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April 15, 2008

Roots

I may be an only child, but because my mother is the eldest of ten, I grew up in a rather large family. While none of them were my age, they were there. They were warm, happy, loving, all of them a potential reservoir of happy fuzzy feelings that no child should grow up without. And because of my mother and father’s acrimonious divorce and the traumatic event that followed, I clung to them. They gave me the world as a child. They were my life.

My uncle Andrew* taught me that loathsome spiders could actually be pets; that they can be as large as a burly man’s fist, fuzzy like an animal and, most disturbingly, that they have a row of eyes like carnival lights. Fascinated and horrified, I would watch as his tarantula meandered up his forearm, past his bicep, round, round resting for a long, cringe-inducing moment on the tender part of Andrew’s neck, and then, as if toying with me, skitter down his other arm. Shrieking in terror, I’d scramble up the stairs, past the kitchen, through the living room and into the yard, panting, terrified and exhilarated. I hated that spider, but I always went back for more.

Vivian showed me glamour and elegance, standoffish perfection. She was tall and slender, her limbs undulating like silk in wind, every move executed with purpose. Vivian was graceful, sophisticated. I practiced her affectations in the mirror, my own limbs wooden and stump-like in comparison. She exercised before I knew what it was, and I’d see her on her way to aerobics in her bright white Reeboks that never seemed to scuff, her colored tights and leotard that would make Olivia Newton-John proud.

My mother’s youngest sister, Valerie, took me under her wing. Like a curious and utterly dependent puppy dog, I was never far from her and her friends. They let me cruise around town with them in the brick red Nova, the cacophony of Air Supply and their teenage chatter making my skin tingle. It was glorious. She was always my favorite and was a treasured friend and confidante until a few years ago.

All of them gave me memories; my first sip of beer, allowing me to stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live or a horror movie.

And then there was Scott, my mother’s youngest brother and the baby of the family before I stole the crown. He hated me. And this, quite naturally, made me crave his attention. I grew more and more determined with every sneer or cross word. When he watched cartoons after school, I wanted to be in the room watching with him. Undeterred when he changed the channel to get me to leave, I peered around the corner to watch with him. Well. I made believe I was watching with him. When I was scared and excited about my first loose tooth and he hissed at me to “just pull it out,” I climbed onto my bathroom stool, took a deep breath, wiggled it back and forth a little to test it, changed my mind a few times, and ripped it out.

And shrieked in kiddie rage when it slipped out of my grasp, bounced off the counter and flew straight into the toilet.

But I got it. “Thcott! Come here! I did it, I pulled it like you thaid!” I shouted excitedly as I ran back into the living room with my tooth held high. “So?” he said crossly, as my Grandma looked at him sternly. Back then I was crestfallen. Today I’d call him a douchebag and flip him off.

I don’t remember him saying more than five words to me throughout my childhood and then, inexplicably, he took me to the mall for my 16th birthday and told me I could have whatever I wanted. I was shy, timid, afraid of making the wrong choice, the right choice, scared of wanting too much, spending too much. This was my moment! The big brother I had always wanted was finally talking to me!

I finally chose a Notre Dame windbreaker because it was 1993 and windbreakers were cool.

We didn’t talk again until I was twenty, just as the family started falling apart. I was home one weekend from college for a party and he was house sitting. He took me out drinking with his friends, getting me into bars and making sure I got home properly sauced and safe. Out of nowhere and from nothing, we were like old friends. He took me to Key West for my senior year spring break. I beamed when his friends told me how proud he was of me and how excited he was about my upcoming college graduation. My big brother! Finally!

He didn’t show up to the party. Apparently the plumbing was busted.

We ignored each other for the next eight years.

I don’t remember how we reconnected. Last January, shortly after we arrived in California, I opened a blank e-mail and decided to send him some words of support regarding his crushing divorce. It was selfish, really. I wanted to feel good that I had risen above it all to reach out to him. After that, I’m not sure. What happened? Why did we keep talking? Why did I still give a shit after all these years?

