I went back and forth on whether or not to post this, but I am going to because I am sure many have experienced something similar in life. Please understand this is not a rant, bash, or anything else. It is merely my experience.
Blood may be thicker than water. But who said that the blood had to contain the same genetic material as you for them to be considered family. I have lived a life where my friends were more my family than the biological one I was assigned. I grew up being a black sheep and often scoffed at for decisions and choices I made.
My family was rather unique, as in the way it came to be and how my attitude towards those in my immediate family became. When I was born, I was the youngest of 4 children born to my mom. I grew up in a home with my biological brother who is 3.5 years older than me and has pretty much hated me from the time I was toddler. However, I had two half siblings that never came around while I was growing. Now to be fair they were 14 and 12 years older than me, so they were just kids’ themselves, when I was born. However, as I grew older and they still failed to appear but maybe once or twice, I realized that I was merely an after thought to them.
I met my mother’s mother and step father when I was 6 or 7, the age I can’t really remember. It was for a Thanksgiving weekend, that to me, seemed fine as a child, but was laced with family drama of unresolved issues. I didn’t know then, that I would be paying for those unresolved issues for most of my life. After my family moved to GA when I was 10, I never saw my half brother or sister. I actually only met them once when I was 5. I saw more of my mom’s family, but it became clear that there was a major difference. I will never forget the experience of being at the beach with my grandparents, and my brother and I were playing with a brother and sister, who just happened to be black. She ran towards us disgusted and told us we were not allowed to play with them. Her racism ran deep, and I realized it more and more the time I spent. The last time I saw my extended family was at my step-grandfather’s funeral. I was 12 years old. That was 21 years ago.
Since then, holidays became bittersweet. There were no trips with extended family, there was no extended family. At one point, holidays became really painful. It always felt like something was missing. I had all these images of big family gatherings, and I had a big family, so it could have been possible, but it never happened. As I grew older, I became bitter and angry. I have nieces and nephews I have never met. Family is supposed to be everything and treasured, but I felt like I was being punished for something I didn’t do. It was bad enough my family fell apart because of my eating disorder. However, not to have any family that was blood, that was almost unbearable. I had to listen to people talking about these families gatherings and all these family activities, and I had to stay quiet because that was not my reality. My reality was watching my dad deteriorate from an autoimmune disorder and a mom who hated his guts beat him down at every opportunity. I had a brother who hated me for things I was too young to comprehend at the time. There were no hallmark moments in my family. My family structure was a nightmare.
I spent days longing for a family that was normal. Now, I know all families have some sort of dysfunction, but they are families, nonetheless. That was not my case. I had to learn about my dad’s passing after returning from Korea. My brother still won’t talk to me and goes out of his way to make sure that I know I am unwanted in his life. My mom goes from liking me to considering me her greatest mistake. All of this growing up was a lot to bare. Therapists would always tell my parents that the behaviors they were causing my demise and I wasn’t equipped to deal with all these adult situations. My teen years at home were plagued with suicidal tendencies, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and just trying to find people who would accept me for being me. Those who wouldn’t abandon me when times got tough. I was really just longing for a family. That blood is thicker than water running through my mind like crazy on times when stuff got too hard to handle. I had no one to talk to when things were dark and all I needed was the comfort from a mom or dad. My dad tried but his MS quickly destroyed his decision making and mind and he changed into someone unrecognizable. My mom, being completely unmaternal, was cold as ice and never had a moment to spare on such trivial things as my nonsense struggles. A brother, who told me on several occasions to go die, never knew how deep those words ran. My immediate family was not supportive at all. I mean, sure they did provide but emotional support or love was nowhere to be found. They weren’t even strict. They literally didn’t care what I was doing most of the time or have any clue what I was up to.
Luckily for me, I was lucky to have an amazing group of friends, who pulled me through the dark times and their parents treated me as their own child. I experienced love from complete strangers. Love I was missing from my own immediate family. These people were my brothers and sisters, they were the people I would lay my life on the line for. However, they were not blood related and I was often told by complete strangers that blood Is thicker than water, and I needed to be at home with my family and not out with my friends. My frequent retort back about my friends being more a family than them was never met kindly.
To the point as a teen, I ran away a lot to stay with friends to avoid the constant fights of my parents. I was only 14 and playing therapist to two adults gets old very quickly. My parents eventually gave up and figured letting someone else deal with me, was better than having me at home. Now for the most part, my friends were positive influences, but there were some that could have led me down a darker path or even to my grave, if I had followed them blindly. Luckily I have always been grounded morally, so I was able to save myself from the fate they eventually met. Still risking it with these people was more impactful than being in a house where I had to hide in my imagination to take me away. I think most writers most have done that at some point. We have such vivid imaginations, we can create an alternate reality than the one we are in. I will never forget walking around my house at night imagining that of a happy family and a house full of laughter instead of coldness and anger. Known for my eccentric personality from a young age, these times are probably where I perfected my motivational speeches to myself. When your family won’t talk to you, you are left to talk to yourself. As funny as that sounds, sometimes this internal dialogue happening aloud, is the way I have overcome many struggles in my adult life. It helped me conquer my anxiety in my early 20s, because I could tell myself out loud what my mind was trying to hide.
