this that poke the unnecessary guilt in my spirit.  

I'm sorry my family was so fucked up.

I'm sorry that there are things in our life that I cannot enjoy because someone stole something from me.  I didn't want to be there, I didn't, I didn't, I didn't.  

I'm sorry that I flip out when you're not home when you say you're going to be home.  It's just that I sort of expect you to not come back.  People in my life leave and don't come back, and it terrifies me.  Even after this long, even though I know that you are coming back, that you would rather be here than anywhere. 

Nature vs. nurture?  I learned this brand of crazy.  I was nurtured in crazy.  My role models were the angry, post-traumatic stress type and the angry passive-aggressive type.   

I get that I'm not responsible for these things, but it doesn't make them go away.  I understand that I can only control my own behavior, but that doesn't make my gut stop tying itself in knots. 

I am learning.  But there's a whole lot of ugly to get through, and a pile of baggage to sort.  Thanks for being patient.


everything's a great big secret

I remember when my mother got pregnant with my youngest brother.  Not the actual moment when she got pregnant, because Jesus loves me and kept me from witnessing The Act until I was old enough to really understand what was going on.  

Praise Jesus.

We weren't supposed to know, Michael and me.  It was a secret... not a particularly well-kept secret, mind you, but a secret nonetheless.  I always have found it funny that grown-ups feel safe to discuss things above the heads of children, as if height was The Great Divide between the small and the tall.  Do they think that there is a grand, soundproof barrier between 4'8" and 4'9"?  That their not-cleverly-disguised euphemisms would not reach the ears of the ankle biters? 

Everyone was milling in the back of our Holy Rolling Damnation and Hellfire church after Sunday service.  Kids ran around until their parents grabbed them by an arm and beat their impressionable asses, because nothing says "I'm the boss of you" quite like a good pounding.

Sometimes I'm surprised that I still go to church, that I believe in God at all.

I was hanging around Mother, listening to her conversations; I must have received my beating of the night early on, and was behaving myself.  Well, other than the eavesdropping, I was totally behaving myself.

She said it again and again and again.  I heard her.  I understood.  And I was so sad that she chose to tell all of those other random people before she told me.  It was my baby sister.  (Or brother... turned out to be a brother, despite all of my pleading.)

There was great pomp! and ceremony! and contrived formality! when we arrived home.  They had practiced telling people Mother was pregnant and now they were ready to face us, the terrifying three and five year old.  

We have something to tell you.

Yeah, I know.  You're having a baby.  What's the big deal?  That was me.  I knew what she wanted and I was not going to give it to her.  She had ruined the surprise for me by gabbing about it loudly, in front of me, to other people, and so I was going to ruin this for her.  I stood up from the ugly sofa and went to my room.

Why was I so mean?  How did I know how to be so mean?  Where does a five year-old kid learn that kind of hateful behavior? 

She learned it from her parents.  I learned it from my parents.  There is no other explanation.

I have children.  I see myself in their actions, I hear myself in the tone of voice they take with one another, in the words they choose.  I am mirrored through their humor, their facial expressions, their slightest mannerisms.  They.are.me.

And I was my parents.  There are many times when flashes of memory blast across my mind and I'm horrified by the things I said and the way I behaved.  Where is the line between mimicry and being old enough to discern that the way you're behaving is completely inappropriate?  It is so very difficult to untangle myself from the reactions that have been embossed upon my personality from my childhood.

I was my parents, but I'm not any more.


do not mourn what you do not have

My mother called today, and yes, this is news.  She does not contact us very often.  The last time we spoke was at my kid's birthday party about six weeks ago. 

I'm okay with this.

"How are you?" she asks, and her voice is so devoid of any hint of feeling that I am certain she is inquiring because she feels she needs to, because she is required to ask, and not because she especially cares one way or the other.   So naturally I say I am fine, and I say it with a blank face and an empty heart.

She always makes a point of telling me how much she misses "the children", as if the bundle of them is a singular entity.  In return, I tell her an anecdotal story about my many children that is neither here nor there, a pinpointed snippet of our life that gives no glimpse of our big picture.

