There’s nothing to like death to define a family. That’s something I learned this weekend.
My grandpa died last Thursday. It wasn’t exactly a shock; he was 97 and his health has been deteriorating for the better part of two years. Even so, one minute he was there in my life and the next he was gone. Nothing really prepares you for that.
Nothing prepared me for seeing my brother cry at the visitation and funeral. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen my brother cry before that, but it startled me in a lot of different ways. Suddenly the person who could be compared to stone was a human, raw and vulnerable and hurting. And suddenly I was his sister, someone who could actually understand what was going on in his head.
And then there was my dad, who was surprisingly calm. I expected him to be angry and irrational, but I think maybe instead he was relieved. I can’t imagine what it must be like to watch your parent slowly die and forget all the people they loved…I guess at the end you’re just glad that wherever they are, at least they are no longer suffering. I think my dad is sad, but the weight of helplessness has been lifted off of him.
So I hugged my brother, and I hugged my dad. I cried in the moments I had alone, and then as “Taps” played when they gave my grandpa his military funeral. I was lucky I had people beside me who not only loved him, but loved me as I needed their support.
He wasn’t a perfect person, but he was a good one. He took me fishing when I was little, and told me that if I ate the crusts off of my sandwiches that they would make my hair curly. He hugged me and kissed my cheek and told me he loved me each time he saw me. He called me “Pooky Lou” sometimes and told me he’d dance with me at my wedding. And when I got older, he always asked me about my “boyfriend” (whether I had one or not) in that funny way grandparents do. He loved me very much, and was there loving me from the moment I was born until the day he died. Nothing will ever replace that kind of love, or quench the kind of sorrow you feel when it’s gone. But I’m so incredibly grateful I had it for as long as I did.
After an intense weekend of seeing out of town family, preparing for the funeral, and actually going through the process of accepting that he’s gone, I actually feel a bit better about my family. Death reminds us how important life is, and even though I don’t have a close family or necessarily a warm and fuzzy one, they are the people I’ll deal with for the rest of my life. They love me and I love them, and the rest is simply detail. Sometimes all you need to know about a person is if they will be there when you’re hurting. If they can do that, then they are worth keeping around.
My meds ran out on Friday (maybe Saturday?) and already I can feel the little control I had over my life slipping out of my fingers. I wish I was 18 again, back in group therapy so I could feel some sort of validation. You never realize how comforting “I know how you feel” is until no one says it to you anymore.
There was a comfort in group that I don’t find in regular life. It was an unspoken knowledge that “I was sent here by someone who cares about me, because I worry them” and we all could see that underneath everyone’s layers of silence that they wanted to be there too, because they felt lost and scared/numb. It was really nice to feel like you aren’t weird or unstable anymore; everyone in the room had their own emotional baggage that made yours seem less burdensome. It was only after group, when we all went back to the real world, that society’s “what’s wrong with you?” weighed on our shoulders.
I bring all of this up because my mom texted me over the weekend. I asked about spending Thanksgiving with my girlfriend’s (I’ll get to that part later) family earlier in the day, to which she said that was fine with her. But then I got this text:
I have been feeling sad all day; I confess that the idea of you preferring to spend Thanksgiving somewhere else instead of with us is bothering me. Especially because you don’t come home very much anymore. And I know what will happen when I tell your dad where you are instead–that it will be miserable for all of us here at home. I know you haven’t been feeling great lately and I do not want to place any additional “stresses” on you, but I have to admit that I am sad about the whole situation. I just feel that my family is being torn apart.
So I called her, and she was crying. It kills me that she was crying. My mom hardly ever cries…not when I told her I was depressed, not when I told her I was bi, not when I told her I swallowed a bunch of pills, not when she dropped me off at college. But her tears poured over me, and I did my best to be strong, though I wanted to cry too. “…It’s okay Mom, you can tell me anything…you don’t have to pretend that this makes you comfortable if it doesn’t, I understand that you’re having a hard time with it…I know I’m not the daughter that you and Dad expected…I’ll spend Thanksgiving at home if it’s important to you, it’s not big deal…” But what she was saying was a big deal. “…I don’t want you to never come home…I don’t want you to have one parent that doesn’t want to be around you…It’s hard to have one kid that doesn’t want to talk to the other…”
Readers, if I could have changed my sexuality right then, I would have. But I had ventured too deep into the rabbit hole, I had come too far to go back to feeling ashamed and disgusted by my feelings. So I was stuck, tearing my family apart.
