Having moved many times during the course of my life, it has been very difficult for me to hold on to a sense of community. When you’re constantly passing through, instead of settling down, it’s difficult to develop the types of relationships that persevere. In the course of that time, I have come to believe that the constant community of family is the most important of our lives, in whatever incarnation they may take. However, it took losing my own family to allow me to gain this understanding.
My parents didn’t have much in common, but they bonded over the one thing that largely defined who they were. They both harbored deep childhood pains over the ill treatment and neglect they had endured from their parents and older siblings. As part of my parents’ coping, they isolated themselves and their children geographically and emotionally from our extended family. This also helped my father hide his abusive alcoholism from our relatives. In our house, love was always conditional, based solely on how well we conformed to certain standards of achievement and behavior, rather than as a sentiment expressed for the joy of loving itself, the joy of appreciating the unique qualities of a special individual.
By college, I thought that family was an institution enforced by codes of genetics and society, one that had nothing to do with love or friendship. My intuition told me that there had to be something better, but when I fought against the cycle of abuse and resentment, my family officially disowned me.
Then, I met Max, shortly after graduation. On one of our first dates, he picked me up for a movie with his younger brother in the back seat. At first, I was a little put off, but I soon came to understand the closeness that Max shared with his family. Not that his family was perfect: his father had run off with another woman when he was a toddler, leaving Max’s mother poor and alone with two children. Nevertheless, she had raised Max to be optimistic, kind, and self-confident. As we continued dating, we spent increasingly more time with his family. Dinners turned into weekend trips, which turned into whole holiday weeks spent together. The idea that you could actually enjoy being with your family was a novel concept to me after growing up in a household where people spent a lot of effort avoiding each other.
My parents and siblings received an invitation to our wedding, but they did not make any sign of acknowledgement. However, my husband’s mother and step-father were there to walk us both down the aisle.
Max and I have made the choice to live close to his family, in North Carolina. Of course, we’ve considered that a bigger city, the West Coast or even Europe might offer more to our social and cultural tastes. However, our family is the only one we have, and we’re hoping it won’t go away any time soon. This, I believe.
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