Today she said she would like to come visit on a Saturday when my husband is not home.  She does not like to be around him, avoids eye contact, does not speak to him unless absolutely necessary.  

He's okay with this.  He makes it a point to be in the room when she and I are together; we learned the hard way that his presence was a necessity.  My mother will follow me when I leave a room, and she will take out her needling needles and poke, poke, poke away until I've nearly bitten off my tongue, and then she will say something that is mean and personal and completely unnecessary and I will be cut to the quick.

It's my family's own special tessellation of crazy.  The same behavior followed by the same behavior followed by more of the same.  Passive Aggressive Pink next to Obtuse Orange and Codependent Cerulean.  From a distance it looks beautiful, normal even, but the closer you get the sharper the colors become, the angles seem more pointy, and you realize that the whole thing is woven together with poison.

I was talking with a dear friend of mine about the conversation I had with my mother.  I told her about the request for a Saturday visit when my husband was not around.  She was flabbergasted, and I heard a gasp behind me.  My oldest ran from the room in tears.  

Grandmother doesn't like Daddy?  Grandmother doesn't like Daddy?  My oldest has as much of an understanding of our extended family as anybody, but I think the idea that Grandmother would not be enraptured with Daddy was nothing that had ever been considered.  It was puzzling why Grandmother would actually say out loud that she did not want to be around Daddy, and even more so, the idea that someone wouldn't like Daddy boggled that little brain. 

It is so difficult to navigate the waters of parenting within a larger dysfunctional family.  I want my children to form their own opinions.  I want them to be able to enjoy their relatives as much as they possibly can.  At the same time, I refuse to lie to them or to interpret situations in such a way that would give them a false impression of what is really going on.

Grandmother didn't say that she doesn't like Daddy.  I don't know why she would say she doesn't want to be around Daddy.  She didn't say anything that helped me to understand where she's coming from.  That was the best I could do.

I hate it when the best I can do sucks.


big pillows

I think I was seven, but that's just a guess.  My family was at home, enjoying a quiet night playing games with my parents and grandparents. We finished dinner, and my brothers were playing on the living room floor while Mother and Grandmother cleaned up after the meal.

I was curled up in a chair, reading a book, when my brother Michael started engaging Grandfather in a playful wrestling match.  Michael is 19 months younger than me; a funny story, really.  My parents thought they were unable to conceive a baby, so they adopted me.  Nine months and two weeks to the day after my adoption was finalized, guess who showed up?  Michael.

I'm like the goddess of fertility or something.

Michael picked up a big floor pillow and tossed it at Grandfather.  I really don't remember Grandfather's response, but I do know that five year-old boys are not easily distracted from wrestling.  Michael persisted in his attempts to play with Grandfather.

Grandfather was not a small man, he was close to six feet tall and easily weighed 200 pounds.  The wrestling match was bound to end quickly, especially considering the amount of alcohol Grandfather had consumed since arriving at our home.

Grandfather flipped my little brother onto his back, on the floor.  He placed the pillow over Michael's face.  And he sat on the pillow.  All two hundred pounds of him, on a pillow, over the face of my forty pound brother.

He bounced.  Hard.  Pounding Michael's tiny head into the floor  Thud, thud, thud.  I can see it now, almost twenty-five years later, as if it is happening in front of me.  My brother's legs, kicking hard, his little arms pushing the pillow, his tiny body squirming to get out.

I sat in the chair and watched.  I watched my grandfather attempt to kill my brother.  My mother and grandmother watched from the kitchen.  I cannot imagine that they wanted to be frozen in their tracks, I did not want to be frozen in my chair, one foot away from where my brother was suffocating.

Something shook someone from the shock of the scene.  Someone pushed Grandfather off the pillow, someone grabbed Michael and me, and our baby brother and locked us in a bedroom.

I remember the dresser being pushed in front of the door.

I remember Grandfather's flippant comments to my father when my father threatened his life.

I remember wishing my book was locked in the bedroom with us.

I remember never hearing another word about the incident.  No apology, nothing.

I remember being afraid.  Not that day, not the next day, but every time I saw my Grandfather.  I was terrified that he would come after me.