Five months later I marveled at how “together” he was and how wonderfully he was coping with the divorce. He was witty and interested in my life and proud and I loved it. I have step siblings, but Scott was my coveted older brother. I pretended I was the 11th child, not a product of my mother but another sibling. I felt like a sibling and I wanted it more than what I had. I wanted to be a part of something. I didn’t want what I had - a dysfunctional patchwork of cheap, mismatched fabric. I clung to the idea of him even more after things started unraveling with my mother and her husband. I have no contact with the rest of the family; he was The Last Great Hope. The One That Could Be Different. The One That Could Be Saved. The one who would be on my side to try to rise above all the dysfunction and who would do anything to get out from the manipulation and quiet chaos.

Believing he was okay, I introduced him to someone I treasure. I trusted him with her. He was fine, I thought, almost through a divorce but keeping his head high.

He wasn’t fine.

He didn’t keep his head high.

He broke her heart. He was vicious and cruel, completely unmoved by emotion, rigid and vibrating with fury. Who was this person? “This doesn’t seem like him,” I would say. And I was certain. It couldn’t be him. Not my Faux-Bro.

I keep forgetting that I don’t know him at all. He’s a stranger to me. Is this who I was looking up to all these years? A cruel, manipulative asshole with no regard for other people’s feelings? A child in a 40 year old body?

It seems so.

One experience - even a divorce - doesn’t turn someone into who he is. He was always this way. Retreating when convenient for him, reengaging when he feels like it. And he’s astonishingly good at his game - he stomps on a person’s head, claws and kicks only to return a few days or a month later. He reboots. When he’s done with his snit, he expects it to be forgotten. Deleted. Reformatted as though those moments of crushing disappointment had never existed.

Sadly, it usually is forgotten. My Faux-Bro - witty, intelligent, expert manipulator.

The cycle of this behavior has lasted a year and I can’t handle it any longer. It’s confusing, destructive. I feel guilty for introducing him to her. I feel slick with pond scum, dirty by association. I feel responsible somehow, as though I opened the door to his malevolence and invited him in.

I wanted a family, a bond, a brother. I’m not sure what I got.

It’s been exhausting, this game. I don’t want to play anymore. I don’t want to get sucked back in. His bewildering anger and out-of-nowhere cruelty toward my friend - a woman he claimed he cherished - this weekend was it for me. Who is this person who can run so hot and so cold with barely seconds between? And how can I not have seen it? Everything was there, the short shelf-life of periods of interaction, the way he’d close up and retreat without so much as a word of explanation. It was always there, I just wanted so badly to be a part of something real that I didn’t see it. I wasn’t looking. My guard is razor sharp, I’m always aware, my instincts prickled. And yet I missed this.

This is my family. This is who I’m supposed to be. I don’t want this. I don’t want this family, who does these things with ease and engages in a constant game of Love/Hate. I can’t help but turn inward and dissect my own self, pick apart my isms and patterns of behavior. I see them, their influence. It’s in my reactions, my defense mechanisms, the way I can shut myself off almost at will. It terrifies me. I don’t want this.

I’m ashamed. How can I trust myself if I couldn’t even see evil in someone I’ve known for 30 years, someone I spent my entire life idolizing? It’s nauseating. I don’t want this. I want to gag, to choke up bile.

Turns out what I’ve been coveting all these years was really just a patchwork of cheap, mismatched fabric after all.


*Not their real names.

Filed under: Daily, Nothing

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Doing:
Trying to figure out why this motherfucking site isn’t working.

Reading:

Between books.

Listening:
Paul’s Boutique, Beastie Boys

Favorite Song(s) of Moment:
Broken Breads, New Pornographers
Outta Heart, Hot Hot Heat
Bye Bye Bye, Plants and Animals

Loving:
TBD

Hating:
That this goddamned plugin isn’t working and no one has passwords.

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