belonging to who and where and what
K told me something about someone else (that neither of us are close to) months and months ago, but suddenly, this morning, I realized why it’s been bugging me.
Maybe I first had to have 2 conversations yesterday with Twitter-friends: 1 with G, touching on paucity of childhood resources; 1 with S, about fear, and about using writing to manage that fear.
The thing told: E, my sister, now that she lives in Austin, sometimes spends Thanksgiving and other occasions with K’s extended family, in OKC or other points Southwest.
Why did that banal and utterly boring reaction take months to suss out?
- Power struggles in the family.
- Feeling superior to K feeling edged out of her relationships by E, thinking I was “above all that”.
- Noticing who has the means to get others to plead their case to 3rd parties… and who doesn’t.
- Breaking up with someone who didn’t see it coming.
- Having an elder compare a younger to me, as if that was a compliment, when that younger has had opportunities I wouldn’t even be able to dream about — too absurd.
- Wondering (for the 1,425,973rd time) if talking about myself “at all” must categorically = “too much”/pathology.
- Reminders that other people have accomplished tangible things in their lives: did outstanding work, were recognized by their peers, established collegial relationships.
- Someone else was so well-loved that people are travelling 100s of miles to honor their well-lived life.
I told S that I prefer “the devil I don’t know” to “the devil I do”, but oh, I don’t want to pursue these fears! Can’t I just retreat back into feeling unloved and unappreciated? It’s so comfortable. It’s so familiar.
Nope. Can’t stay mired in defeat.
When we were growing up, most family adults and all nonfamily adults preferred my sister to me, by a wide margin.
Even though she’d left the Catholic Church (after I did), she was invited to be a godmother of a younger, while I wasn’t.
She told me if she ever had her own kids, she would name goddess-parents for them… and I wouldn’t be one of them.
At a girl cousin’s wedding many years ago, every girl of our generation was asked to be a bridesmaid, but I wasn’t. And my sister reminded me of that every fucking five minutes, for months and months and months.
My first boyfriend lusted after my sister, and told me about it.
My sister, as a middle daughter of a middle daughter of a middle daughter, received an heirloom ring for the heritage that I deeply care about, and she doesn’t. But she sure let me know how great it was to wear it.
I feel “displaced and mislaid”, like there is no place for me in our extended family.
In her essay, “Writing Home”, in Black Nature: 4 Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, editor Camille Dungy writes:
“I am glad to own the memories I own and through those memories to belong someplace [sic], to have some place belong to me.”
Home is such a fraught concept for me.
Illinois stopped being Home in 1985. I was Home-less until we moved to Maryland in 2008: I wasn’t physically born here, but I was reborn here. I became the self I needed to be.
No one has visited us in Maryland, and no one will. If they come to the Mid-Atlantic, well, they were coming anyway, for work, for a vacation, whatever. They lodge in DC (or Baltimore City, yes, which is in Maryland, but we never go there). Maybe they can “squeeze in” a few hours to spend with me, but only if I come to them. (Often on extremely short notice.) Then we do what they want to do, which is not what I suggested that we do. My knowledge of DC, gained in 7 years of living nearby, counts for nothing.
It’s true that I’ve never offered to host a family reunion, no matter where I’ve lived. But… no one would come.
I drew a genogram of my extended family: 16 people accounts for my parents and aunts and uncles, me, my siblings, and my first cousins. As a thought exercise, I ranked everyone by how much power they wield (at least as far as I’ve observed such), but centered on my branch of the family. (That is, I’m sure my cousins would have a different take on it, based on their branches’ internal politics.)
My mother, as the atriarch, is 1. My brother, D, as her heir, is 2. My father (as a courtesy to his age/generation more than anything) is 3. One of my cousins, whom I perceive as the atriarch of her branch, is 4. Then my aunts and uncles (5–8). My cousins and siblings, all jumbled up (9–15).
Me, at last, is last, 16.
My brother, the atriarch’s heir, despises me. My sister hates me. I don’t get along with my cousin #4. My parents… let’s not even go there.
Now that I really consider the big picture, though…
If I held absolutely zero power in the family, why on earth would My Brother #1 bother hating me? Wouldn’t I just be… utterly below his notice?
Same thing with my sister, who (I perceive) has a middling rank. I don’t… have… anything of any value to anyone else — so why bother hating me?
Hate uses energy, energy that you could be better utilizing to crush your rivals, develop strategic alliances, plot a coup.
I don’t even care about power within the family, and I never have. I just want to do my own thing, but have friends too, friends at all levels.
As far as I can tell, at the moment I have one ally/friend. Several enemies. And a bunch of people who probably don’t care either way.
How could I possibly be a threat?
No one ever has anything good to say about me (in the family); no one ever talks to me about me at all, if they can possibly help it.
That leaves me with my in-laws as potential sources of data about social-me. Extremely luckily for me, Spouse is the golden child of his family. Spouse (who never rebelled as a teenager, and never defied his parents about anything) stood up for me to his father. His mother never liked me, but she’s misanthropic generally. Spouse’s brother used to like me, but apparently doesn’t anymore, I don’t know why. My nephew and niece… didn’t respond to my friendly overtures.
Some of it’s definitely a cultural mismatch.
Of course, in a way, that’s a problem wherever I go. Somehow I’m a culture of one, and hardly anybody is interested in learning about that culture, never mind accommodating it.
All of this will have to percolate longer because I’ve got some flowers that need to be repotted before the next windy rainstorm.