Author’s note: I’ve started and stopped this post so many times, written and pondered and wanted to finish it and not done so time and again. I finally gave it up as too long ago to matter, but now here I am again, though the “why” I’m back revisiting family relationships and dynamics is different: I’m staying at my mom’s this week to keep her company while my stepdad goes back East to sit vigil on his youngest sister, who has been in a coma since a heart attack last week, and who was diagnosed with inoperable, stage 4 lung cancer the month that this trip happened. I had never met her before this and now…I have bonds to this family that weren’t mine until this trip. I’m struggling to disentangle my feelings about it all.
So this post begins with my musings from yesterday about all this, and then we timehop to the post I made back then. It’s interesting to me, how things change and yet stay the same…
Having a family is weird. My family has always been disjointed, almost-dysfunctional, and always distant, either in terms of actual physical distance or emotionally (though my mom and I have a very warm relationship.) My stepdad’s family, however, is a close-knit tribe of hundreds who literally know all about and keep up on one another. The annual family reunion has hosted anywhere from 50 to 300+ family and extended family members and they even have a reunion committee, with a treasurer, secretary, events coordinator and president. My stepdad is the current acting president. He is a complete extrovert and relishes his role, taking it as an opportunity to get to know every single member of his far-flung family.
Before this past summer, I had never been to the family reunion, though he asked me many times to come. For an introvert like me, the notion of a day-long party of ~100 people I don’t know, but who “know” me through my stepdad, being forced to interact with dozens of strangers all. day. long. was a nightmare. So what the heck, I decided to go. As I said to my sister (who refuses to ever go again after being made to at the age of about 14), I’m a special kind of masochist.
There was actually a good reason to go (besides masochism.) My parents are getting up there in years, and mom is…what’s the best way to put it? … “socially awkward.” Yeah, that’s it. Mom didn’t only give me her hips – I come by my introversion quite naturally as well. So anyway, not to sound morbid, but I don’t know how many of these reunions she is going to make, and I didn’t want what could be her last one to be a misery, so I went to keep her company and give her someone “safe” to talk/cling to.
As it was, I had an okay time at the reunion. See?
No, I can’t go any damn place without a Scavenger Hunt (in this instance, “hill.”) This was taken on a hillside by Lake Erie while the set-up crew hung out up at the pavilion where they had the reunion.
And then I had a really good time with my dad and one of his brothers, sightseeing at Niagara Falls. I also had a really strange conversation with my stepdad in which he asked me if being poly means that I have sex with women. No, dad, being BISEXUAL means I have sex with women. And then, because he asked, I told I am both. So I came out as poly and bi to my stepdad, but instead of feeling empowering and free, it felt kind of creepy when he point blank asked me if I’d had sex with a girlfriend I had brought to the house one day to swim. I had, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. His interest kind of icked me out.
But back to the point of this post.
All. That. Family.
I really truly never wanted all those connections. But suddenly I had them, and, just as suddenly I was reminded why I don’t want them. I learned at the reunion that one of the aunts, who I only met when they Skyped her in to the reunion, was dying of lung cancer. And then, this past weekend, she suffered a heart attack and is not expected to live out the week. My dad had to drive back to be with family (he won’t fly) and my mom stayed here because she is a basket case around death and dying.
Well fuck, I am too. Warren’s death is still too near for me to be anything but wrenched with grief anytime someone is gravely ill. I thank god that my stepdad didn’t take me up on my offer to help him drive to Buffalo – I’d have been waiting in a hospital for someone to die, again. I don’t think I could have managed it. But even here I am still too close to the situation. I don’t even fucking know the woman, goddamn it. But there it is, that bizarre “family” thing.
So anyway, here’s the post I wrote so many weeks ago and never published. Why didn’t I publish it then? I don’t know. I’m still struggling with wanting to write here (or anywhere.) I mourn Jade deeply, though. She is – was? – so much a part of me. I miss the person I was – the Jade I was – when I was with Warren. Sometimes, especially when I am having difficulty accepting this new life, this new version of poly, this new body with its limitations, my new world with its limitations, sometimes I think she was the best version of me. That Warren brought out the best in me, as he always said I did for him. I thought I could never live up to his perception of me, but I know I was so much closer then than I am now.