Since high school, I’ve considered my group of friends to be my family. They were the ones I went to when I was crying, when I couldn’t stand to be in my house any longer, when I needed to rant, or when I wanted to share my hopes and dreams for the future. They were my best friends, my hooligans, my siblings. I loved them with all of my heart; they were the ones I was scared to move away from when I went to college. But my pseudo family is also being torn apart. Ashley and Brendan live together back home, and thrive off of the company of their families rather than the company of their old friends. Polly and Michelle are both off at their respective schools, and beloved Daniel moved with his family to Texas. Everyone is apart, and only four of us seem to care.
With no families to fall back on, I’ve gone back to my loner ways. Netflix, sweatpants, and junk food are my family now. And friends? As much as I love and treasure my college friends, I feel like a burden to them. Fred is a friendly reminder of the life I could have had, which brings up painful memories and anger, so I also try to avoid him. As of now, my strategy in life is to hide under my covers and block out the world.
But there is one bright spot. My girlfriend, formerly my ex-girlfriend. We got back together, and it was actually a simple decision. She loves me, I love her, she is good to me (despite everything), and I want to spend as much time with her before she moves to Costa Rica as I can. Sure, it’s a short-lived commitment, but there’s no one else I’d rather spend my time with. She takes care of me, and makes me feel strong enough to take care of her back. She’s the only thing in my life that makes me feel normal and lovable, and she makes me excited about things again. So I’ve quitting dating around, and am just dating her. In a way, it feels like we’re in our own little world, just holding onto each other until it’s time to let go. It might sound like she’s my lifeboat, but really she’s my wings. She helps me fly toward hope and perspective.
So that’s where I’m at. I’m sad and happy and struggling, but as much as I might feel to blame for the wrongdoings of the world, I’m still trying. After all, there’s only one more week until Thanksgiving Break. I can hold out for that long….right?
It’s no secret that I’m not close with my family. Their lack of presence in my life is obvious every time I’m around a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend’s family. I see the way people grow together, as a unit of strength and love and loyalty, and wonder what went wrong in between my mom, dad, brother, and I. Some families have tragic reasons why they are not close. But my family, we just don’t fit. We all are strangers, bound by blood.
This doesn’t bother me so much when it comes to my parents. My mom is the only person in the family I communicate with in an honest and consistent manner, and I have accepted her as my sole source of familial warmth. My teen years were spent aching for a close relationship with my dad, and realizing that no matter how hard I tried, we are just too different to be close. And then there’s my brother.
My brother is a painful topic for me. When I was a kid, he was my idol. I followed his lead in toys, sports, music, video games….anything he did I did too, in order to impress him and prove that I was worthy enough to be his equal. But being a little sister, I was born to be inferior, annoying, and ultimately uninteresting to him. So as he reached ten and eleven, and I reached eight and nine we went our separate ways. This progressed rapidly as we aged. I had more bookish tendencies, was quiet, reserved, creative. He was also reserved, but sulky as opposed to my ‘sad’. He was practical; he learned about mechanics, hunting, woodworking. We were growing more different by the day.
We even seemed opposite in appearance. He had our mother’s blue eyes and fair skin, he was tall, his hair was lighter with only the slightest hint of wave. I was short, with a darker complexion and dark eyes and hair, which was a wild mess of curls and waves. I wore glasses, he had perfect eyesight. He never got sick, I had asthma, eczema, and several bouts of pneumonia during childhood. But we weren’t all difference. He didn’t like sports either, wasn’t extremely social, had the same body type, and was also isolated from our parents. But he was beginning to be a teenager, and I was still a kid, fearful of his disapproval, so I kept my distance.
