This I Believe

Joseph - Norman, Oklahoma
Entered on May 28, 2007

The thing I’ve come to believe over the years is that you don’t really need your family, despite what television shows say. My mother and father split after seven years of a horrible marriage when I was five, and I was glad. In short order they imploded: my father committed suicide; my mother had a series of emotional breakdowns. Years passed. My siblings and I fought; plotted against one another; got where we hardly ever spoke. Yet I only became fully conscious of this deep rift when my grandmother died about nine years ago. She was great, one of the greatest people I have ever known. She took better care of us kids than my mom, who was busy with all her problems. After that I felt I had lost the only real connection I had to my family and sort of got to unknow them. At one point my sister went to jail and I was happy about it; my brother had a daughter and I didn’t care, don’t even know her name. The full break came about five years ago at a family Christmas. I had gotten my third coffee maker in three years (though anyone who knows me knows I loathe coffee) and five sweaters (though I almost never wear them). I remember my sister enthusiastically rallying every one to play one of those board games you never play except at family functions like this. My heart sank. I looked at each of them, their well known but somehow weird faces, and realized I didn’t know them at all, didn’t understand them, and didn’t want to play any games. Feeling like a space alien, I laid down in a back room and tried to take a nap. I couldn’t. I got up, faked gratitude to my aunt for the day and went home determined never to go to a family function again. Now I often spend the holidays by myself. I read, write, watch DVDs. Sometimes I hang out with friends. It’s wonderful. That draggy depression I used to experience knowing I would have to spend two whole hours with my family vanished. People who slavishly think you must accept your family no matter what, who gather year after year with those phantoms created by the familial nightmares of day to day mores, try to act as if I was some sort of cold hearted sociopath for being like this. But I believe life is too short to hand over parts of it to an institution simply to satisfy some suffocating social convention that says Thanksgiving is for family. I see now that I only really began to live when I did so on my own terms, when I put past betrayals behind me—i.e. my sister and brother—and just worked to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer and finding a real family to love and be loved by in my friends.