**Time Hop: September**
I wrote this in September, a couple weeks after I traveled with my parents to Ohio, and then from there with him to Buffalo to meet my stepdad’s brother and catch a plane home.
I’m not going to edit this much, regardless of the fact that so many of these feelings have passed. There were things I wanted to share about the trip, and the sadness was one moment of that too, even if it was heavily informed by haywire brain chemistry.
I shouldn’t drink alone in airports.
Being in airports makes me nostalgic; add alcohol and I become melancholy. It’s a tried and true formula, even when I was traveling alone away from W. But of course much of my alcohol-fueled angst since he’s died is intertwined with all those feelings of longing and loss…with the memories of the way it used to be…of what my life used to be.
My life is so different from what it was, where a road trip or a flight somewhere was always just around the corner; a new adventure always in the works, whether it was a kink event or a swinger’s cruise or a week in NYC or just a weekend away.
God I miss that life. I miss looking forward to and planning our next adventure together; the preparations, the “Travel Bible” I would create, the packing, the talks as we laid in bed and discussed what we would do, who we would do, the fun we would have, the places we would see.
I can love what I have now without feeling guilty for missing what I did have.
But damn. There are limitations to this relationship. Limitations that will not change.
I do try to be in the now, to look at what I have instead of what I don’t, but it’s hard sometimes, remembering those days of always having some new adventure on the horizon, and knowing I’ll never have that again with my current partners. Adam doesn’t do kink anymore, and travels less, and my relationship with V isn’t one that includes that kind of time together. Hell, just getting a whole day together – without the family – is like pulling teeth, and an event to be remarked upon with awe and amazement.
Now that I think about, I don’t think it’s ever been done, besides the kink event we went to together once.
I’ve thought about finding another partner that would be up for that kind of travel, or possibly a long distance partner that will give me the opportunity to travel to visit, but I’m not sure how that would work/how I could fit that into my life as it is now structured.
All of this came about (me being sad in an airport all alone) because I just got back from travel that was not quite as fun as the kind I used to do with W – I went to a family reunion with my elderly parents.
Twelve hours in a car one-way with my almost eighty-year-old parents.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The reality was not quite as bad as I had feared though. My stepdad and I have had a…complicated…relationship. Frankly, he was a bastard when I was younger. He resented my biological father’s influence on me and my love for him, even instigating my mother to (what would now be considered kidnapping) take me out-of-state when I was ten, across the country and then out of the country, without my father’s permission or knowledge. They only returned me to California (and my father) when the local sheriff, who was friends with my stepdad’s father, informed him the law was going to get involved (after an extended, single-handed investigation by my father that finally traced me to NY and then Canada.) Later, my stepdad made it abundantly clear that my stepsister, his “Bum,” was his favored child, and was often cruel and dismissive of me until I moved out at the age of 15 ½. It was not until I turned 30+ that we had any kind of a relationship again, and only in the past ten that we’ve had what I would consider a “good” relationship. He’s matured a lot, and mellowed a lot, and I worked hard to earn his love. I have also chosen to look and hear the other way when he says things that make me distressed. He is often crude, frequently misogynistic, and (around his family) contemptuous of people of color, people of religions not his own, people of different nationalities and, well, basically anyone not blue collar, middle class, white and male. The only ones that have escaped his disregard in recent times are homosexuals, and that only because both his and my mother’s brothers have come out as gay, after their abusive fathers died.
So yeah, there’s a lot to ignore when it comes to my stepdad.
My relationship with my mom is more straightforward, and more open, but recently has been shadowed by her – what I consider premature and intentional – slide into old age. There were women at the reunion that were her age and older that acted 10 and 15 years younger. Mom has prematurely aged herself, and now that she is starting to show the signs of her age for real, this attitude has aged her even more rapidly. But I love my dingy mommy, and getting to spend time with her was mostly a rare treat.