When I reached high school I think he began to notice how grown up I had become. He was friendlier, but still maintained his distance. I maintained mine too, because I no longer knew what to say to him. We were so different, with different dreams and pursuits and personalities…it seemed hopeless. “Just wait,” my mom kept telling me, “you two will become closer as you both reach adulthood.” So I waited, and waited. The more time passed, the harder it was to reach out to him. I went off to college and he stayed at home, and our lives became a mystery to another. Someone recently asked how he was doing. Realizing I couldn’t remember the last time I had spoken to him (despite seeing each other in person at least once in the past month), I reiterated the things my mom always told me about him. He worked, he went to school, he had a girlfriend. I couldn’t even tell you what his favorite band is, what he does for fun, or what exactly he’s studying in school. He is a stranger.
This realization always hits me hard. The person I am biologically the closest to is a stranger. My only sibling knows less about me than just about everyone else in my life. Most of the time I have trouble even saying “hi” to him. But I wish it wasn’t so hard…I wish we knew what to say to each other. I recognized an anger in him that I have in myself, only he lashes out, and I let it burn inside. We both are strong-willed, stubborn, and private. He never talks about his feelings, and neither do I, but he is different because he shares his opinions. He can manage small talk, I just avoid people. He is critical, I am open-minded. We are strangers, made of the same stuff, but chose different paths. One thing we both genetically share is depression, but he will never talk about that, and I will never be brave enough to ask him. I only know because my mom found the pill bottle in his room.
The sad part is, I don’t really miss him anymore. I don’t even know him, so there’s nothing really to miss. There’s just the shadow of old memories, which are so long ago that they might as well have been a dream. Similarly, my dad and I were never close, so I have trouble missing him, too. My mom is the only exception; I miss her always, but do nothing about it.
I’m scared that I will follow in the footsteps of my family. That I won’t know what to say, that I will hardly hug or touch my children, that I’ll look at my children one day and realize they are strangers to me, and to each other.
One pattern I’m beginning to see with my brother and I is our constant string of relationships. It’s like we both are trying to compensate the lack of affection and warmth from our childhood by putting all of our love into one person. I just hope he has better luck than I do, and that his relationships won’t burn out or spiral out of control…
But who am I kidding? If they did, I probably wouldn’t know, anyway.
Do you ever feel like you’re watching your life through a window? Like you’re moving through the steps, but you’re not really there? It’s as if the days are a complete blur, the people are just people you’ve dreamt of another lifetime ago, and your heart is completely still. That’s how life feels right now. It feels like a dream, like a bubble just waiting to burst.
I went home last week and it was hard for a number of reasons. First off, it was hard to leave my girlfriend after just moving in with her and starting the summer. A whole week without seeing her, touching her, and sleeping next to her each night was a struggle to imagine, let alone endure. And then there was my dad, who was hard to see and talk to once I got home. My dad always means well—he always is trying to protect me or teach me or provide for me, but he just goes about it the wrong way sometimes. He is blinded by his own opinions and prejudice to the point where he doesn’t care about anyone else’s happiness anymore. Basically, he told my mom flat out: “I don’t want a gay daughter.” Though I wasn’t surprised by this statement, avoiding him for an entire week was a bit tricky. I skillfully scheduled hang outs with my friends, errands, and naps when he wanted to talk or give me jobs to do, all without giving him the idea that I was mad at him. But even seeing him or hearing him around the house made me uneasy. And then finally there was seeing Fred. That was hard not only because it was the first time we had spent time together post break up, but because we were faced with the arduous task of being just friends, something we had never been before. Readers, I don’t know if you have ever planned out your life including a wedding, kids, travel, living space, and career with another person and then broke up and tried to be friends with them, but if you haven’t let me tell you: it is hard stuff.
It started out fine, just the normal, catching up kind of conversations and common interests like Game of Thrones. But then the topics talked about became deeper, like how we both felt about our break up and each other. And then it got heavier, like him talking about starting to see other people and analyzing the last month or so of our relationship. It all boils down to two facts: 1) Fred and I still love each other & 2) Fred and I should not be together right now. Those two facts are enough to stir up a whole plethora of conflict within my heart and mind…but there’s nothing I can do but accept them both.
Honestly right now I’m in the angry/avoiding stage of my break up. Hearing him talk about other people and doing things with other people makes me feel so hurt and so pissed that I would just much rather keep my distance. I really don’t know how I’m going to let him go enough to not feel that way, but still be his friend. I want to hear about his life and for us to be honest with another, yet I also want to vomit at the thought of him sleeping with anyone else. It’s complicated, and only going to get better after a lot of time.
