Doing It Again

I remember having this realization when I was a teenager that a family is like a lake and things ripple out, replay themselves in slightly different ways, generation after generation. We’re living with the things our parent did to us and they did those things in response to the things their parents did to them who, in turn, were done poorly or weirdly by their parents.

My dad had some old home movies he found digitized and I spent some time looking through them. It was something to see my Grandpa Bob again, my dead cousin, my Grandma and Grandpa Phillips, my dead uncles.

To see me, so young and vibrant. How much time do you spend as a teenager hating yourself and wishing to be pretty? And then you see yourself from half a lifetime away, and that young girl was pretty. She moved like a poem.

I was alarmed to discover that I had forgotten what my Uncle B’s voice sounded like. In many of the movies–they’re his movies–he’s talking constantly, providing a running commentary, and I didn’t recognize it. He’s been gone so long I’ve forgotten.

Here’s what I know, though, watching those movies as an adult, coming to them with four decades’ worth of experience with people, as much as I know about my dad’s family, I don’t know anything. The siblings don’t interact like people who like each other. My grandma is cautious in a way I don’t remember her being, but it’s clear in ever minute of film, no matter from what year it’s taken.

My one uncle talks incessantly, just drones on in the background telling stories about people no one knows anything about. My dad does that now, but seeing the video has given me some sympathy for it. How strange silence or normal conversation must seem if you’re used to that constant noise? I wonder what my uncle thought would happen if he stopped talking. I wonder if he didn’t exist for himself if he wasn’t speaking.

But they’re all performing. All the siblings. Except for my uncle, when he’s filming. Then, of course, he’s watching.

And all us kids are remarkably quiet. Maybe that’s what disconcerts me most of all. The Butcher might only be six or eight. So, at any given time, there are five kids under the age of eight at any family gathering. No one’s running around. No one’s being loud. No one’s getting up to play. Everyone is so well-behaved.

All of us.

It’s not natural.

Every once in a while, my cousin A. will call me and ask why we’re not close. I think next time I’m going to send her one of these videos and ask her to watch it like it’s a video of strangers. I wonder what she’d make of it.

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Bah

I have to fight with my parents today about whether I’m going to go down to Georgia for some as-of-yet unspecified number of days over my birthday to sit in a hotel room while they attend my nephew’s graduation.

He can only have ten people come to his graduation. If there’s a choice between his siblings and me, obviously, his siblings should get the spot.

It’s been a kind of grueling spring for me, for a lot of reasons. I think I’m shook by Jim’s death more than I realize, because, man, have I been hit hard by the feeling that life is too short and I’m not going to get to do the things I want to do–both because of that shortness and my own shortcomings and bad luck and the luck of the draw, etc.

And, fuck me, man, the second “my own shortcomings” comes into play, my brain has a whole litany of those shortcomings to run through on repeat, just to see which ones will cause me the most misery.

Added to that that I feel like my parents have been spending this Spring acting like I, because I don’t have “my own” family, am just an emotional extension of them, a pawn they can move around the board in their quest to make sure that everyone they care about is getting the kind of love and support they need, and it’s a bad scene.

Bah, I wonder how much longer I’ll feel able to even write these kinds of posts. I’m already leaving so much unsaid just because I feel more public in a way I haven’t.

But I’m worn out. I’m worn out from shit in my own life and I’m worn out from doing stuff for them for their friends and the family members they think need taken care of. And the thought that I would spend my birthday watching my dad and my brother reenact their life-long drama and hurt to not even go to a graduation which is ostensibly the reason I’m needed in Georgia?

It makes me want to throw up.

This is the other thing, too. Sometimes, I think, “Oh, my god, what if I died and I’ve not sold this book and I’ve never found true love and I’ve never seen a Viking burial mound and I didn’t laugh one last time with the Professor and I didn’t tell the Butcher I loved him” and all that kind of stuff that fills me with dread and anxiety. And sometimes I think, “Well, when I’m dead, I won’t have to give a shit about any of this stuff any more, whether I’m doing right by my family, whether I’m making the right decisions and balancing them against my responsibilities. Oh, glorious death, where nothing matters.”

And that’s not a good head space to be in.

On the other hand, if there was any doubt that I had some strain of grouchy German in me, it’s that I’m now comforting myself with the thought that someday I’ll be dead and this shit won’t be my problem then.