On Me and My Family, Part Two

But what happens when this new-found freedom hits the real world? Earlier in the week Natalie asked me what we were doing for Easter. Nothing, I answered. For years I went to my mother’s, but those years are gone and if I’ve replaced them with something else, I don’t remember what it is. Natalie said last year we went to my brother’s. Well, we haven’t been invited, I told her. Aunt M is mad at me so I doubt she will and I don’t want to go, anyway. But I do, she insisted. I want to see Grandma. 

So she called my brother who told her he’d call her back. Instead he called me. Natalie called, he said. I know, I answered. M is really upset, he continued. I can try and smooth things over. This is not about me, I interrupted. This is about Natalie. She wants to see her cousins. She hasn’t much family, her brother is dead. I am not looking to come on Sunday. She is. She’s not the one M is angry with. I’m sure M wouldn’t mind. But whatever it is, you need to call Natalie about it, not me. And so he called M because traditions die hard and the way my mother ruled is the way M does. R might pay for the house, but when it comes to his side of the family, M decides who passes through its doors. 

I am proud of Natalie. I think it took balls for her to make that call. If she wants to be an active part of that family, she will have to make that happen. R called her and confirmed she could come. I’m going, mom, she announced. And maybe it’s good you’re not there because I hide behind you when you are. She’s right. Seeing family once or a twice year does not a relationship make and in the past, if she was there and found conversation lacking, I was there to turn to. So let her go, let her see, let her decide for herself what she wants.

Me standing apart from my family as opposed to merely hiding from them is new. But here it is Easter, and here I am alone. Easter itself never meant anything to me, other than another day the family gets together.  And I admit to a certain shakiness earlier. Everyone is with family, they don’t want me. I am a ghost, sitting here alone, me and my cat and my books and my words and the latest K Revenge Drama. WTF?

No. Not WTF. Reality, instead. “Everyone” is a meaningless story I tell myself. So is “they.” In this case, “they” consists of M. That is a fact – M does not want me there. Not “everyone,” just M. So what? And what of the “there” where she doesn’t want me? Let me go back to one of the last times I visited “there,” Thanksgiving, when things between us were about as normal as possible, when I was showing up but doing a damn good job of hiding. Along with M and R were my three nieces and nephew, some with their significant others. There were other of M’s family members as well, a couple of friends, maybe 30 people in all. The tables were laid end to end to accommodate us and each place setting had a name tag. My brother sat at the head with M next to him. Around them on either side were these various family members, were their friends. At the far end, next to my mother, was where I was seated. Around me were M’s brother who no one gets along with, his kid and a couple 10-year-olds. 

I am the afterthought. It has been my complaint with R and M for as long as I can remember. When Philip died, I finally understood that all the years of anger I had with them was because I wanted them to be who they weren’t. It is not about right or wrong. I could tell stories, you would probably agree what they did wasn’t “right.” Doesn’t matter. They are who they are and it’s up to me to accept them. After Philip died, I did, for a long time. But accepting them was not revealing myself to them and it worked until it didn’t. 

Maybe I was being too sensitive that Thanksgiving. Maybe I didn’t have to take it personally. But putting me and my mother at a place at a table so long that we were actually in a different room when I haven’t a thing to say to her, along with M’s brother and a couple of restless 10-year-olds was a deliberate choice and I was not interpreting it kindly. I wanted to be among my nieces and nephew, to be part of the laughing and camaraderie that was too far up the table for me take part in. Later, during dessert, people were moving around, shiftng to couches, standing apart. I took the opportunity to sit further up the table then, hoping to find some conversation before I left. Which I did. It went something like this:

R’s twenty-something nephew: This war in Urkraine. WTF? We’re spending billions. And for what?

R: It’s a proxy war, you know. That’s all it is. An excuse to fight.

A glance at my phone showed 6:10pm. A fine time to leave, I thought. So I did.

Shakiness? Yes, I will shake, all right. My ass around the living room in hallelujah that I don’t have to go through that again. I am here. I am home. My cat and my books and my words and my K Revenge Drama are looking pretty damn good right now. My life, my choice. And since this is all new to me, well – let come what may.

Happy Easter if it’s called for, may the day find you well if not.

© 2023 Denise Smyth


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Katherine McCormick (Kate Dopulos)
    Apr 25, 2023 @ 09:48:01

    Denise — I stumbled across this after first reading when Phil died when I was in college, and it just came back to me. I have a daughter now and his life and death has come to a totally new light for me now. I’m not surprised at all that you’re still writing – how could you not? – and I want you to know that I have not forgotten him, a good friend to me (down the road on Edgewood ter), sitting on his white jeep eating quik chek sandwiches, maybe even drinking an adult beverage or two at points (I’d say don’t tell my parents, but I guess it’s all fine now). Thank you for continuing to work through your grief in this broken world.


    • Denise
      Apr 26, 2023 @ 09:49:42

      There is nothing more precious than having a child. I never thought I wanted kids…then came Philip and Natalie and I knew a love like no other. If it wasn’t for Natalie I don’t know how I would kept living after Philip died. I am touched by your comment, that you remember him and that you know the joy of being a mom. And thank you, thank you for caring. xoxoxo


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