Just about all of my direct ancestors are dead. All of my grandparents and great grandparents, and my mother. My father and I, we don’t speak and I’m unable to really make any effort towards that communication anymore, since I’m fairly sure he never heard a word I said anyway…and I may as well admit that I never heard a word he said, either. My mother’s brothers and sisters and their spouses are all alive and live three thousand miles away from me…they recently celebrated Christmas and New Years and I didn’t call, even though I had made noises that I would.
The truth is, and it will no doubt sound cold, I don’t miss them. Most of my mother’s sisters were perfectly decent and civil to me, but the fact is that I didn’t know them especially well and was never really a part of their orbit. In essence, I was the family member who wore his kinship like ill-fitting clothes, and discarded it when it was first possible to do so.
Having said this, I don’t pretend to emotional emptiness when I think of those people on this earth who have the closest blood ties to me. I love many of them. Others, I don’t, and I see no reason why I should pretend to love people I do not merely because we share common ancestors. I do think it odd, however, that the people who would have served as a bond between us…my Morgan grandparents, my mother…should have so neatly been severed, creating no real reason for us to communicate.
And where is the need to be with them? Or to be a part of my father’s life? Others seem to feel the importance of these kinships, and will tolerate a great deal of pain, discomfort and anxiety to spend holidays with the people who are their family. I’ve seen people who have nothing in common with their parents tolerate a continuous chain of friction and discord in order to maintain that familial relationship. Yet here I sit, thousands of miles from my blood, and I do not send them cards, I do not call them, I do not send them gifts, and when I think about them my mind has all the warmth and sentiment of a man pinning butterflies or dissecting annelids. I have two half-brothers, and I know from my own actions and thoughts that I love them…yet there is no urge in me to be near them, to share their lives.
Rather the opposite, in fact. I fear returning to Rhode Island about the same way a man who cannot swim fears the ocean…these strangers who share my blood steal from me every time I see them. They steal my adulthood. They steal my self-control. They steal from me the ability to reach down and comfort that cowering woodland beast that is my memory, fearful and timid and unable to understand why none of them ever seemed to care who I was or what I did. There were only a few people in my childhood who ever seemed to regard me with affection…two of them are dead, and one of them betrayed me utterly and to some degree destroyed my ability to truly open myself to others.
My mother’s youngest brother was born in March of 1971, roughly nine months before I was. I often feel that it was the sight of him that inspired my mother to attempt to give birth again, and which therefore led to the creation of me in the first place. Yes, Billy was adopted…my grandfather Morgan died before I was born, I never met him…but that never really seemed to matter to anyone, or at least not to my mother and therefore not to me. As we grew, Billy became my best friend…there exist somewhere in this world all the expected photographs of us doing all the things children do when they grow up together…and in essence, he was the closest thing I ever had to a brother. We pretended to be strange things we’d seen on my grandmother’s television or made up, we ran wild on my father’s family property and attacked each other with old fencing foils we’d found in the attic…we rode dirtbikes and shot arrows and walked the trails and went to school and picked fights with bullies and then, as we got older and went to different schools, it became more and more apparent that we really weren’t that much alike.
I didn’t like his friends. They were all loud and coarse…not that I’m not capable of being so, but they never seemed to have another speed. Whenever Bill would drag me along with them, the activities seemed to involve nothing but drinking beer scavenged from the dumpster of a distribution hub near our houses or coming up with elaborate plans to purchase vodka from a liquor store involving my mother’s glasses and a sweater that was supposed to make a trembling fifteen year old look like a man. (And yes, they sold it to me. Probably out of pity.) I learned for the first time how susceptible I am to the call of alcohol from those days, just as I learned slowly that Bill didn’t really think of me as his brother any more, if he ever had.
Eventually, my mother died, and Bill and his friends took the opportunity to turn her house…now my house…into party central, where they could come and get drunk every night and invite strangers who I had little knowledge of…and in some cases, a rather strong dislike of, having known them in the days before my growth spurt…into the corpse of my family home to intoxicate themselves free of parental supervision. And, in some cases, free of informing me that sixty or so strangers would be drinking heavily in my house, in the room my mother slept in and making out on the couch she died on. Indeed, I only discovered that this was the case after coming home from a painful weekend spent at my father’s house arguing about the future, about my behavior (I sometimes think I burned away my capacity to be fully human that year, weaving between extremes of grief and rage while trying desperately to kill myself with whatever substance came to hand) and about the future. At that time, I had no capacity to believe in the future.
I returned home to find that Bacchus had preceeded me. They’d finished the destruction I’d begun…doors were smashed, windows shattered, the bathroom a ruin, the stink of cheap beer and vomit all over the floor…and to this day, the sight of a party at my own house that I was unaware of is what really kills me. Because, to be honest, I was dissolute enough at that time to have fully supported the frenzy, even though I wasn’t going to be there, if only someone had asked me.
I threw them out, I remember that. Even Bill. Called him some names, ended up having to endure being yelled at by another of my mother’s brothers until he understood what had actually happened…and although it was another few years before we broke all contact, it was that night that destroyed in me the ability to feel close to my family, I suspect. Because it was Billy who I’d always considered my brother, and if your brother can use your pain in order to find a place to get drunk with his friends, then he’s not really your brother at all. And it may not be fair, but of all of them, he was the one I loved best…and when that died, nothing ever really replaced it.
Speaking to my mother’s sister Susan (who as a child I’m pretty sure I was afraid of, and who now I think of with a great deal of warmth, as one of the people who was never false about who she was, a rare thing) recently, she told me that Billy was trying to get my email address and should she give it to him…and now, almost a decade later, I honestly can’t even feel the anger anymore. So it’s all banked, the love, the hate, the pain…and all that’s left are a few scraps in the fire, and a great deal of ash.
I told her she could, if she chose. I have no idea what’s left unsaid, though.