it’s just one long string, intricately wound

November 8, 2009

My mom taught me to knit while I was visiting her. This week I’ve been working on making myself a scarf, and while I was knitting the other day I started thinking about how my mom taught me to knit, and how she learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother, and so on and so forth backwards for some unknown number of generations. And I like that idea, imagining that some Virginia pioneer woman two hundred years ago spent her winter evenings knitting, without any idea that I would ever exist.

This is what family does for us. Family moors you in the world, gives you a sense of having come from somewhere, a sense of going towards somewhere. It makes you part of something larger, something you can’t change even if you want to. Through any number of falling outs, you can’t ever change your blood. As confining as that knowledge can be at times, it’s also comforting in its own way.

Lately I’ve been feeling more and more distant from my family, more and more incapable of understanding them or relating to them. I’ve realized that I’ve largely defined myself as being not them: not impulsive, not given to rash actions or hasty marriages (this is not a fair summation of them, by the way). So naturally it would make sense that I would feel myself as somehow apart from them, as standing outside of their world. And of course we live all over the place, and we’re not terribly good at keeping in touch, so physical distance usually translates into emotional distance. But it used to be that my family’s craziness had it’s own sort of familiar charm. Even if I very definitely wanted to be not them, I still loved them, and they were a large part of my life. This year all of that has fallen away, and the craziness is no longer charming or even necessarily tolerable, and I find myself torn between wanting to shove them away and feeling terribly alone without them.

This has been a strange year. There are the things that happen that no one can control, like my grandfather’s death. But that natural grief was compounded by a series of bizarre decisions and situations. My parents are getting married, and I can’t envision any way that makes sense or works out well. My aunt, who I thought I was close to, is an alcoholic, and that’s been making her life worse and worse over the past couple of years, and I was so wrapped up in my own bullshit that I never even noticed. The grandmother I always looked up to said horrible, horrible things to me. My older brother—never exactly an upstanding citizen, but more given to self-destruction than crime—is currently facing arson charges. And in the middle of trying to figure out who I am and what I want, I keep looking at my family and thinking Who are these people? How do I fit with them?

I feel like there’s a limit to how much I’m supposed to take from them, a point when I have to cut them off for the sake of my own mental health. But where is that line? In distancing myself from them, am I doing what I have to do, or am I just bailing? Am I cutting and running when things get hard, just because I don’t want to do the heavy lifting? Isn’t that what family is—whether the family we’re born with or the family we choose, family is about being there for each other, right?

The other idea that has been bouncing around my brain lately is that I am a coward. I am fascinated with history and genealogy and my family’s past, largely because it’s so much easier, so much safer, than dealing with my family’s present. I would rather imagine what my ancestors were like than fight for some kind of real connection with the people I was raised with. I know this about myself, and yet I can’t quite push myself through the “knowing” stage to the “correcting” stage. It’s so much easier to just avoid getting sucked into their drama again, to just not care. But is that better? Can I live with myself if I do this? Is it worth putting up with their fucked up craziness to be part of a family in a real way? Or is it too much? Should I just be happy with the family I’ve chosen instead?

I don’t really want to post this–it’s long and rambly, ugly and ultimately pointless. But part of this whole blogging experiment has been to force me to do more than just think mopey thoughts to myself, so I’m forcing myself to do at least one thing that makes me uncomfortable, even if I can’t do the big things.


One comment

  1. You don’t have to do everything at once– of perfect a mode of being applicable to every circumstance. In many ways, requiring distance is an outgrowth of how much you do care. Plus, you are in a rough patch yourself. You know you need to find a way to take your own life in hand right now– there is no loyalty in losing yourself to your family’s needs, unless it’s a gunfight and you’re in the room. Admit it, you know you couldn’t do much good anyway– what do you do against addiction, bad marriages, and the criminal justice system? You need some time right now. In your way, you’re going thru as much as they are. Dem’s my thoughts, anyway, as someone who is engaged in similar tasks.

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