Friday, July 06, 2012

If I Seem a Little Strange...

In the interest of cultivating more candor in my blog, I'll let you in on another of my current personal struggles. I've miraculously somehow managed to let the whole Rachel thing go and I've accepted that she's crazy. In the midst of that drama I also had a significant realization about my own behavior, so maybe that's what I was supposed to get out of the whole interaction. 

When people are mean to me I become extra nice to them and it's ridiculous, passive-aggressive, self- serving, insincere niceness designed to inspire guilt in the person who was mean to me. AND IT HAS NEVER ACTUALLY DONE THAT. I think somewhere in my weird head I wish that one day someone would be mean to me, I would be extra nice and then they'd come to me and be like "Oh dear Victoria, I have wronged you terribly. You are so nice. You are so undeserving of all the awful things I've done. Can you ever forgive me and be my friend?"  

Delusional. Never going to happen. And seriously, why would I want someone who was mean to me to be my friend anyway?

Not only that, this behavior pattern allows me to put myself in the role of the perpetual innocent victim and you know what? I'm not always innocent. I'm a human being and I'm not a martyr. I need to learn to tell people to go fuck themselves when they're mean. Or even better, just ignore them and move on and have a healthy, fulfilled life not spent obsessing.

Yet I obsess...

The Bob and Bing thing really got to me. The final resolution of that situation ended up being satisfactory. Bob was adopted quickly and I thought Bing had been euthanized. I finally texted my half sister and asked her if she knew what happened and she said someone they knew adopted Bing and she thought I saw it on facebook, so she didn't bother telling me after I'd gone to all that trouble to try to save the cats. 

That kind of annoyed me.

It happened because I am outside of that family's ring of communication. They simply didn't naturally think to tell me because when it comes down to it, I'm not really one of them. I might try to be, but I'm not.

I don't know how to feel about this, about my five half siblings.

Negotiating relationships in broken families is usually awkward and difficult. Social media only adds to the awkwardness because it allows us outsiders to see all the ways in which we are excluded. Having a father who is a fanatical, fundamentalist lunatic with a slew of personality disorders confounds the situation and makes any kind of healing or bonding pretty much impossible.

I grew up entirely without these siblings. The oldest daughter was born a month after I went to live with my mother and once I went to live with my mother my father completely abandoned me. There was no visitation, no holidays, no phone calls, no birthday cards. Nothing. It was as if I had never existed to my biological father. He erased me from his life and mind you, I was eleven years old. A child. But he was such a petty, egomaniac and such a sociopath that he believed he was punishing me for my disloyalty, my betrayal of him, by choosing my mother over him. Only a very sick person does that to a child. Only a very sick person could cut himself off from his young daughter. My brain can't fathom his rationale at all.

The rest of the family though, they stuck with me. They knew what he did was wrong yet through them I learned of the births of the next four children. I knew I had five siblings. I just didn't know them.

There were a few times as a teenager and in my twenties when I'd be visiting my grandparents and they would come to visit and they'd either totally shun me and act as if I wasn't even there or I'd have to hide in a bedroom until my aunt and uncle could come pick me up and rescue me. At the few family functions we all attended they'd avoid me. I can't even say they acted like I was a stranger because strangers would have received maybe a polite nod or a smile. People strike up conversations with strangers. I was pariah.

I didn't entirely care though because these people were very strange. Their clothes, their mannerisms, their public displays of histrionic prayer. All of it was freaky. My stepmother looked like something out of a cult. She was so profoundly unkempt that she'd wear sweat suits to a wedding and not even appear to comb her hair. The family looked like they didn't fit in around normal people to me. They had a particular homeliness about them that I found off-putting. I think this comes from the religious fanaticism. They dressed shabbily and called it modesty. 

I can't say that when I saw them I ever felt like I was missing out on anything. I'd see them and thank God I escaped. 

I didn't invite them to my wedding. Why would I? They didn't invite me to anything. By the time I got married 21 years had passed. These were people I didn't know. People who would be so profoundly, overwhelmingly out of place around my friends and family that having them there would have been preposterous. Not to mention, everything about my wedding would have offended them anyway and I doubt they could have afforded the trip to Florida for seven people. Add to it that my stepmother had just been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer the month before my wedding.

A few months after my wedding I began receiving radiation treatments at a cancer center for my own thyroid tumor. Every day I went to the center I'd see people who were desperately ill and I couldn't help but think about my stepmother. I googled inflammatory breast cancer. It's scary. Her prognosis wasn't good. Maybe, I thought, I should right my karma with her before she died. Maybe I should reach out and do the right thing. Looking back, I can see clearly that this was yet another example of me being extra nice to people who treated me like shit and in addition to that, I think I wanted to give her the chance to apologize to me before she died, because I felt like I needed that. So I wrote her a letter that was compassionate, yet honest. I explained to her that I had empathy for her suffering but at the same time that she had really hurt me. Did I get my apology?

