When we were growing up, we heard that all the time–“Our family sticks together.” I would venture to guess that you don’t often hear that in families where the sane aren’t looking to flee.
Ha. No. Maybe that’s not fair.
I remember when my cousin M. got married, how she took me aside right before the wedding and said, “I cannot wait until I don’t have our last name any more.” I was so hurt. I can’t even tell you. Because as shitty as things got, I always felt like at least we had each other. That eagerness she had to slip out of our name into a new one made me feel like she was eager to slip out of her ties to me.
It’s not so easy as that, of course.
But I was thinking about that when I was sitting next to my cousin A. I have no idea what her last name is. I went to her wedding last year and I don’t think I ever bothered to ask if she was staying with our last name or taking his. In the important ways, it doesn’t matter; she still is my relative. We still went through similar shit for similar reasons.
I love my last name; it ties me to my brothers, who I love more than anything on the planet. It’s a constant acknowledgment of our shared history and our obligations to each other.
And, also, I kind of refuse to give up on it. Why should it just be a word that mean big fat narcissistic fucks who beat the shit out of their kids? It can also mean houses full of wild absurdity and deep conversations and all night cribbage games.
It can be a word that means how people learn to stop carrying their terrible shit around and throwing it in each other’s faces given the opportunity.
I don’t know how it will come to mean that. I sat next to A. all night and I couldn’t think of anything to say to her. I just wanted to sit near her and for it to be calm and not hurtful. I wanted to just have her near me and for neither of us to feel bad about all the things that seeing each other reminds us of. But that only sort of happened.
And only sort of for me.
I don’t know how she felt about it. She seemed skittish in a way I hope I don’t any more. Still, it looked familiar.
I don’t know. I do believe we can find new ways to be a family, if we all decide that it’s worth it. But I’m also starting to think that there may be no shame in switching our family motto from “Our family sticks together” to “I’m here if you need me; it’s okay if you don’t.”