Fun update: I’ve uprooted myself, and really started over by moving across the country. It has been about a month, and for the most part, it has been nothing short of magic. (And I promise that I’ll touch on this next time, pinky promise.)
See, in the ten years that I lived in Texas, I managed to go home three or four times prior to 2017. As a result, relationships within my family got… weird, we’ll say. Although, “strained” is probably a better word. Before my move, I made five trips home. It was equal parts wonderful and hard.
The wonderful is easy to understand. As I’ve gotten older, I have really come to understand the value of having a strong support system in place. The unfortunate reality is that while in Texas, I had virtually no one to turn to when I needed help. I believed, falsely I think, that my ex-husband wouldn’t understand or would think that “it was all in my head”, so I tended to internalize everything that I felt and experienced.
It made for a very lonely and hard ten years.
The hard part has been that because I had been away for so long, it was really easy to fade out of memory, if you will, with some of my family members. Honestly, I don’t know how to phrase it accurately. Point is, it definitely felt like I was checking off some kind of obligation by reaching out.
Now here is where it gets fucky.
Divorce is really hard. It was horrible when I was 18-19 and my parents were going through it. And it was hard when I was 30 and going through it.
As far as my parents’ divorce goes, I became privy to some information quite recently that changed the way I looked at the man who I had called “dad” most of my life. I have very vivid memories of that man sitting me down and explaining why I needed to call him “dad” instead of by his first name. Memories of him explaining that a family isn’t just created by blood. You know the drill.
When my parents separated initially, it was bad. Like, b a d . A lot of horrible things were said and alleged. And unfortunately, there was a lot of merit in what was said. I’ve always been the diplomat in my family and social circles. I truly believe in hearing out all sides before taking a firm position. And as such, I remained neutral for years, when it came to my parents. I saw that both sides were hurt while inflicting as much pain onto the other as they could. I felt like, for the sake of my younger brother and sister, I needed to remain neutral.
Fast forward some years, and I am realizing how flawed that thinking and position was.
With my own divorce, there were a lot of details that I didn’t share openly with my family or friends. And given how nobody in my family (especially) really knew my ex-husband, I didn’t feel like those details were owed. This goes back to me being an intensely private person.
It’s petty. But I noticed that my older (step)sister was maintaining contact with my ex through social media. She’d met him twice in the ten years we were together. She also “unfollowed” me on every platform. Petty, but it still stung. When I went home for Christmas, I had an appointment with my (step)brother for a tattoo. He is one of the most talented artists I’ve ever met, and I made sure to book him as soon as I booked my flight. But leading up to the appointment, there was no confirmation. Irritating, and unprofessional to say the least.
My (step)dad’s behavior is what sealed the deal for me. (Oh yes, this is going to be one of those latent-daddy-issues piece.)
See, he and I used to be very close. When I was a teenager, and even after the divorce to my mom. He is truly the only father I have ever had. He formally adopted me when I was in high school. But something happened. As I began to realize that maybe my definition of family carried more weight than that of my siblings, I also realized that the person I had called “dad” didn’t really care all that much.
I’m sparing a lot of superfluous details, in an effort to not turn this into a cry-fest about how shitty my family is. I know that the dysfunctional family theme is pretty played out. That being said, this is something that I needed to process and then write out.
I won’t forget the sinking feeling that followed the shock when I heard my sister repeat what was said at the divorce trial of our parents. I won’t forget how that feeling lingered when I heard my brother repeat the racist vitriol that was spewed at him as he picked up his belongings strewn about the front yard. Up until that evening two weeks ago, I had known that there was something wrong with the relationship I had had with the person I had called “dad”. The unanswered texts and the unreturned calls were enough to know that for whatever reason, I was being punished for actions that he and they hadn’t had the courtesy to ask me about.
I’ve been settled about 45-minutes outside of the town I grew up in for a month now. I go over to my mom’s for dinner once or twice a week. I see my best friend when I can. I knew that it would be inevitable that I would run into him at some point or another.
“I have a surprise for you outside; it’s a dog.”
I was at breakfast with my mom, aunt, cousin, and grandparents. My mom whispered that in my ear as I was finishing up my cup of coffee. I asked her if she had found a baby raccoon. No? Okay, is it a possum?
It was him.
The unexpected run-in immediately made the delicious breakfast I had just had churn. Luckily (?), he was too involved with talking to some woman to say a word. He did wave, though. In a dismissive way, but a wave nonetheless.
As I got to my car, I couldn’t stop crying. A stranger parked in the car next to me asked if I was okay. I told her I was fine, but thank you. When I threw up so hard that I fell over, she again asked if I was okay. I wasn’t, but I was.
Growing up, it was ingrained in me that we “didn’t do” step___. She was my sister, he was my brother, and he was my dad. That’s it.
That was true years ago, but really, as I’m sitting on my couch, finally able to articulate the feelings I have, I question my belief in that. It has become so abundantly clear that the idea of family is blood first and foremost. Anyone else is just extra. Which isn’t all bad. My best friend is someone I look to like a sister. She is at every single family function, and she’s seen me naked more times than most men I’ve been involved with.
But the events that early afternoon serve to reinforce the notion that, as my little sister put it, once we stopped serving a purpose for him, we stopped being his kids. I’d imagine that that realization would hurt a lot as a teenager or kid. As a full-fledged woman, it hurt beyond expectation and comprehension.
It was fitting that the realization of the nuances of my family would come just days before Father’s Day. Incidentally, the first Father’s Day I would have gotten to celebrate with him in 11 years, due to distance. It was fitting that as I find myself safe and loved beyond comprehension, I’d also find myself reeling from loss.
Break-ups are hard. Removing old lives is messy. Being petty and “unfollowing” and “unfriending” is weird. But once the pain wears off, I know that my life will be just fine. I’ve done a lot more with a lot less. And when I said that I was starting over fresh from scratch, I meant it.
Best of all, what I’ve learned as a result is this:
Life is too damn short to keep people in it out of obligation. Toxic is toxic is toxic is toxic. Even if that includes the person who taught you how to ride a bike and what to expect out of a first date. But like my mom has said over and over and over again as I’ve cried on the phone to her- it’s their loss, not mine.