Fuck no. 

I guess I thought cancer and the imminence of death might change her, but you know what? Assholes get cancer and die too. Cancer cells sadly only multiply themselves and not virtue, character or integrity in their hosts.

I didn't get my apology before she died. We emailed back and forth a few times. I felt like I had cleared a little karma, so that's better than nothing, I guess. At least I know I did the right thing and I have that.

But what I did was give her kids an opening to communicate with me.

In yet another example of my martyrdom, I sent the oldest daughter three hundred dollars because her mother was complaining on her blog about how poor they were and how they needed to fix their car or some such. Sending the money was showing off on my part too. I'll own that. This woman told me I'd never amount to anything, that her kids were all going to be prodigies and wild successes and I was nothing but trash, so I sent that money to stick it up her ass a little that I could. That she was the one begging and look who "answered her prayers." The very person she'd wronged years before. I wanted her to eat a little crow, but she didn't. She just cashed the check.

But that was when the oldest daughter started emailing me and we started talking on the phone and she was able to fill me in on some information about just how royally wacked out her parents actually were, which gave me a tremendous amount of needed validation and confirmation that it wasn't me who was crazy all along.

Then my stepmother died and then a year later everyone got on facebook and then four of the siblings added me as a friend.

That's when shit got weird.

The two oldest daughters would message me, chat with me, comment on posts. The oldest son and youngest daughter not so much.

I didn't know what was appropriate. I didn't know what the right way to act with them was. Who were these people to me, after all and what did I want from relationships with them, if anything? I couldn't and can't answer that.

The second oldest daughter didn't invite me to her wedding which for some reason hurt my feelings. I guess because all of my other family and cousins were invited and went and I was the only one who didn't go, although I understood. See, this is how it gets weird. I didn't expect to be invited. I didn't invite her to my wedding, yet I felt excluded anyway, which makes no sense.

That sister and I were pregnant at the same time and we emailed back and forth about pregnancy stuff and I felt, kind of bonded.

Then last year when her daughter turned one I sent her a present and never heard anything from her for a long time. The oldest sister later told me that it was because there hadn't been enough postage on the package and the mailman made her pay for it, which I guess ticked her off and she never thanked me or even told me that this had happened. She thought I did it on purpose!! Which is absurd because who would send someone a present and purposely not put enough stamps on the package so the recipient would have to pay? And why would that offend someone? I didn't get it and I wished I didn't have to hear about it secondhand from the other sister.

So what did I do? I emailed her and apologized profusely and told her how mortified I was that this had happened and then I SENT HER ANOTHER PACKAGE OF MORE STUFF.

I did this because I was trying to prove to her that I wasn't an asshole because I knew she'd been told her whole life that I was a horrible person. I needed to show her that I was good and kind and generous and successful in order to demonstrate that her father had been in the wrong in how he treated me.

Did it work? I don't think so.

I sent her a Christmas package. No thank you, no nothing. She didn't even send me a Christmas card or even acknowledge my daughter's birthday. So then I said, fuck it. I'm not sending them anything else. I don't expect them to send me stuff but I expect a thank you of some kind and maybe a holiday card.

The oldest daughter is a lot better about things like that. She has actually sent Baby Lawns several packages and always remembers everyone's birthdays and I definitely talk to her the most still, but sometimes when I communicate with her I feel a great strange distance still that makes me tremendously uncomfortable.

So I keep my half siblings at arm's length. I noticed that if I find myself interacting with them more, I'll unconsciously take several steps back.

I never know what's appropriate. Do they consider me their kids' aunt? What do I call myself to their children?

Then there's facebook. Once I saw a sister saying that all of her siblings had blue eyes and this hurt my feelings because it's not true. I have brown eyes. So am I not a sibling too? Well, maybe not. Again, I think it's that they don't automatically think of me as part of their family unit, because, well, I'm not. I have my own separate family unit, so this is to be expected.

Then there was the oldest son. He emailed me about the cats when I was in California and thanked me for my help and expressed interest in getting to know me better. He said he'd found my blog and found it difficult to read. Again, understandable. I get that. He said he wanted to set the record straight with me about his family. So I wrote him back and said I'd like to get to know him too and I explained that I was not trying to malign his family out of spite. I'm just telling my truth and my story. Never heard from him again. I sensed that I had somehow offended him, but I don't know how. Or maybe it's all too difficult to work around.

I think that ultimately all six of us are innocent victims of a hateful and small minded man who inexplicably calls himself a Christian. Look at the harm he's done. Look at what he has caused all of his children to miss out on because of his petty, childish grudges and the unnecessary anger he holds on to for some unknown reason. To prove a point? To feel powerful? For pride? What? I don't get it.

