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


Mine to Lose

I need a spiritual solution. And I don’t mean in a come-to-Jesus kind of way because while I believe in the miracle of Him, it’s not a help in my day-to-day.

I recently went to a meditation class. I think I’m more drawn to the idea of Eastern philosophy than the actual practice of it. I will say that when I went into the class I was feeling blue, and teared up when I was asked (as were all the participants) to say a bit about why I was there. But I did felt calm at the end of it. Of course, the whole time I was supposed to be meditating and paying attention to my breath, I was thinking about how I actually finally wrote a blog post and WTF did I write and all the things I needed to do at work and how many of the Christmas gifts I bought I should return because I overdid as usual and yeah, all the things people who meditate struggle with. Except when it was over people were truly moved by their experience and I was thinking, well, it was okay but what the heck did I miss? I didn’t go somewhere deep and mystical. Did you ever have that, when you’re in a group of people all experiencing the same thing and you feel like everyone gets it except you but you act like you do because surely there must be something wrong with you if you didn’t?

I truly want to feel better. So often I feel both wounded and empty. My comfort in my grief – if it can be called comfort – was finding the place inside where I could write from. It’s not so easy to find my way any more. Where did that disappear to? It can’t be that I lost it, it must be that I’m too closed down to access it, right? I’m still the person who wrote those 140 posts here, right? I can’t have changed into someone thoughtless, wordless…right?

’Tis the season, though. The time that makes things harder for so many. While grieving Philip, I’ve taken comfort these last years during the holidays, from buying gifts to share to knowing I’d be with friends and family, as if the glow that’s Christmas could actually warm my heart instead of break it. Not so this year, and a lot of this has to do with K. We were together last year and now we’re not. I bet that sounds almost romantic. It isn’t. Because the truth of it is I was already pulling away from her. Whether or not I spent Christmas day with her is something I can’t remember. I know I did not spend Christmas Eve with her because I dared not invite her to join in with my family because she was my partner and while everyone knew I was with a woman, no one approved. At least, my mother disapproved. She hung up the phone angry and disgusted when I told her, then called my brother sobbing, And when I’d told my brother about K, I was met with a tepid “that’s okay,” but he let me know he was sure glad it wasn’t one of his daughters bringing him such news.

Telling my family might’ve sounded like I got the worst of it out of the way but it wasn’t. Next would’ve required being clear that where I was invited, K was invited. I never got that far. K has a big, sprawling, welcoming family who saw each other often, but not me. My family met on holidays and when last Christmas Eve rolled around – the holiday I always spend at my brother’s –  I said nothing. K and I didn’t even discuss it. We just continued like it was any old visit without her to my family. And while I’m not saying this is why we broke up, there is never any exact “why” to a break up. There are the million dings and dints to the thing that’s whole until it’s whole no longer and it breaks and cracks into pieces that can be mended or shards that splinter irrevocably and it is looking to me like right now, for her, there is no going back.

And I’m left asking myself if it was worth it. Because all those people that I was so concerned about have had their holidays the way they wanted, spent with the people they wanted to spend them with and I am here pining for what had only been mine to lose.

© 2019 Denise Smyth