Yesterday as I drove along the winding roads to the coast, feelings of guilt made an appearance as I’ve been severely limiting the contact I now have with my parents. Naturally such guilt would increase during this holiday season, right? ‘Tis the time to be merry, cherishing family and goodwill to all! I sat there in the driver’s seat processing what it meant to have strict guidelines around my and my family’s contact with them, I felt sad along with the guilt. Sad for my mom, knowing us not popping into their lives on a frequent basis has a big effect on her, she wants us all “to just be happy!” Happiness however is earned. I’ve told her on a several occasions that good relations between us all can’t exist when people aren’t willing to look at all the secrets being held, preventing accountability. Denying the truth of our long family history is the very thing that takes away any chance of healing, the only path to any sense of happiness among the members of this crippled family. I sighed and reminded myself to do the best I could do, making contact when necessary, with boundaries, mindful of my son’s need to still feel like he can have a relationship with them and make that possible in a way that doesn’t hurt him. If he could have his wish he would be living within a very large family circle of cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, brothers and sisters with everyone in each other’s happy faces not only on special occasions but normal days and weekends if only for the reason everyone loves to hang out together, it’s their happy place. Maybe someday he can create or find that for himself, but regrettably that is not our family. It is a rare incident when there is contact without a significant price paid afterwards.
Arriving at the coast I unloaded my bags into the beach house, delighted to find the last renters had left it clean and organized allowing me to spend minimal time cleaning for the next visitors, getting a chance to settle in and savor some quiet time on my own. Sitting next to the fireplace that was beginning to warm the house, I texted my kids and then sent a long series of amusingly annoying birthday wishes to my younger brother who was turning 50. The kids and I had visited him in a mostly deserted campground night before, where he had set up base with his monster truck and tiny house for a couple days of rest and respite from the days of prepping for his long drive back north to Alaska. We arrived, finally finding our way through the pitch black roads and winding trails to the back of the campground, with hot pizza, birthday cupcakes and presents, piling into his cozy tiny home he had outfitted and decorated to become a comforting retreat during whatever long days and months await him in his unchartered future. It was a delightful evening, he gave us the tour and rundown of all the convenient and functional elements of the space, we sang happy birthday and laughed. Well what do you know, a mini version of my son’s dream family! I felt satisfied and content, my kids were happy, my brother was happy, feeling special through the attention and effort.
His actual birthday was apparently a different story. He had asked my parents to come visit him for the celebration, which they weren’t too keen on. “Is it warm, what will we eat? I thought we would take you to lunch somewhere.” I can relay this conversation as it occurred during our birthday eve celebration the night before. “Mom, it’s great, the house is adorable, it’s cozy and warm, bring a picnic, the park is beautiful, you’ll have a great time!” Then to my brother, “Make sure they get good directions, we don’t want them getting lost! That won’t go well.”
They did arrive the next day on his birthday, yes, after getting lost, and not being able to find the park bathroom, so nerves were running on slightly irritated by the time they arrived at the tiny house. I learned this all as I sat on the couch next to the roaring fire in my beach house, tiny by its own standards. After all my texts, and a happy birthday call wishing him “a great day and hope you had a good time with the parents and here’s to the next half of your life, the half where you get to truly follow your dreams and your heart,” the calls from him began. He was angry. Upon their arrival the fighting had begun. He was now packing up to leave the campground because of the terrible scene mom had caused, so loud the sweet women camping next to him could her. “She sat here at the table banging her fists, screaming at the top of her lungs!” What? Apparently there was a rehashing of the recent move out of the family home, a move that saw my parents leave by the move out day, followed by my negotiations with the realtors for an extension with the promise I would be onsite to oversee the work, to complete the removal of the heaps of crap that still remained on the property – in the yard and every corner of the house. Everyone, the parents, the realtors, the buyers even, claimed it was all my brother’s stuff, his fault, his craziness, and that our parents had vacated properly and on time. Well that simply wasn’t the case. I spent the next seven days on that property, 10-12 hour days, a significant amount of the time hauling into the dumpster remnants of my father’s hoarding tendencies over the course of his life. But here they were, on my brother’s 50 birthday, still fighting over who had done what, with my dad claiming nothing had been left behind and that it was all his son’s fault, the ongoing drama with the buyers and realtors with fines and whatnot, reputations on the line, they telling not truths so that they could maintain their lovely squeaky clean image – to others but perhaps more importantly, to themselves. If they ever saw the truth of what they have done over the years and during this most recent period of drama, the incredible damage they have inflicted on the following generations of this family, would they even be able to live with themselves? No. I think not.
I must have gotten six or seven calls over the course of the evening and into the night from my brother, sometimes yelling a recount of the utter bullshit of the unfolding of their birthday visit, another call virtually begging me to call them to set straight the facts, another call of yelling turning into a wail before hanging up on me. Dad had apologized under pressure from my mom, “just say you’re sorry so we can all be happy.” See? The let’s just all be happy routine. It doesn’t work that way, again! But my brother isn’t an idiot. He sees through it all, nothing they say regarding ownership really means anything. A sorry followed by more accusations, followed by, but I said I was sorry. As if the word sorry wipes the slate clean giving permission for future behavior of like kind. It’s insanity. And then the calls stopped. I texted him all that I had tried to convey during the calls, condolences, support, regret, but most importantly, dude, you have got to figure out a way to let it go, to let them go. I have had to do this myself and it hurts. Hey, before you called the first time during my drive, informing me that they were just leaving and it hadn’t gone well and that you were pulling up camp, I was literally just then trying to figure out how to process the guilt I was feeling that I don’t pick up mom’s calls, and that I often don’t return them. I just can’t. Please hear me when I tell you this, I have been trying to get them to give me the same responses and answers and apologies that you are begging and pleading and threatening them to give you and please hear me when I tell you this, you will never ever get what you need and want from them. I have spent my entire life fighting for this, I have never gotten any of what I have needed and I finally have realized and accepted (mostly) that I never will. Never. Ever. I will not get what I need from my parents. And neither will you. And if you keep trying you will only extend the hurt and damage and pain. I have had to come to the place where I don’t let them in. I can’t. I finally saw with clarity that every time I let them in it not only resulted in renewed hurt and pain for myself, but for my family, my kids. When I clearly understood that, I finally knew with absolute certainty it could not continue. I will not let them continue to have the opportunity to inflict damage and pain on me and oh my god, not on my kids. I will not allow what happened to me happen to them in any shade of resemblance. Please hear me when I say this, please find a way to move on towards the life you can create from this point on for you. And if family members have been told stories that hurt you, cause them to not want to have a relationship with you, if you run into them in the future it is up to you to show them who you are and to see what can come of that, in the absence of the influence of the parents.
I woke up this morning not having heard from him after his last hang up, I just pray he is in an okay space this morning. That he can find his way, away from the horrible disfunction of this family. It is so heartbreaking to see the impact of their actions over the years, how they parented, their priorities and their beliefs, how it has broken not only myself but both my brothers with that brokenness being passed down to the next generation. It is an evil thing, abuse, it changes people forever, it takes away who they were put on this earth to become. The only hope is to realize this in time to try to right the course for a different future.
p.s. Why do we all keep trying to get what we need from them? If they were these outwardly horrible people it might be clear that the only course is to walk away. But they maintain these amazingly convincing facades, set perfectly in place, to others, to the world, even to us sometimes, that you get pulled into thinking you are dealing with normal people who know right from wrong and that they will be able to take accountability for their actions, like anyone could hope to expect from normally functioning people. But seriously, shit, it’s a facade. It isn’t real. They are not who they appear to be. It’s really fucking messed up. It’s crazy making in the extreme.