Even after I moved out of my parent’s house. I felt something missing. I still longed for the extended family image I had in my head. I still wanted the big Thanksgiving dinner and Christmases with them, but that never happened. Even after I had my first child, my half sister was not interested in my life. She had 4 children of her own and to be fair I was a complete stranger. If she did reach out it was to bad mouth my family, the one she had never been apart of, and while it might have been true, it angered me that a complete stranger could say such things. Not to mention, it made me mad because she was my sister and if she saw that, she should have reached out to make sure I was okay. For a long time, I was bitter towards her, and I even resented her. She had the perfect life, perfect family, everything I didn’t. I was definitely green with envy, except it was coming across as resentment. My pride was too much to say, I am jealous of you, it was easier to hold a grudge. My half brother never reached out to me, so I kind of forgot he existed. Over the years I forgot his name and was only reminded when my mom would mention something about him.
However, I didn’t know at the time, that I was building my own family based on the example I had as a kid. After having kids with someone, I thought it was up to me to make sure that they had the family I didn’t. However, I should have done a better job choosing their other DNA contributor because I was putting them in the same situation. For years, I made excuses, hoping one day I could turn the fantasy in my head into reality. AS fights got more violent and anger started to turn to defenseless children, I realized then that blood may be thicker than water, but it doesn’t have to be the same blood. When everything went to hell, it wasn’t my biological family there for me, but my adopted family of friends. It was those who have been there for me since high school and new people I have added to my tribe. In fact, my mom was the first to tell me I was going to regret leaving. I experienced more push back from blood related family, it was astounding. My sister, that always had something to say, won’t say more than a few words to me after my divorce. My divorce goes against her Christian beliefs, and apparently staying around waiting for the day he snapped and killed me was better, than walking away with my life. My mother’s side of the family won’t recognize my children, because they are mixed. They won’t talk to me, because my dating choices don’t go with their beliefs. I actually heard that if my husband had been white and my kids white, that this would have never happened. That somehow the color of their skin determines them as a person.
However, after thinking about it, I have realized this, you may not be able to pick your family, but you can pick your extended family. Who says extended family has to be blood related? After years of back and forth, I have realized it was not my responsibility to create a relationship with my extended family. For 21 years, I have tried and have been met with brick wall after brick wall. They built walls around me and I have spent years trying to knock them down. I grew tired and I gave up. Those who want you around will not make you work this hard to keep you in their life. I have never had to jump over walls to get to my friends when I need them. They listen to my vents, rants, crazy ideas. They are the first ones to tell me when I am being too out there and need to come back to earth. They are the ones who I would lay my life on the line down for, after my children. If I need them, they hop flights to get to me, even if it is not convenient. Something we have done for each other for years. I have never hoped a flight at 2am for a family member, but have for friends in need, multiple times. Though to be fair to myself, no one from my family has ever called. Sometimes it hurts when I see the pictures of the family gathered together and I am the one left out. It used to be salt in the wound. However, now I just shrug and know that if they don’t want to know me and all the awesome that I am, then I don’t need them in my life.
As I get older, and my kids get older. I have to answer questions from them that I have to give candy coated answers to, because I don’t want them to grow up with the same pain I did. Holidays are spent with friends, because sometimes they are the best family you can find. I also realized if your family is toxic, you don’t have to endure it for the sake of being loyal. I have let go a lot of extended family because they were not adding but taking value away from my life. The racism and hate they spewed was making me a worse version of myself and always on the defensive, so I let them go. It’s not like I will be missed, I mean they haven’t seen me in 21 years. You can’t tell me that they could go to a state next door, but couldn’t come see me, is just a coincidence? Yeah, I won’t ever buy that story. However, it is okay because I will rely on the friends who will jump continents to come see me. Those are the family members you need, not the ones that cause unrelenting drama.
Now please don’t take this a bash on families. If your family is dysfunctional, like most, and works then by all means, I am happy for you. This is merely from my perspective. I will always be grateful to my parents for bringing me into this world. There will just always be a side of me that longs for the family experience I never got. I thank them for the experience because it makes me a better parent. I live my life making sure my kids never have to experience what it was like to grow up like me. So of course, I am grateful to them for providing a house over my head for 19 years, but sometimes the pain that goes unseen are why families fall apart. So, if your biological family has your back and loves you unconditionally, please treasure that. Some of us were not lucky enough to experience such luck in life.
While blood is indeed thicker than water, sometimes the best blood is the one that doesn’t share the same make-up as yours. Sometimes those who do share the genetic material can not see the greatness that you are, because they are stuck in their own regrets of their life. Parents often try to live through their children and make them do things that they regretted not achieving or doing. In my family, I was just the one that no one wanted to follow and I got punished for it. My family had completely different interests from me, and I was actually punished for some of my accomplishments. I have had works that were treasured ripped up in front of me for not doing something that was asked. Now I understand punishments, but if you destroy something that someone has worked hard on, then that is unimaginably cruel. There are masterpieces that I have had to rebuild from my memory, but in the end it is okay. For one thing is true, those who don’t let our past or the misfortunes of our family affect us, come out stronger than ever. I can attribute my strength to my experiences growing up. I am happy I had writing to be my therapy in the dark days and amazing friends who I will forever be grateful to because without them, I can guarantee I would not be here, and you would not be reading this. Find your family where you can and hold on to them because you only get one life, so fill it with positivity and positive people.
©Writing the Rose
30 December 2018