Monday, May 31, 2010

The Family I Never Really Had

I have a secret to life? It has been the stuff of a made for TV movie.
An afterschool special if you will. So many cautionary tales, all rolled up into one.

Want divorced family? We've got that here.
Want blended family, struggling to succeed? We've got that too.
Want said blended family crumbling to pieces? Check!
Want long lost family reappearing and reuniting? Double check!
Want vile actions driving people apart? Score!
Want alcoholism, drugs, abuse, suicide attempts? Tune in.

Basically any cliche you could dream up, you can find here.

There are people that I am related to that I do not talk to. These people have never met my husband, have never seen my children, have not spoken to me or me to them, for over a decade. And before that, they had only seen or talked to me for a handful of years, following a nearly 2 decade absence.

I was raised by my mother. For better or worse, she has been my family, my WHOLE family, for my whole life. The only child of an only child, with no living grandparents, it was just the two of us.

At times, I have had a stepfather and step siblings. I desperately wanted them to be real. I wanted to be a big, happy family. And she wanted that for me. She endured years more of a bad situation than she had any reason to, in a brave attempt to give me a family. There players were all there: mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle and cousins. Except that they weren't. They were the family that I never really had, but sort of did.

I picked up a stepsister, who is as close to a real sister as I will ever truly understand having.

But when you dig down really deep and push comes to shove, it has really always been mom and I.

My father sent child support through some convoluted state managed process, which meant that there was never an address or contact information attached to either end of the monetary transaction.

We moved alot.
We were not the easiest people to keep track of.

At the end of high school, with the cost of college and more immediately, the cost of college applications looming on the horizon, I got back in touch. It had been more than 15 years since he had seen me. I had no memory of him.

We had a whirlwind courtship and moved in together.
I had a family?

The next 7 years were a hellstorm of ups and downs, as we struggled to forge some sort of relationship. Years of expectations and wild imaginings about the true nature of the other crashed headlong into the reality that was one and other, and it wasn't always pretty. After several attempts at being who I thought he would love, and trying to fit myself into that shape, I realized that it was me or him. And hard as it was, I chose me.

I chose to cut myself off from the only person in the world that I looked like.
I cut myself off from the object of my fascination and longing for most of my childhood.
I rode off into the sunset, while I still had one or two unblemished, genuinely fond memories intact. I hoped that on some level, I would be missed.
I made myself nothing more than a blip in the story of his life. And the life of my stepmother, stepsister and the rest of the family that I never really had.

The intervening decade has been an incredible ride. I got married, had children and embarked upon the wild journey of raising my own family. Mother, father, sister, brother, and yet...

My husband has a family. Always has had one. Whether he wanted them or not, his parents and siblings were always there, in the periphery. He has cousins. Lots of them. Plenty of spares that he chooses to have space from.

He also has a son that is not mine.

When we met, my husband was a mess. Emotionally fragile and permanently fractured from the failure of his first marriage and subsequent loss of his son from his day to day life, he was completely immobilzed by his loss and depression.

I set off to try and make it right.
I provided the solution to all of his fatalism, forcing him to find positive outcomes and ways to get at least a little of what he wanted.

Through time and a mammoth effort and sacrifices on my part, I was breifly able to turn 7 people that had very little chance of ever interacting civilly into the most unusual of family units. It was complicated. It was exhausting. It was the juggling and balancing act of all balancing acts, but it seemed to be working. Mother, father, sister, brother, brother, other mother, other father. It was the family I never really had.

A few strong gusts of emotional wind, and the delicate house of cards that I had worked so hard to build, for my children, his child, myself was scattered on the wind.

But something was different. Mother, father, sister, brother. We were still a family. A damaged family. A family reeling from the loss of losing a part of itself, but a family nonetheless.

Time and technology has given us ways to keep tabs on the people that we have lost over the course of our lives, and I have used it liberally, as a virtual bush to cloak myself in, while I search for clues of what is really going on in their lives. A glimpse here, a long hard stare there, and I am able to comfort myself that at least they appear healthy.

I can see my father, looking much the same. I can read his blog and gain his persepctive of the world. I see alot about him. I see him fondly referring to his daughter, an unrestrained measure of pride in his voice. He speaks of my stepsister, with whom he has had more than twice as many years with than we ever shared. The one thing I never see, is an absence of me. But he seems happy, and that matters to me. I am happy for him, and the family that I never really had.

I can see my stepsister, aunt and cousins. Bolder now, I have reached out, and been granted permission to watch the parts of their life that they choose to share with the internet unfold. As people that I am blood related to, I sometimes yearn to be a part of their lives. To be missed. However I never expect it. I have no idea how my absence was explained to them, and I am not sure that I want to ever see the picture that was painted for them. They seem happy though, and that matters to me. I am happy for them, the family that I never really had.

I can see my stepson. Tiny glimpse. Just a blip. I can see the other mother and other father, a glance here, a glance there. I know that they are alive. I know that they are together. I can only assume that things are good for them. And I am happy for them. The family that I never had.

I often wonder what I would do if, from my long distance perch I saw something terrible happen. Would I, could I find a way to make it better?

I might just get that chance.

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