25 years ago yesterday, my sister married G. I liked G. Even though I wasn’t close to my sister, I was glad she found G so she could escape our parents in the time honored way that my mother and her sister had escaped their parents.
The wedding and its weekend themselves were not particularly enjoyable for me, and they weren’t supposed to be. My sister disliked me, but my mother had forced her to have me as her maid of honor, so… unpleasant things were said. (As usual.) I, in turn, was forced to wear a dress my sister had a dressmaker create to be incredibly unflattering in form and color, which I hated.
But she got what she wanted and got away. My-cousin-the-rapist didn’t attend at the last minute for whatever reason. And my sister’s new life began.
I’ve been reading about Pueblo cultures, mostly in New Mexico, but also a band of Tewa living amongst Hopi in Arizona.
Last month, at the Albuquerque Museum, I watched a video on generations of Mattachine dancers in Bernalillo.
Slowly, slowly, I’m starting to get a sense of how a communitarian culture works. Why it works.
Life is hard almost everywhere, but life in a New Mexico pueblo is… more difficult than most. If they didn’t have culture holding them together, what would they have?
I want to understand.
But I keep coming back to: what if something’s horribly wrong about how your parents treat you? What if the only ‘escape’ anyone can think of is to send you to another relative, where things go further awry?
How is being passed among abusers better than a more individualistic culture?
But then, what holds a more individualistic culture together? Because abusers exist there too.
How do cultures adhere?
My (female) cousin K, although living elsewhere, came back to OKC to marry J. K kept trying to get a job transfer back to OKC and eventually succeeded; K and J are settling into their first house.
K works full-time, has a husband and a dog and a new house, has friends, but… her social life seems to revolve around keeping her elderly parents comfortable. Exactly as (I believe) it would be if she lived in a communitarian culture. What does she garner from this arrangement?
She can feel righteous, which the system no doubt wants her to feel.
She can snipe at people like me who don’t help their elderly parents do anything (since I’ve been out of contact with said parents since 2005).
K’s also been telling me, though, how one of her brothers, V, has been… well, terrorizing everyone else in the family. He’s got a hairtrigger temper, and everyone tiptoes around him, hoping they’re not the ones to set it off.
Last time I spoke with her, I heard about an incident where V screamed at J, K’s husband, while she stood there biting her lip. Later, to V, she ‘defended’ J by saying, “he didn’t mean to upset you…”
Whenever I ask K why everyone tolerates this behavior, she says, “well, V has a good heart, and he means well, and he’s probably under a lot of pressure that none of us know about…”
If the house were on fire, and V screamed ‘Get out now!’ to J (or K), that’s one thing. But regularly screaming at people because you’re ‘having a bad day’ or just don’t know how to tolerate discomfort is totally unacceptable to me.
I can’t swear to what I’d do if V screamed at me — I might freeze up — but if V came after Spouse while I was right there, I would defend Spouse like a Mama Bear with her cub. I’ve been verbally defending whoever needed it since I was a kid.
Now that I think about it, I’ve been verbally defending… usually smaller, possibly weaker family members, since I was a kid.
I never found an argument, a line of reasoning, that held up though. Appealing to our common humanity or morality, for instance… made no real sense, and did not work. I was a Chaotic Good… paladin-wannabe, stuck within all these people who had to be Lawful Good, right? I mean, Family, Good Catholics (sending us kids to Catholic school, which was definitely against my will, not that anyone cared), “blood is thicker than water”, “you’ll always have Your Family”, those people.
I didn’t have the emotional energy available to put all the pieces together correctly, and read what the pattern actually was.
I see it more clearly now. But I still don’t see what child-me could have done to change it. One person — especially one person with no social power, who is widely disliked — cannot change the system. One person can only… escape the system. Which I did.
Apparently V’s grown children refuse to talk to him. I’m sure it’s never occurred to him he might have things to apologize for; I’m equally sure he’s never apologized.
Instead, he found himself a girlfriend the age of his kids, and had a baby with her. I fear for the childhood that kid will have, since he doesn’t have a sibling, nor a mother who stands up to V.
V and my mother have, according to K, bonded over having kids that won’t talk to them.
If I went back, I might be a cause célèbre (very briefly), but then I would quickly return to being a nonentity that no one ever liked very much.
Nothing would have changed in my absence: the bullies would still be the ones lauded, while anyone kind is hushed up.
Why am I supposed to value the ‘community’ over my own survival?
I guess I’m not. I shouldn’t have survived, and then the ‘community’ could say whatever they liked about ‘losers’ like me who couldn’t conform.
G asked my sister for a divorce ~8 years ago; it was finalized 6.5 years ago. Once she was single, she moved out to Texas. She sees the OKC cousins fairly often; our elderly parents drive out to see her too.
When I last talked to her (a year ago), she seemed to be warning me off of coming back, since she’d taken over my role in the family? I’m confused how that would be a promotion: I always understood that I had the lowest position in the entire extended family, and everyone else bonded over “at least we’re better than Mea, what a loser”.
But anyway, it’s true, if I were to come back, I have no idea… how I would relate to anyone. What would there be to talk about, that I would have the slightest interest in?
K keeps encouraging me to come back.
She seems to think something called “solidarity” will just magically appear. Even though it never did before. She seems to assume that I like everyone I’m related to. I don’t. I liked G, my ex-brother-in-law. I think it’s safe to say, almost everyone else is essentially a stranger to me, albeit a stranger I have very little interest in getting to know better. (Trying to repress my natural curiosity seems pointless.)
What could I hope to gain?
Greater acquaintanceship with people who’ve spent their lives bullying everyone around them. Poor listeners. People with little-to-no curiosity about the world. People who are consumed with hierarchy, status, and power. People who regularly… scream… at other people.
You know what? I’m good. Thanks, though, for thinking of me.