The problem is that no matter how many talks we have or fights we put up or promises we make, nothing ever changes, because the way we feel stays the same. I will always feel like my stepmother is replacing me, and she will always feel that she is going out of her way NOT to do so.
It started because she sent me an e-mail saying that she didn’t include my name on a birthday card our family had sent to her brother-in-law. I could think of no example of her pushing me out of the family more glaring than that. It’s not as if I was going to send him my own card - I didn’t even know it was his birthday. And it’s not as if anything would have been lost by including my name, except perhaps some semblance of personal satisfaction on her part. She e-mailed me to tell me this, and when I told her I was kind of offended by it and didn’t understand her logic, she told me that being offended requires that I care about my family, which I clearly don’t.
But that’s not true. I know I can be ungrateful and selfish and nearsighted. I know that I owe them much more than I could ever give back. But I love them so much that sometimes it keeps me up at night. I mean, it terrifies me, because the thing about love is that when you love someone, you are acknowledging that you are afraid to lose them, that, when they die, your love will automatically become pain. It’s horrifying in some ways, but that’s why it’s more difficult to love people than it is to just let them go.
I tried to explain this to my stepmother but she takes everything too personally and, as hard as she may try to understand where I’m coming from, she just can’t. It’s not her fault, I can’t really understand her position either. In the kitchen today she barely acknowledged me with a sharp nod, and I had to control myself from flying across the room and snapping her head off her neck. My father did nothing, because even in his maddening passivity he always manages to take her side. Even if my stepmother will say outright, “It was my fault,” as she is rational enough that she sometimes does, my father is still wont to believe that I am evil and awful and did something to “hurt” her. To him, that is what I’m always doing, it’s what I was put here to do - hurt people.
Because I hurt them with my honesty and my emotional savvy, and yeah sometimes my words. Because I don’t know when is the right time to be blunt and when is the right time to let things slide so that healing can begin. I don’t know how to hold my tongue, and most times I think it would be wrong to do so anyway. But I am driving this wedge between me and my family, and I don’t know how to stop. I am stubborn, but it extends beyond personality flaws at this point. Now it is this thing ingrained in me, and every misstep made by my stepmother or my father I ultimately view as a personal attack. Ulterior motives lurk everywhere, behind their dinner-for-2 reservations and wedding pictures framed by heavy oak atop the living room credenza.
And for my stepmother, she can’t understand why I can’t just put my negative emotions towards her aside and accept her as a part of my family. But I’ve been trying to do that for four years now, and I’m still failing miserably. I can accept strangers and distant friends into my life with panache and graciousness, but I cannot allow her to become a real part of my life. She can send me envelopes stuffed with money and her family can get me drunk at WASPy, catered dinner parties, but the problem remains that we will never understand each other. Perhaps these are the spoils of war. My father, in an attempt to build a new life after all the destruction, destroyed what was left of his old life, the good parts, the parts that loved him, too.
It was the winter of my freshman year when I went back to the house I grew up in and first discovered that it wasn’t my home any longer. I had developed allergies to the love of my life - my dog - that left me wheezing and itchy-eyed. My bed felt uncomfortable, foreign, and my room was littered with memories of years that I felt disconnected from. There, in a picture hung beside my bed, I was staring with devilish eyes, a hookah mouthpiece draped awkwardly over my left shoulder. And just below that, me and my three best friends from high school, perched on an overturned boat docked at my lake house, donning pajama pants and polos. Even then I had felt those moments had taken place a lifetime ago, and now, at 20 years old, this house feels like it is inhabited by strangers. I feel like I should ask before I open the refrigerator or change the TV channel. I spend most time in my room, and my family continues their lives around me, aware of the fact that I am home, but intent to not let it affect their routine.
In this way I exist outside of my family. When you’re younger, your whole identity seems shaped by where you come from, and who you are raised by. People ask questions about your parents constantly. At school now, even my closest friends don’t know the intimate innuendo of my family life. I won’t give that to them. Those things are mine, and they are painful, and so I keep them with me, to mull over on Sunday nights in my dark bedroom, only car lights from Centre Street grazing my ceiling, making it possible to see. As I grow up, my family will always be a part of my identity, but it becomes less so. I become defined more by my accomplishments and the people I choose to surround myself with, as opposed to those I've just kind of been stuck with from the beginning.
And we all feel it - that burgeoning distance, the strange mix of familiarity and foreign discomfort that invades us when we step into the house we grew up in. But with my parents divorced, it makes things more difficult. The house continues to change, my stepmother continues to live here while I am away - even if she IS trying to push me away, it’s not like it would be that difficult. I am doing it myself, I am running, and I have been since I was 13 years old and they sat me down on the hard, floral living room couch and broke the news.
These are the things that can’t be fixed, or won’t be, but not for lack of trying.