My brother and I had a chance to convene this past week on the topic of our family, my relationship to them, and the fact that, basically, I am a shithead with severe emotional limitations who consistently disappoints everyone around me.
It’s great when he can fly in from New York, and we get a chance to share this special time together.
In all seriousness, my brother and I are pretty close. I think it’s to do with having shared a mutual traumatic experience. I’m just kidding, Beaux. (My brother’s name is not actually Beaux, but that is actually what I call him — at first this drove him nuts, but now he has accepted it as part of dealing with me. Kind of like Diet Coke, bad driving, and Morrissey. Mini knows my brother only as “Uncle Beaux.”)
And actually, the closeness between my brother and myself is significant, given my general curmudgeonliness, and the rather glaring strikes he has against him, viz. 1) the fact that he is an engineer, 2) the fact that he has described himself as being “not much of a reader,” and 3) his stubborn insistence upon being a goddamn fucking apologist peacemaker all of the time.
My little brother is getting married this spring, and I am thrilled for him. As usual, though, an upcoming wedding in the family brings up a whole host of dormant issues among the rest of us.
What is my problem? What IS my problem?
Because I must at least acknowledge — if only for a moment — that it is I (and only I) who has the problem here. Even if at first glance I do not believe this to be the truth, I am not so self-deluded as to not acknowledge the following facts:
- The family into which I was born contains four people;
- Of those original four, all four are still living;
- Of those original four, none of the four are still living together;
- Of those original four, I suspect that at least two consider me to be a mostly unreasonable and difficult person;
- Of those original four, one remains silent and/or noncommittal as to his/her feelings regarding my status as a “mostly unreasonable and difficult person”;
- Of those original four, one attempts to not get “in the middle of things,” but if you ask me, still tends to veer more towards the side of the other two; and
- As one of the original four, I acknowledge myself to be a somewhat difficult person, but not unreasonable, and certainly no more so (nay! possibly far less so?) than at least two of the other three).
Still, friends, the numbers! The numbers are against me. This troubles me. I wrote “a story” last week about how “a girl” would always be looking for somebody to tell her that she was right, in spite of a lack of an authoritative voice agreeing with her. Adulthood for me has been about reliving that moment, over and over again — trying to convince myself that I am right in the face of multiple indices that I am wrong. It is not that I am operating under a delusion that I am going to always be right. The problem for me, now and always, is sorting out those times in which I really am wrong from the times in which I just think that I am wrong, because I am so used to being told that I’m wrong all the time.
Here’s a hypothetical for you.
Let’s say you are somebody who has developed a mechanism for keeping people from hurting you. The thing you did was that each time they hurt or disappointed you, you would cut off access to a piece of yourself from that person, emotionally speaking, so that each time they did something you did not like, the power they had to hurt you became a little bit less. It was not something you did consciously at first, and in fact it wasn’t until later in life that you even realized you were doing it at all. By that time, it was kind of too late to do anything about it. Because by that time, over the course of many years, your relationship had already become what it was going to be, through the give and take of two people’s bullshit, over the course of years.
Life went on, and you reached your early twenties, and a relationship had become fairly stunted through the fault of two parties — the somebody and the other person, because there are at least two sides to any story, but we only have access to yours here.
Now there’s a thing you’ve gotten yourself into that is a giant mess, a disaster. This mess is completely of your own making, and you know it. But you need help with because, well, you are a mess. You are a disaster. And you turn to that relationship, the stunted one, because even though it is stunted it is still a primary one, and quite honestly you don’t know where else to go. And you do get help. You want to be very clear: you get some very crucial help, at a critical time. But that help comes with conditions and limitations, and it is parceled out in the manner of an essential basic requirement. It does the job, but it falls short of the emotional support that you craved (hoped for? against hope? even if you had no right? given the status of the relationship? to hope for it?). And in that moment, something clicked into place for you, an understanding of sorts — but also a door closing, probably forever, after that moment, even if it would take years for you to realize this had happened.
Slowly, over the course of a decade or more, you would then start doing the things that would make people call you unreasonable and difficult. Sending birthday gifts, but neglecting to call on the actual day. Going several weeks without calling at all. Failing to notice if someone stopped calling you. Not attending various events. Forgetting things. Not doing as much to participate as you once had done. You don’t feel good about any of this, but it is easier to not think about it, so that is what you do. You start to think that maybe you are unreasonable and difficult. But then thinking that of yourself makes you angry, because you feel like if that is the truth — if you are unreasonable and difficult, then it is because you were made to be that way.
When the anger gets the best of you, then you start in with the blame. You start thinking that maybe your own issues and peccadilloes had put the final touches on your own unreasonableness and difficulty, but that surely somebody had to have helped you with the broad strokes, because they would have been laid down at an age when your tiny arms would not have been able to lift the brush on your own.
But most of the time, there isn’t any anger or blame. There is just guilt, and the earnest desire for people to stop expecting you to become somebody you were never meant to be.