I always seem to know when stuff is about to happen. Even if people protect me. I knew when it was my Daddy. I knew when Mama died. My heart predicted the big break-ups in my life. Always delivering messages in dreams. It’s bizarre, but I knew this time, too, that the feeling I had wasn’t completely my own.
That’s some whacky shit.
As it turns out, the heavy dark, shattering grief I kept feeling lately started on the day my Uncle was admitted to the hospital. They didn’t want to tell me. They wanted him to be better and okay–and then they’d tell me.
I’m okay. I’m fine. Adult me didn’t know him anymore. But I am grieving–some weird, disconnected grief of a child. I keep thinking my mother would be devastated. Since my mother’s death, we’ve lost all of her siblings. Every person who knew parts of her I will never know. He was the last of that generation. And now I’ll never hear the stories about Mama as a rebel teen. I’ll never hear about my parents, together, in the last years of his life–when I was an oblivious child. He knew my Daddy too. But now they’re all together.
I tell myself and most others that I have no family. But that’s a lie, right? I have a family–one that isn’t mine. One for funerals and bad news, but nothing more.
Well, that was the case until last year when she started emailing me. My cousin–the little tom boy girl–the fighter in that photo. She was the one Mama and Auntie E said was just like Mama. Where I was the one just like Auntie E. And, despite being flabberghasted by how proper and YOUNG my Auntie E looks in that photo, for a moment today–I saw it. Got it. This is what Mama was talking about. Yes–I was like Auntie E in who I was–smart, driven, a bit of a know-it-all, picky as fuck–but yes–I saw the way she tilted her head. The shy smile. Some likeness I never really identified with. I do look like her. Subtle. Not blatant like my Grandma Alma or my Daddy as a young man. But there. A quiet something. Comforting.
Despite our family’s bullshit, I loved Auntie E. She was Mama’s big sister, by a year. She survived all the cancer diagnoses until she didn’t. I looked at the picture today–the only one I have of all of them, together, and my heart broke a little. Remembering the cousin lost to death–the one who sent me postcards made out of his immaculate photos of the desert. I always wondered where my photographic ability came from. And it’s clear–it was Mama’s side–probably Papa’s side. She had it and so did he. This ability to know how to grab light, how to frame–how to elicit real moments–no training at all.
And yet, somehow, despite these connections and childhood memories, we are not close. It wasn’t until last year that I found out I’m an aunt–that there are nieces and nephews and kiddos galore. A whole family–a big family–the kind I’ve always wanted–in that desert I used to travel to.
It makes me sad. Moreso because I could have said hello in September, but didn’t. Despite the invitations. Despite being right there. When the time came, it was late, and we had a reservation. Had I been alone, I would have spent the night in my Uncle’s house and gone about the awkward business of knowing my family.
But I wasn’t alone, and the trip was tense. And we just wanted to get home. Whatever that meant. And I was closer now, so maybe I’d drive down for my birthday or maybe Christmas. Maybe.
The family shit makes no sense to me. It never did, really, but it was what it was. Some shit my grandmother used to punish Mama and Daddy–inadvertantly solidified by the deaths of the reasonable ones, simply because shit got hard. Old slights and old bruises and misunderstandings.
My cousin started the outreach. Sending me short messages. She was not the first. The priest-cousin had too. But he was awkward and obvious and insincere maybe and gave up fast. Or I was maybe unforgiving of the North Dakota wing, especially one coming at me with religion. But the AZ cousin was sweet. She clearly didn’t know what to say. But she tried, and that mattered. So, when I got the FB request, I accepted. When her sister followed, okay–fine–not expecting anything. I was still leery.
I was genuinely grateful the North Dakota cousins have mostly not discovered technology of any sort. But I still fear it’s coming.
Every so often, the North Dakota cousin, who laughed when I told her about my mother’s death, will send me a present. One year, for my birthday, she sent me a dental pik. Out of the blue. A card with her full name, signed.
I saw it, for a long time, as her trying to buy me off.
But there was one conversation, years after, where I finally started to forgive her and see what had happened. What if I was wrong about her? What if she didn’t laugh because she was this mean, horrible person? What if I made her nervous? What if death terrified her so much that the giggle was discomfort?
How could I keep a grudge? I have to believe no one who knew my mother could mean that.
So, I forgave her and my aunt for that day and for all the other days when they followed my grandmother’s lead. For all the days when they shunned me out of the family, intentionally or not.
But I did not reach out to any of them and wouldn’t try anymore. Instead, I said, “They know where to find me.” And they did, slowly, in their awkward ways.
It’s weird to have family on FB when you don’t have them in real life, other than for funerals.
My cousins comment on my photos, mostly. Telling me how much I look like Mama in this one. How beautiful I am. I have started letting them see my more sacred posts–the ones about grief.
I don’t think they knew how much I loved her. Or what I went through, alone. I think they are trying.
And then this. And as much as the past sucks, I don’t want to be rigid or punishing. I just want to move forward.
I want to claim my awkward as fuck family.