Apr. 19th, 2010

On family

Apr. 19th, 2010 11:41 pm
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Sitting at the dining room table with a bottle of wine and my mother's cousin's family branch, I watched my dead great uncle Jim's face morph into my grandmother's and then reflect my own. I heard my great uncle Bob's voice use my great aunt Babe's figures of speech, and then a breath followed by my mother's use of "Anyhow..." I looked across the table at his daughter Kelsey, and stared right at my aunt's mouth smiling my grandmother's smile with my crooked mouth. We all have great eyebrows and hypochondria and a love for pseudoscience and spiritual awakenings.

This is the beauty of extended family. No one is lost. The maps of our faces are all written in the reflections of our cousins.


Rob says that we all have metaphorical maps that we use to track the events of our lives so that we can look at them to see how it is that we arrived right where we are. In times of loss, we have to trace the trauma so that we can know exactly how it all happened. If we do not put our fingers on the scars and let ourselves remember how our skin was severed, we might be fooled into thinking that we are whole. We might forget that we cannot do the things we once did. We define ourselves one way in our heads, while the physical limitations of our new identity dictate the way that we interact with the world, and before we know it, we become utterly lost.

This carries the ring of truth to it. I think about psychological scars, and I think of zipper scars that have marked the end of one life and the beginning of a new one. I've traced these marks with my fingers, and I've felt the resulting flinch and watched faces blanche at the reminders of that which is irrevocable.


I'm seventeen, and this is the first time my brother has left home. I think that I have lost him. I cannot understand what it is that he has left to search for, and I am jealous that he might find it anywhere other than where my mother and I are. I feel my family slipping away, and I am on the brink of adulthood. I am afraid that I will also have to fling myself out into the world to search for something else that will mean that I am an adult, but I have no idea how that happens, how it is that I will transform in one year into someone strong and stable and responsible for myself.

Six months later, on a regular afternoon just like any other afternoon, the door opens. I look up, and there in the doorway, my brother is standing with all of his bags. He drops them, and I run over to hug him, except our relationship is not one of those that includes hugging. I pat his shoulder. My mother grabs him and puts her arms around him, and she will not let go. He is patting her shoulder as a cue that the hug is over and that it is time to let go. She is crying. She is happy to see him, and I am too. We stand in the doorway, and even though I try not to, I begin to cry. I do not know how long this will last, but this is the first time in my life that my brother admits that he loves me and my mom. I feel, for the first time in years, that I am a part of something, that we will be the kind of family that gives each other shelter.

Even though he left a few months later, this time for a year without a word about whether he was still alive or where he had landed, what I learned from that moment, and what I take comfort in even still is this:

For at least a couple of people in the world, I am the person who means home.


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