And I remember thinking that I would kill him before he ever laid another finger on one of my brothers or me.

I was seven.


how i came to be

A fifteen year-old child, brown hair, blue eyes, five feet eight inches tall had a singular encounter with a brown-eyed, brown-haired male, age unknown.  She was Roman Catholic, he?  Well, it's not on the paperwork.

Where I'm from, adoptees have no rights to information.  There's a statewide adoption database, and adoptees can file pages of paperwork in order to be listed on the database.  Birth parents can also join the database.  Both parties have the option to choose whether or not to fully disclose all of the pertinent information: name, address, medical history, et cetera.  Birth parents can choose to let the adoptee know if there are siblings, as well.

The information in the first paragraph is all I have.  Fifteen.  I have had some babies, and it was a lot of work, a lot of tired, a lot of mixed emotions and freaking out and some really scary things.  Being pregnant is a completely weird experience.  Even after the number of babies I've had, pregnancy is still new and wondrous and scary and mystifying every single time.  

But to be fifteen years old, and pregnant with the baby of a man you had met once?  I cannot imagine what that would be like.  In my innermost being, I feel like everything was not right when my birth mother got pregnant.  I worry about that young girl.  Did she agree?  Was she raped?

Sometimes I mourn for her, with her.

I think she'd like me.  I hope she'd like me.  I hope she would look at me and my husband and my beautiful children and be glad that she didn't get an abortion.  I am thankful every single day that I was given a chance to live.  She didn't have to let me grow in her body, she didn't have to go through the pain of labour and childbirth just to have a nurse place me in the arms of a social worker and take me to who knows where and do God knows what.  She didn't have to become "that girl" who (gasp!) had a baby out of wedlock as a sophomore in high school.

But she did.  And if I ever meet her, I will show her pictures of my babies and I will thank her for all of the beauty and the ugly and the happiness and the hurt that I have ever experienced. 

I am alive.  And I live like it's serious business.  Because when not being alive and not having the opportunity to experience love and beauty and good food and happiness and even a really ugly cry is something that could have been?  It's serious.  And Sweet Jesus in Heaven, am I ever grateful.


where do i even begin?

It is really difficult to type and eat oreos in a proper manner.  Especially if you're a dunker, which I am.  I have a few kids who are dunkers, too, and one oddball who is the open-the-sandwich-cookie-and scrape-the-cream-out sort.  Clearly got the double recessive genes for that quality.

It's impossible to say which of my qualities are the double recessive, and which are the other sort.  Dominant, right?  The term is dominant?  It's impossible because I have no benchmark.  I was adopted as an infant.  I have no clue who my biological parents are, and that's alright with me; the set that chose me at the baby store are quite enough, thank you kindly.

I grew up in a normal family.  Dad went to work, Mom stayed home, brothers made an early career of being ridiculously annoying because that's what younger brothers do to older sisters, no?  In return, as was normal, I was the bossy older sister, issuing edicts, antagonizing, pointing fingers, and being a general pain in the ass.

We would visit my mother's side of the family on holidays, Christmas mostly.  I never understood why we had to pack up and drive forever and ever away on Christmas.  Why could we not go on Boxing Day?  On Christmas Eve?  Why on Christmas?  We had new toys and got to wear our pajamas for a long time and were having a wonderful time... until the holiday-at-home abruptly ended and we got to spend the rest of the day watching Grandfather get drunk and tell our sweet, codependent Grandmother what a piece of shit she was. 

It wasn't just Grandfather who liked his booze, which made the festivities even more exciting.  For when two or more come together in the name of Jim Beam and in the heat of the moment, tempers will flare.  I never once heard the word 'alcoholic' in my childhood, but I could spot one a mile away before I was ten.

Fortunately for my brothers and me, Christmas came but once a year, and the other side of the family, my father's people, had absolutely no interest in our little family whatsoever.  Their interests were alcohol and fighting with each other, which left no time to plan a shiny, happy, family get-together.  We were spared the additional madness.

Did I know it was madness at the time?  No.  My life was all I knew, and everything was fine.  And normal.  I had no idea that normal was insidious and dangerous; I didn't know the things that could masquerade as normal.