Family Dynamics: Part Two of Definitely a Million

22 Apr

I had dinner with my mom and Alex on Tuesday night. (Unrelated: We went to a poetry reading with Meryl Streep, Matt Dillon, Gabriel Byrne, and Sting…to name a few. And we stood next to Alec Baldwin for a while. No big deal.) We went to the poetry thing first and then had dinner after and of course my mom used this time to inform us both that she and Bill will not be getting married in June. Now they’re thinking Columbus Day.

The wedding date – or lack thereof – is not the point, though. I’m stressed enough at work right now to deal with trying to figure out when to prepare myself for this new part of my family becoming legal. What really struck me was a few things Alex said and the way she said them.

I’ve said from the beginning that I felt she and I are eerily similar. Maybe it’s about being the oldest child, the oldest girl, and having a single parent. She mentioned that role automatically comes with feeling responsible for your younger siblings and maybe it does for everyone but for us it definitely goes deeper. There’s more of a need to walk the lines between child and parent and yourself and unfortunately but inevitably a lot of times the “yourself” part gets thrown to the side.

What I noticed the most, though, was the way she talked about her mom’s death and her dad. It reminded me of the way I often talk about my dad. It reminded me so much of this that I was actually wrenched into that world of hurt and had to chew on ice to avoid feeling totally uncomfortable and anxious.

Alex actually said, “I’ve spent so long hoping he’d become the parent I wanted him to be and I have to accept that it’s just never going to happen.”

First, it’s shocking and impressive and also sad to me that she’s able to say that at 20. Second, ditto.

Third, though, is that the tone in her voice when she uttered those words was all too familiar. It’s that steely, resilient, almost defiant tone that I think is very subtle except to those who know you well and to those who have the same tone. The tone has so much hurt in it, it becomes neutral. It’s years of practiced, matter-of-fact, level-headed, pragmatic manipulations of emotions that makes it easy to drop a casual reference to her mother’s death. Or to my dad’s rejection. Or to her dad’s emotional unavailability. Or to my dad’s emotional unavailability.

It struck me – it felt physical, you know? – when I realized she had the tone. I recognized and it was both comforting and scary at the same time. Comforting because clearly there is a point at which the pain we’ve both experienced converges.

Scary for the same reason. Even as I articulate this, I become more aware of how isolated I have been in my own hurt and somehow that isolation has become a comfort. If no one can relate, then it’s easier to ignore it. And not feel it.

Suddenly, someone in my life takes the same tone as I do when discussing parental relationships and experiences and the pain and hurt and anger and confusion that accompany them. I’m determined to make this into a distinctly positive aspect of my life, but I can’t help but think it’d be a hell of a lot easier if I didn’t recognize that tone.

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