Bizarre night last night. Dinner with my brother, his wife and young daughter - along with my mother who I've been estranged from. Ben, Lisa and Angela were in town for a tennis tournament Ben is competing in. They came to the house - I barbecued. Two of my girls were there. Let me preface this by saying my family doesn't do "family" well. We haven't mastered the art of relaxing with each other. Everyone's individual agendas collide; tempers often run high, ancient wounds are salted - a nice, calming dose of superficiality would be a good thing sometimes.
So I know I said no vodka, but if there ever was a time for vodka it was last night. We downed the stuff, each of us in our own private pain, trying to be OK with each other. And I guess I'm glad that we all got smashed last night - there is so much pain in my family and we have all been holding onto it so tightly, grimly and not loving each other well enough. Vodka was a truth serum of sorts. I was silly, affectionate, I sang, I cooked, I broached difficult topics without accusation. My mother is moving to the East Coast to live with my sister at the end of this month. She is hopeful but sad about the move - it will probably be the last move she makes - her final chapter. She said to my brother and me, "You are my Midwestern children". I said, "We are Aldei's children, Benjamin and me". I'm not sure what prompted me to bring up such a loaded topic - the fact that only recently did we learn of my mother's affair 50+ years ago that resulted in Ben and I being born of her lover - a DNA test confirmed it. What ensued, thanks to the effects of the vodka, was a jovial discussion about our parentage. No tears, no accusations, just my mother trying to explain her life then and what Aldei meant to her. It was OK and overdue. It doesn't really change much. The heavens did not crack open and angels singing hosannas didn't come to heal us and bind all our wounds. My mother and I will probably continue to not talk much - she will move away, I will visit every year or so. The ship of closeness between us probably sailed long ago. But at least we had one pleasant evening together.
And if there is one word that bubbles up today it would have to be "forgiveness" and not in a Pollyannna-ish sense. My mother has, I think forgiven herself. She has spun her truth and coated it with honey. She said things like "I was true blue" at the same time as she described the affair. She talked about loving her husband and her lover at the same time. She is comfortable with the discrepancies and expects us to be too. Everyone but me has forgiven her....I guess it's time for me to as well, even though I am deeply troubled by things she has done in the name of love.
I look at my own kids and realize they have their own issues with me - that, if I am honest and don't sugar-coat the truth, I have not been a wonderful mother. My girls were animated last night, the fact that everyone was so drunk and loving and honest-trying - to them it was the real deal, family shit that needs to happen. I think they would rather witness drunken people trying to make connections than buttoned up, stick-up-the-asses, clinging to their own realities and being ships passing other ships in the night, oblivious to emotional SOSs. So it’s bad that I've been mostly style versus substance in important relationships - time to change that. But I also need to forgive myself. Guilt is a crippling emotion.
Something happened last night, something important that I knew I would want to remember today. So I didn’t forget, I texted a few words to my friend James. I wrote, “Fevered pitch, razor’s edge, so incredibly sad and happy all at once”. What I tried to capture with those words was the amazing feeling of living on life’s razor’s edge. There are times in our lives when our emotions are at a fevered pitch, things are changing, nothing is the same, everything is up for grabs. We question everything, our minds race, we love and hate in amplified sterero. These times are unsustainable. They are exhausting. They would burn us out if we lingered here. But to feel everything so passionately? – it is incredible and a gift. It’s the opposite of complacent. I know this phase of my life is transient and strange. I am normally an even keeled, balanced, habit loving, happy woman, loving, as Patrick would say, an easy breezy but interesting lifestyle. I will be that way again. But this time of my life is frigging amazing! It’s a horror show, it’s MY horror show but it’s so “alive”!! And that is why I wrote “so incredibly sad and happy all at once”. Last night the floodgates opened. I hugged my brother and told him I loved him. I was nice to my mother and I didn’t get my back up when she said I COULD be a great singer with more practice. The night was breathtaking. The little lights twinkled on my deck. Three generations of our family breached our very wide divide and surrendered to the beautiful night and to each other.
My challenge today is giving thought to the needs of the family, the living, breathing family that can be viewed as an organic entity comprised of individual parts. Is it healthy? Is it as sick as its most suffering member? Can the family be well if the individual parts are not? Can WE be well if our family members are not? Is there anything we can do to heal it – even if it’s just a summer night out on the deck?
Thanks to Victor for the amazing photograph that he took in a men’s room. Forgive yourself.