On the other hand, my relationship with my girlfriend is solid. We just keep getting closer and closer, and it’s made a lot of previous insecurities fade. With her, I feel so safe and secure…almost like a dream. I still can’t believe that she’s real when I wake up each morning and see her next to me. And living together has felt very natural so far; I expected it to be more uncertain and conflict-building since neither one of us have lived with a significant other before. But nope, so far we have gotten along great and it’s been stress-free.
As for things with me, other than feeling head-over-heels in love or drudging through my post break up feelings I’ve been in a really strange place. I don’t want to call it a numbness, but there’s a definite avoidance of certain triggering thoughts. I’m not quite sure what I feel to be completely honest…I’m not sure what is real and what isn’t…
I’m at a point in my life where I have absolutely no idea of what to expect from the future. I’m sort of still inventing myself at this point, and am just throwing myself into new things and new people. It’s very uncertain, but it’s exactly what I need.
Nothing is forever. This is a realization that keeps dawning on me, drumming into my mind louder and louder. It’s like when you lie down to go to sleep and suddenly hear your own pulse—once you hear it, it’s hard not to. And so these past weeks I’ve been living trying not to know this realization…trying, but failing.
My family isn’t forever. I always knew that, but while I was depressed in high school, I thought that once I committed suicide it would bring my family together. My parents would be affectionate and kind to another, my brother would value his relationships with them. They would all regret how distant our family had been when I was alive, but would all live better lives as a result of it. Or, on the other hand, my parents would get divorced and my mom would marry someone who deserved her. My dad would finally understand how much he can hurt people with his selfishness, and change for the better. My brother would use the experience to make sure his own future marriage would last his lifetime. They would grow into their potential, and the beautiful lives they deserved. They would be a better family, or not a family at all. But I never did commit suicide, so now I’ll have to watch my family become worse and worse and avoid them like a cancerous growth until it kills me (not literally, emotionally) to be around them. That will probably be the ending of my family instead.
My friends are not forever. A few months ago I felt so connected with my college friends, and they meant so much to me. Now I feel utterly disconnected; I question how much we really have in common and how much they actually like me as a person. I’m not sure I would like me if I were them. And then there are my high school friends, who know me like the back of their palm. They are far away back home and at their respective colleges, and I miss them every single day. But our lives will probably never intersect the same way they did in high school—they will get married and settle down, or find jobs in different states, or embrace new lifestyles that call for a nomadic existence. We are all on separate paths, but love each other. What a torturous kind of love.
Speaking of, there’s my girlfriend and best friend Fred. How did I manage to fall in love with someone on a different path in life than me, and then fall in love with someone else on an even more different path than me. Why does everyone I love slip out of my fingers? With each of them, it boiled down to one person staying and delaying their potential plans to wait for the other. And what a guilt-ridden way to live, knowing that someone is waiting on you, putting their life on hold.
I thought Fred and I were forever. The real deal, you know? Everyone told us how perfect we were together. Everyone knew we were going to get married. We knew we were going to get married. But then the more progress we made, the more life wanted to tear us apart. I guess the universe got jealous of something so beautiful, or we forgot the value and rarity of finding something like that in a world so messed up. And so we messed up; I messed up. And the worst part is, it wasn’t a mistake. Our time was up, just a lot quicker than either of us anticipated.
My girlfriend and I won’t be forever. That is such a hard thing to swallow, and I absolutely hate admitting it. She will get bored, or I will screw up, or we will decide we want different things, or one of us will eventually die. There’s a ticking clock, there always is.
My depression is ticking, too, and I can hear it. It’s a metronome that my thoughts use for their rhythm. I can hear the rhythm getting slower and slower…ticking away as my time depression-free dwindles. I’m starting to think about the wrong things more, starting to crave the old habits that made me feel so low…
But even depression isn’t forever.
My life isn’t forever. Even when I think I have a plan, it changes. My idea of myself is constantly evolving, for better or worse. All I have is my history and my gut to keep me constant. And even then, memories can fade and rationality can wear thin—I could lose myself, just like I could lose everything else. Just like I will lose everything else. As much as I have gained since my last encounter with depression—all the happy memories, the friendships, the opportunities and the confidence—it all goes back to the knowledge that one day I will be alone.
