Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's All Relative

This is a no comment post. What does that mean? Well, it means it originally appeared as a guest post on a website but it didn't get any comments. I'm sharing it as a recycled post because I think it still has merit, and well, frankly I wrote the darn thing, so somebody should read it! LOL

This one originally appeared at The Steam Room Blog

Today, I want to talk about a tricky subject: family relations.

Anybody who knows me knows I grew up in a difficult situation. My mother was a codependent hoarder with manic depression and delusions. My father was a physically, mentally, and sexually abusive alcoholic. I had brothers and sisters, but they were all grown and didn't live with us. The rest of my extended family - aunts, uncles, cousins - frequently turned a blind eye to the way we lived.

Suffice it to say that, once I was old enough, I got out on my own as soon as I could. In fact, I moved 1,200 miles away. Part of me felt guilty, though, for leaving my mother behind in a bad situation. So in 2003, against the advice of just about everyone who knew me, I moved my mother up to NY State to live near us.

I shouldn't have. I really, really shouldn't have. Things between her and I went from bad to worse. She had me convinced, for a while, that the reason she was still abusive toward me and unhappy in general was because she didn't like where she was living. So, my husband and I talked, and we moved her in with us. Before we did so, we had a long talk with her about setting ground rules. She was going to be in what had originally been a separate little apartment, so it had a sink and a stove, but we wanted a level of control over what she brought into the house (remember - she's a hoarder) so we'd be sharing the main kitchen in the house. She assured me that she would stick to the rules - that she wanted to.

But, after a while, a coffee pot showed up back there. Then she started keeping some food in the cabinets. Then the stove - which we'd unplugged - got plugged in. And then she bought a microwave. All during this, we kept talking to her about the rules she agreed to, about how she said she wanted to participate in our lives but wasn't holding up her end of the bargain. I ended up blurting out one day "You need to move out." Yeah. Tact…is not often my friend.

I thought that, away from my father and the life that made her unhappy, she'd be a different person. I thought that, given the chance to have a relationship and enjoy a life with me and her grandkids, she'd be a different person. I learned that she is who she is, and no situation changes that.

It's not just my family, though. I'm not my husband's family's favorite person. His mother has issues with me because of how I raised our kids. She doesn't like that I held our kids to high standards, and didn't let them get away with things. I'm not talking about some unreachable standards - I expected them to do their homework, keep their rooms clean, help out around the house, and keep up their personal hygiene. That's really about it. To this day, I will look at our youngest (who is moved out living on his own now) and ask him if he has brushed his teeth lately. I mean, seriously - you can tell he hasn't. Why should he slack off like that? And why should anyone let him? She takes offense that I point these things out. ::shrugs:: Everyone has their ways.

I guess the biggest difference between my family members and myself is that I live in the now - in the present. I'm firmly planted in the here and now. I can't change what happened - I can't go back and fix yesterday. I can only make tomorrow better. Most of my family members live in the past. They're very much caught up in what happened years and years ago, or how they wish their lives had been. It's impossible to hold a conversation with my mother without her going off on a tangent about my childhood, her childhood, etc. etc. There are no fun little chats. There's no "So, Danny, how's the writing going?" or "I saw this great documentary on hyenas the other day…" Even when I try to start out that way, it's just more of the same. It's tedious and exhausting and unpleasant.

What's more, every time we do talk, which is rare, she always ends up back at the same thing: she wants me to tell I think she did her best by me growing up. Well, I don't think that, so I won't say it. I don't believe in lying to people to placate their sense of self worth. Speaking of that…someone noticed the other day that, when I hung up from a call with my mother, I didn't say, "I love you." They asked me why, and I said, "Um…because I don't." They dissolved into a long rant about how I should be glad to still have my mother, that their mother had died, etc. When they were done, I simply shrugged and said, "Your life with your mother was different than mine. If it hadn't been, you'd feel the same way."

My sister clings to her sense of family. She visits her father, even though her father was pretty much the same as mine (mom knew how to pick 'em). She still talks to and visits with our dysfunctional brothers. Every time, she ends up either feeling depressed or in some kind of insane argument. I don't see the point. Family is definitely important, don't get me wrong. But not at the sake of my own sanity. I've cut myself off from toxic people, and I'm not ashamed of that.

Maybe this is why so many of my characters have issues with their families? Take Calliph from "No Place Like Home," for instance. Bad blood between him and his brother (same with me and most of my siblings), his father is dead but wasn't a peach when he'd been alive (same here) and his mother is pretty much toasted mentally (same here). The one big difference is that Calliph still feels an obligation to his family, whereas I don't. But maybe that's why he's the way he is. Maybe he's a manifestation of what I feel I should be. I feel like I should feel some sort of obligation, but I don't feel any at all. I worry for what that means about me.

No comments:

Post a Comment