The reunion itself was an eye opener. My family is…fractured at best, broken at worst. My relations with my stepsister – the aforementioned “Bum” – while on the surface are loving and congenial, are surface only. She no more shares her life with me than she would a stranger she met in Walmart. It wasn’t always like that…but that’s a story for another day. I have one older sister left from my mother’s “first” family – the kids she had with her first husband – my second oldest sister having died of breast cancer about five years ago and my brother – who I never really knew until the weeks before he died – having died of brain cancer about five years before that. I hadn’t seen or spoken to my grandmother in twenty years or more when I made this comedy-of-errors train trip. (I just re-read the post myself. If you’re interested in family dysfunction, be sure to have a read. You know, for fun.) As for other family, like uncles or aunts, cousins, etc.? I can’t even name all my mother’s brothers, and have never met her sister. Hell, I barely know my own nieces and nephews.
All that said, I have never subscribed to “blood is thicker than water,” and never thought that I have to love people just because we accidentally share the same blood. All that said, it was fascinating to me to be surrounded by a family (my stepdad’s) that are close, both physically and emotionally. That share more than accidental blood ties; they truly care for each other – sibling rivalries and family disputes aside. Oh, and by surrounded, I mean really surrounded: there were 75+ people at the reunion, and my dad tried to introduce me to each and every one. It was exhausting. But also sweet and… heartening in a way. I’d heard about families like this, families that love each other.
And now I’m somehow part of it, at least peripherally. I’m an adjunct family member.
In the travel category, I was stunned – and delighted – to discover that the reunion is held every year at a park on the banks of Lake Erie. Maybe if my dad had told me that, oh, 20 years ago, it wouldn’t have been so hard to get me to attend one of the reunions. Oh wait, that implies I’d go for the scenery but not the people.
Okay, maybe that’s not that far off.
Here’s some pretty pictures of the lake. One of my step-relatives (a cousin, maybe?) claims that this is the cleanest of the Great Lakes, after a whole lot of environmental restrictions and regulations, but I just Googled it and didn’t get that answer, so I won’t claim that’s the case, but I’ll tell you the lake certainly looked clean. Cleaner than the muddy Mississippi, anyway.
After the reunion, my dad and I drove over to Buffalo, NY, to visit his brother, my Uncle George, and get me in place to be at the airport the next evening. Dad is one of 12 or 13 siblings. I got to meet a handful of them, but my Uncle George is my favorite so far. He lives on this adorable little place that butts up to a ranch on one side and Amish country on the other, with Lake Erie a short bike ride away. All of the outbuildings in the following pictures are on his property, and built entirely by hand, by him. He lives in a quirky little house that my real dad would have loved, and, in thinking about it, I realize he reminds me of my father. It is perhaps significant that he is very unlike my stepdad (the three other brothers I have met and my stepdad are all spitting images of each other, in physical traits as well as verbal mannerisms and attitudes.)
I also think Warren would really have liked him and his place.
I loved my Uncle’s funny little place. He showed me a little New England-style clapboard house for sale for a song just down the way from him, closer-in to town (and, incidentally, the lake), and if he hadn’t told me he is thinking of moving to Arkansas, I’d consider buying the place myself. I loved the area, I loved the proximity to the lake, and with my parents thinking about moving to the area, it wouldn’t be a crazy idea. Cold as a witch’s tit in winter, but hey – real snow to make up for it! I bet I could talk Adam into it. ;-)
And then, there was a little side trip to Niagara Falls with my uncle and stepdad. It was far prettier than I had expected, although I also admit to being equally enamored of the empty industrial wastelands that we drove through in Buffalo. Warren would have loved it and would have wanted to tour the miles of closed factories.
So here we are, in the current day. I have been at my mom’s since Sunday afternoon, and my aunt is still in the hospital, still in a coma. It’s been a good visit with my mom, in spite of the circumstances, but I’m ready to spend a night away. Tomorrow I am going to stay at V’s after my class, since we haven’t had any alone time since…shit, I can’t remember when. Last week some time. And that was pretty tense for much of the time. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, this version of poly is challenging for me, which in turn makes being in relationship with me challenging for everyone. But after a rocky weekend, I think we’re in an okay place – or maybe I’ve just found that reserve of “accepting the situation as it is” that I’d been seeking. Hopefully it will stay with me.