Either alone with my death, or alone with my depression. But then again, they are kind of the same thing.
Yesterday was like a dream. Don’t you ever have those days, when you have so much love in your heart and so much happiness in your mind that the rest of the world just disappears? When nothing else exists outside of this moment, this person, this feeling? Yesterday was one of those days.
There is so much I could say about her. Her eyes, her smile, the way she smirks when she says something cocky and the flash of surprise crossing her face I say something cocky back. How contemplative and serious she can be in private moments, how happy-go-lucky and confident she is surrounded by others. I could go on for days about her, but never fully sum up what I see and feel. Some things can’t be put into words (and it is always those things that we wish we could write about, isn’t it?).
I stayed in my college town a night and day after my spring break started. At first I felt guilty about this, because that time is supposed to belong to my boyfriend. But then, just look at that sentence: “that time is supposed to belong to my boyfriend”. Since when does my time belong to anyone? Since when do I not dictate how and where and with whom I give my time to? So I decided to stay a day, and listen to my dad be all, “So what were you doing? Who were you with? Why were you doing that?” this morning. I hate having to give a cover story. I shouldn’t need a cover story. But then again, if I want my girlfriend Jessie to meet my parents (which, still sitting on the fence about that, because it will probably not be pleasant for either of us) then I can’t just drop the “Hey Dad, I was with my girlfriend because I’m bisexual and I’m still dating my boyfriend because we are in a polyamorous relationship right now” bomb and then just walk out of the room. No, as much as I’d like to do that, I can’t if I ever want Jessie to come home with me and see my town and my friends.
I hate thinking about how if she were to visit, we’d be closeted. No holding hands, no kissing, nothing until we were out of my neighborhood. I am proud of our relationship and I don’t want to hide it. But I can’t just start making out with her in front of my family if I don’t want to risk the “you’re getting kicked out” conversation with my dad. And then there’s the issue of time again. Jessie can see me most of the time at school, and my boyfriend only gets to see me when I’m home. I would be robbing him of some of “his time” again. It’s like a balancing act with these two relationships: whose turn is it to spend time with at the risk of distancing myself from the other? Who do I do damage control with and who do I build up the happy moments with? It’s hard to try to fulfill two other people’s needs along with my own.
I keep looking at Jessie and my boyfriend and think to myself, “How did I get so lucky to be with this incredible person? How on earth can I deserve someone as loving as they are?” Falling in love with two people is the easy part. The hard part is showing both of those loves at the same time.
I want more days like yesterday, when I was free and warm and so so happy. I want those days with both my boyfriend and girlfriend. Those are the days where you feel like you are living. Those are the days too full of love for any guilt to slip by. I stand by my choices, and by the two people I love. Now I need other people in my life who love me, like my family, to stand by me.
It’ll be a process, but someday I hope to get there. I want that day, when my parents tell me it’s okay to be who I am and love who I love, to be more than a dream. I want it to be real.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Why do I call you that, “Mom” and “Dad”? When was the point were I no longer felt comfortable to call you “Momma” or “Daddy”? Did you even notice when I stopped?
Are you proud of our family? Is this what you imagined when you married each other, this group of people that everyone else calls a family? I remember how I felt the world drop from under me when I first realized: we are not a normal family. Have you ever thought that before? Did you feel disappointed if you did, that you both failed at “normal”?
I guess we are normal on the outside. On the outside, I bet we look great. You both stayed married even though I had wished you didn’t. We have that nice suburban house, that big back yard. We have the dogs, we have the granite counter-tops and the wooden floors. You both have nice, respectable careers that gave us money for family vacations. No one was a drug addict, no one drank. No one smiled for long, but we learned to cover that up, didn’t we? “Try smiling more, ____.” “Speak up more, ___.” “What’s wrong with you? Why do you look so mopey?” Why didn’t you ever ask me what was wrong instead of trying to correct me, Dad? Why did you think yelling at me would make me more comfortable?
Give up on us being close, Dad; stop trying. Even on your good days, we are just too different. And on your bad days I just wish I could disappear. Why don’t you just go to the doctor so you can hear the words? “Bipolar” would be better than everyone just thinking you’re an asshole. Why can’t you ever think about anyone else’s feelings?