I keep my siblings at arm's length because I also realize that they've been raised by two extremely sick and toxic people and because they were brought up in a fanatical, radical household that was not normal or healthy. How then could they be healthy or able to nurture a normal relationship with me? I don't know and so I proceed with caution.

Part of my confusion is that I don't know what I want. Am I just satisfying a curiosity bred by the fact that I was kept from these people for so long? Am I befriending them out of spite to my biological father? Do I sincerely want siblings? Am I better off without any of them in my life or would my life be enriched by getting to know my brothers and sisters? Are we just too different to sustain any true familial bond? The oldest sister once told me that I don't seem like a sister to her but more like a distant cousin or something. I can relate. I sensed that too.

None of us even look alike. I look like my mother's family and they look like their mother's family. This, I confess, freaks me out. My stepmother traumatized me and her kids look an awful lot like her. The second daughter is her spitting image. It's scary how much she looks like her mother looked at the exact age when she married my biological father and seeing that woman in all of them always, I don't know how to say this delicately. It makes me cringe. It repulses me. I know this is unfair. They can't help who their parents are and they certainly can't help how they look and it's not like they're ugly or anything. I don't mean that. It's just that seeing her in them creeps me out.

I've often wondered what they were told about me and how I come off to them now that they can interact with me. I think they'd see me as inconsistent, possibly aloof. I think I seem strange to them.

And that's because I am.

(Yes, my title and ending are from the lyrics of a Smiths song. I'm not plagiarizing Morrissey.)

Advice? You guys had some excellent insights about the Rachel situation, so I'd appreciate your input here as well.


Carolyn said...

Families are the leading cause of insanity... Please stop over thinking this situation and just take what they are able to offer. It will never be enough..and most times it will really be too much. I wish I could tell you you will get the closeness you crave,but your lacking their history. When kids grow up in that kind of insanity they will have a bond that someone that escaped can't share.

Miss Kitty said...

My dad's family has a lot of problems too, and in their own ways are just as nutty as your dad's bunch. We came to realize this only after our father died, in the days & weeks immediately afterward, that they had never liked us at all and thought very little of us (although Pixie and I were/are far more intelligent than any of their kids--maybe that was why?).

We cut off all contact with Dad's family in early 1997 and have looked back only occasionally. It had to be this way. People who have never been there will talk a lot about "oh, you can never abandon your family," but they don't really know what they're talking about. They may be from great families, or they may be doormats who can't see that their families deserve to be cut off & forgotten. I never would have dreamed of never seeing Dad's family again until he died. And then...whoa. Pixie and I got the hell out while we still could.

Sometimes I wonder what might have been, but I also realize I would have gone insane had I stayed in contact with such hateful, nasty, spiteful, rigid people. Now and then I'll see an aunt out in public, and she'll invite me to lunch. And I say, all polite, "Mmhmm, sure." But I hope that in the future I can say, "Thanks, but no thanks." No hatred toward that family; they're just messed up, and I don't care to step back into the abyss of crazy.

Carolyn's comments above are very, very wise. And it seems you've gained some wisdom about a lot of things over the last few months/years. At the time when you posted about the Rachel mess, I couldn't help thinking, "Why worry? That girl's a nut! Why would Wide Lawns keep torturing herself like this? She doesn't deserve it." I'm glad that you were able to find some peace...and especially about your own--hmm, how do I put it--object-lesson kindness in the face of utter batshit crazy. Often, the object lessons we think we're "teaching" other people just roll right off, especially when those people are nuts.

You've survived a lot and are here to tell us about it in spite of it all. Living your life trying to prove So-and-So wrong is still giving them power over you. Crazy people looooove that. Recently, I realized that I'd been wasting my efforts dedicating them to proving people wrong, people I hadn't seen in 30 years. The best I--and you--can do is to be ourselves, live our own lives well, and do what's right every day.

jtn said...

As I have told a cousin, we have a lot of relatives but only a few of them are family. Just because you are related doesn't mean you have to like them or have a relationship with you. Literally at his moment I'm driving across the country... some relations asked me to stop and I declined... no guilt... I didn't want to waste the time because they only want to see me to explain how poor they are and hit me up for cash. They don't care about me... just my wallet because my life doesn't suck
Biology does not make families... love and caring does. If they don't meet you at least halfway, do yourself a favor and walk away. Users smell fear and weakness and exploit it.

FreeDragon said...

My mother is estranged from her family. They are all very religious. On the few times I am near them, it is like culture shock. They are so different from me that I can't believe we share DNA. I don't try to associate with them because I am sure they find me just as strange as I find them. I consider myself lucky to grown up apart. I don't think we can be friends or on good terms because there would be too much change. Whole lifetimes of backward thinking needs to be overcome. They can't expand their minds and I can't limit myself.

