So, a few years after the deaths of our parents, my sister’s oldest daughter gets married. We attended the wedding, at which the idea of a yearly reunion was floated. Of course, the hostess would be my sister. ALWAYS. I tried bringing up the suggestion that we could rotate the hosting duties so everyone would have a chance to host, but — like almost any other suggestion I have ever made to this group of people — that idea was completely ignored.
We started going to these reunions in August every year. And year after year, I came home feeling left out. Wrong-footed. Like a second-class citizen or a weird, ill-defined relative. Maybe a cousin or something. But definitely not a part of the group. (Everyone else gravitates to the phrase, “like a red-headed stepchild” to describe this. I won’t even comment.)
I now know I was there just to “complete the set”, to prove my sister’s control over the whole family. (And, I suspect that my absence from the reunions now is probably pleasing to her and to Susan. Especially since it is “all my fault” that I’ve decided not to show up every year just to be treated like garbage. But I’m getting ahead of my story.)
At first I put that not-belonging feeling down to the simple fact that everyone else had a different opinion of my dad than I did. That was an open secret: everyone knew that Dad and I had been close, closer than anyone else. And I knew that I had better keep my mouth shut about it. It was my role to just sit and listen when the others started talking about how awful Dad had been. (Looking back, I have wondered if this was supposed to punish me in some way, or if I was a stand-in for my dad as they expressed the hurt they had been unable to express when he was alive. Who the hell knows? It’s not like anyone will actually discuss it rationally, so there’s no hope of finding out.)
After a couple of years, I was able to add “religion” and “politics” and “race” to the list of things that my siblings had very different ideas about than I did. I will never forget the moment during 2012 when the Olympics were on TV and my youngest brother casually referred to an Olympic athlete with the n-word.
It was becoming apparent, too, that to voice any dissenting opinions on these or any other topics would result not in a debate, not in an exchange of ideas, nor even in an agreement to disagree — it would start a fight. And you can just guess who would be blamed for starting that fight and, probably, ruining the whole reunion for everybody.
My therapist asked, “So you can’t have your own opinions?” Immediately what came out of my mouth was, “Oh, I can HAVE them, I just can’t say them out loud.”
After a few years of this, listening to other siblings reminisce about events that happened before I was even born, I started wondering more and more about just what DID happen when I was born. I realized that this was a period of the family history that NO ONE ever talked about. At all.
You know how most people have stories that get told about silly things that they did when they were 2, or whatever? I realized that for me that period was just a big blank. About all I knew was that Dad had gotten a new job and the family had moved to a new city just before I was born, and then about 6 years later, our parents got divorced. Oh, and it was all Dad’s fault, of course.
So, I started asking questions and requesting official records. I have the county documents from the divorce, as well as my father’s military records. I have a recording of an hour’s conversation among my siblings, that they made at the 2011 reunion, at my request. (I had to deliberately phrase the request so that it sounded like it came from a therapist or other outside authority, though, or they never would have done it.)
I was a few years too late to get my mother’s hospital records, dammit, because the state of Iowa only requires them to be kept for 40 years, and I called at some point in my early 40’s.
And finally, I worked with not one but two therapists, professionals who have confirmed the work I did on my own, and guided the painful conclusions I came to.
That history is detailed in the next post, but what it all adds up to is a broken family. Broken because of a mother who didn’t want to do the job she signed up for, but who also convinced most of her children that she was completely innocent of any blame or responsibility for what happened at least partly as a result. A mother who didn’t actually say she wanted custody of the children in the divorce. A mother who would say hurtful things to her own daughter because she wasn’t being nice enough to her. Who liked to be taken care of, waited on, and wouldn’t get her own fucking glass of orange juice if there was someone around she could convince to do it for her.
But wait! Mom can’t be part of the problem! The possibility can’t even be raised. It’s a lot like the Catholic Church, where you just believe and do what you are told, and questioning anything only gets you disapproval and eternal punishment. Such a convenient tactic, used by dictators the world over. They dress it up and call it “faith” and make out like it’s some noble thing to not question things that obviously don’t make sense. And if you do ask questions, you get yelled at, shut down, ignored.