Why don’t you take me seriously, Mom? Why didn’t you hug me after I came out as bi to you? Why didn’t you see my show last month? Why must I always put on the brave face when you hurt my feelings? Why am I afraid to say certain things to you? You’re my best friend sometimes, and my idol all of the time. I just wish I knew you were proud of me.
Mom and Dad, don’t you care that we never have family dinners? Don’t you care that no one has real conversations with each other? Doesn’t it make you sad that we are all strangers?
It makes me sad that I can’t really ask you these questions. It makes me sad that I base my ideal future family off of everything we are not. It’s not enough to give me a comfortable home and raise me with morals, I wanted a family. I wanted love, real love, without obligations. It makes me sad that I want to move away from you all so I don’t have to come home to the sadness and guilt.
I don’t want to be sad. I want a real conversation, even if it means that you will hate me. I don’t want to hurt you guys, but I don’t want to keep hurting either. I wish I wasn’t writing this.
You should have hugged me and told me you loved me more. You should have talked to me more, showed more interest, more compassion. You should have cared that your children hardly speak to each other, you should have wanted them to grow up as themselves, not your ideal version of what a son and daughter should be.
I love you both, but I can’t stand our family. Maybe this is just the type of love that’s not made to be together. Maybe it’s just better if we spend our lives apart. Maybe I should just tell people I belong to a family that’s someplace far from where I am. That’s not what I want, but maybe it’s what I need.
I’ve been needing to write this post for a while now. There is so much pent-up emotion that’s been buried deep down inside of me and all I’ve been hoping for is a moment to sit down and confront it. The sadness, the anger, the isolation, the shame…I’m afraid to tap into this reserve of emotions for fear of flooding, of utter chaos and loss of control, but pushing it away is almost worse. (Almost.) I’m not the person I was a few years ago, the confident young woman who had the amazing friends and the amazing boyfriend beside her as she embraced life. No, with this I stand alone. This is my battle, my burden to bear and no one can help me except me.
Let’s start with the isolation. I am not a scary person, and I doubt there’s much about me that would intimidate anyone. But try to talk to me and suddenly I’m cold, unreceptive…I freeze. I don’t communicate, and probably come off as rude or snobby. I am hopeless at trying to convey any type of peace-offering to others, I don’t know what to say, if I should smile, and I can hardly meet their eyes. This is not just with strangers, this is with classmates, friends of friends, even my own family. I isolate myself from almost everyone, and the worst part is that I can’t understand why. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to others, but what could I possibly have to say that could matter to someone else? I’m also super sensitive and never say anything very personal for fear of being ridiculed. And then there’s just the general feeling of uneasiness around people I don’t know well. I don’t enjoy big groups of people, I don’t like to “put myself out there”. For the longest time this year, my ideal weekend at school is spent in my room alone with pizza and Netflix. I just can’t bring myself to seek out others, even if it’s people I love like my family. (Although it gets more complicated with them because we are fundamentally different). I am alone in areas of life where others have warmth and comfort, and I blame no one but myself.
And let’s not forget this other problem I have hanging over my head. There is a part of me that I am hiding from almost everyone, a secret identity I can hardly bring myself to call mine. My family, my friends I’ve known for years, my coworkers, they would be uncomfortable with this part of me. Some of them would be mean. Some of them would change the way they look at me; they’d get quiet, uncertain. Then there would be the silent judgement. And so I can’t bring myself to own this part of myself, it feels as if it is more convenient to discard it all together (but I can’t, I’ve tried). So here I sit, watching it make me even quieter, even more disconnected from the world around me. Sometimes it’s like my life is a match and I am so close to striking it…so ready to just accept that my life could someday be up in flames.
Have you ever felt like if people knew the real you, the vulnerable one curled up on the floor crying hard, that they would just much rather walk away ?
I wish more than anything that I could be free to be myself with my family. But that’s just not the type of family I have. It’s a choice: I can either sit there mute or run away free. Either way I won’t have the family I want, but at least with the first I still have a family.
And my friends? Well, I guess I’m just afraid to rock the boat.
I guess I’m afraid of a lot of things.