Melanie said...

You don't have to approve this comment, because it's a question for you.
In the paragraph where the oldest son thanks you for helping with the cats, you say:
"I explained that I was trying to malign his family out of spite."
Is that correct? I would have thought that you WEREN'T trying to malign his family out of spite.
But maybe I'm just misunderstanding your intention.

Wide Lawns said...

Oops. Good eye. That was a typo and I fixed it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Carolyn gave sound, thoughtful advice. This is how I "try" to operate, now that I'm a more maturer adult who has better perspective.

You are doing just fine. CA

rosie-b said...

My father has never stoped trying to have a relationship with me and I love him for that but my four half-siblings from his first marriage never wanted anything to do with me. Neither did any of my father's family. This caused me so much pain as a child because I wanted family so badly and I was rejected at every turn. It's awful but for me it's just easier to accept that other than a father, mother and two brothers, a husband and two sons, I have no family. Screw them. We're awesome and if they can't see that, it's their loss not ours. I'm sick of chasing rainbows and ending up with nothing but muddy boots to show for it; the gold just isn't there.

Dawn said...

I think your best inspiration of how to handle these characters is Baby Lawns. How would you suggest she handle this family if she were in your shoes? Would you want her to try so hard to win their approval or simply act with honor, dignity and self respect? I don't know what the answer is, but I know it's whatever you would tell your own daughter.

Melanie said...

Dawn, above, has an excellent point.

Mp said...

Long time reader, first time commenter. I feel your pain about siblings. I have six siblings and I always am jealous of those families that call each other to talk about what's going on in their lives, talk to each other when they're having a rough time, and well, get along with each other. My oldest brother and I genuinely fight like cats and dogs, and I don't know what else to describe him as other than an asshole. He and another brother basically gang up on me when they're together, just reverting to childhood sparring. I genuinely believe I could say the sky is blue and they'd find a way to disagree with me. I haven't seen my sister in two years, and she just doesn't care to talk to any of us. No drama, just doesn't care. The other three are moving that way themselves. I guess it's because my dad is the same way - I can't remember when he actually called or even emailed me just to see what was going on in my life. If I get a call from a family member, 99% of the time, it's because someone died.
Anyway. I went to therapy about these (and other) things and one of the things that stuck with me was this...which I give you for free (it cost me $180 an hour for two years) a certain point, family members' personalities are never going to change. The creepy uncle will always be creepy. Mom will always try to fix me food when I come home. The youngest child will always be spoiled. My sister will always be a cheapskate. Realizing that is really hard. I will never have the relationship with my dad and siblings that I see in my friends with their family members. My dad will never be the dad I want him to be, my brothers will never be the brother that I want them to be. Letting go of the want for them to change is extremely difficult. BUT. It is such a relief once it happens. When I let go of that expectation, I stopped trying to be what I thought that perfect sister/daughter should be as well. When my brother says something nasty now, I don't get upset - it's just him. He's just an asshole. I'm still pissed off, but I'm pissed off at him for being an asshole, not because he's failing at being the brother I wanted him to be. It doesn't let him off the hook for being an asshole - it just doesn't disappoint me anymore.
I hope this helps, and I hope you find peace with whatever family you decide is your family, even if it's just you and Baby Lawns. One of the other things I learned in therapy was that no matter what I do, no matter how imperfect I am, I am still entitled to own my own happiness. No one is allowed to attach conditions to it, and no one is allowed to take it from me. It's mine. You are allowed to find your peace and happiness, whatever that may be. Namaste, y'all, and all that BS.

Books & BS said...

I would not worry about them. They seem to be a little nuts and all about the drama.
Actually that's what stops me from contacting my three half siblings from my father's 2nd marriage. They all seem to have some sort of crazy drama going on that I'm afraid I will end up sucked into (I found their facebook pages which are completely public). Sometimes I wonder but I know myself and I would end up being the one trying to win their approval and sending them money and other things.

Anonymous said...

Victoria, I've only recently started reading this blog, and so don't know a lot of the backstory, but I read this whole entry, and -- WOW. That's a lot for you to deal with.

All families are crazy, but I was blessed by particularly good parents. So, I can't relate, but I can sympathize.

I am, however, married to a man who ran away from home and never looked back. Never spoke to his abusive parents for 30+years, not even when they called from their deathbeds a couple of years ago and begged him to come visit before they died. (He didn't).

We don't pick our families. But we pick our lovers and friends. You are too freaking talented, and kind, and generous, to NOT choose some distance from crazy "family" members. But omg, I'm lapsing into telling you what you don't need me to tell you...

Congrats on finishing the memoir. I know it's going to be published, and people are going to love it. I can't wait to buy it for my Kindle.

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