I'm a bad person.
I've been selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed.
I've been stupid.
I've been lazy.
I've been neglectful.
I've made bad choices.
I am, actually, quite cognizant of these things.
I can't change the past. (When I'm feeling a little more frivolous, I'm aware that this is a good thing, because otherwise we'd all be back in 5th grade thinking that really, with just one more attempt, we could get it right this time...)
I am a very forgiving person. I kinda have to be. Because I think everyone deserves second chances; third chances, fifth chances, eighty-ninth chances.
I know need those chances. So I have to give them out, because otherwise, why should I ever expect life to give me one?
I don't generally forget. It's not always on my mind, but I don't think I'll ever forget that my best friend of three years dumped me for my best friend, but it's ok. They're happily married and I'm happily married, and we're all still good friends, and the only reason it's important at all is that it's part of our history, and knowing that about us explains some of the weird commentary we make about each other.
I won't forget that Pearl once decided that we shouldn't be friends anymore (right about the time that we didn't have enough money to take her out to dinner on a regular basis..) but I can move on. We were estranged for... eh, I'm not sure, two or three years, at least. And while I don't always consider her a good friend, I help her out when I can, listen when she needs it, and I don't expect too much out of her.
I don't talk about my family much because, frankly, with the exception of my parents, all of my family has been out of my life for a long time.
I pretty much collectively disowned all of my mother's sisters and their families, and my dad's brother and sister and their families, just as soon as I graduated from high school and no one was forcing me to associate with them anymore.
I didn't like them very much. And I didn't feel liked.
I've always had a big problem with feeling "Least of 10". Whenever I'm in a group situation, I often feel; the biggest, the ugliest, the most stupid, the most boring, the least talented. And my cousin Harriet was always the best. You understand, Hickory (as we called her) was very allergic to everything when she was born. She almost died because my aunt couldn't breastfeed. She was always everyone's favorite.
Hickory speaks French, isn't that so lovely? (Yes, I know. And she goes to a bilingual school near Canada... I go to a crappy public school.) And she plays PIANO, how nice... why don't YOU play an instrument (how about the fact that I desperately WANTED to and my mother wouldn't ALLOW IT!) And she's this and that and... I was 11 months older than her, and whenever we got in trouble, it was always my fault. I was older, I should know better, I'm less, I'm not, you never...
Stupid, petty, childish reasons to dislike someone. She couldn't help that I felt inferior. But I resented it.
My aunt... well, she's a bit of a religious nut, and I'm an atheist. Sometimes I feel like it would be nice to have faith. I see what it does for other people, and I envy that. But I don't feel it. At the time, however, I was not just atheist, but I was a militant atheist. I considered people who believed in God to not only be delusional, but completely annoying on top of that. And my aunt, at least while I was growing up, was still trying to find her place in the religious community. She'd change churches every couple of years, be all fanatical about that ice-cream flavor of the week for like six to eighteen months, find something about the church or the congregation that annoyed her, spend a few months with the drama llama, and then change churches.
That was immature of me. I was just as closed-minded as I was accusing Christians of being. Of assuming that because I didn't believe, that it was stupid, mindless, pathetic, and annoying.
I don't... do funerals. I know what they're for, and I know why people think they're important... but I just can't. I find what's happened to me is that for every funeral I've attended, that becomes the most important, consuming memory for me of that person. I barely remember things that my friend Tracy and I used to talk about, but I remember every minute of her funeral in crisp, painful detail. I hate it. I don't feel comfort. I don't get closure. What I get is a big freaky sticker on my memory that says Never Shall Ye Pass that obscures every other memory...
I didn't go to my dad's mother's funeral. I didn't go to my mom's parents funerals.
But I did say "Good Bye, I love you," to my grandmother the day she died. I remember vividly one day, waiting for my plane to fly home to Virginia from my annual summer visit, she ran her fingernails through my hair for the better part of an hour, while she thought I was asleep. I remember her standing on the deck at camp, yelling at Hickory and I for accidentally running over her water lilies with a canoe. She wore dozens of rings on each finger, her hands were covered with them, and each one had a special significance to her - I remember thinking that she'd probably have a mean right hook, if she ever hit anyone. I remember playing game after game of cribbage. I remember building huge card-houses across the family room floor and having her teach me a more secure building so I could stack the card-houses over a story. I remember using her waterpick; my nozzle was green. She had hundreds of pairs of earrings, and she always, always was wearing a pair; some of them are now sitting in my jewelry box. I remember sitting up in the attic with her one day, going through boxes of old clothes and jars of buttons and bags of beads and just talking. She collected music boxes. She had dozens of them, scattered through the house.
And none of those memories are tainted with the irritation that I always feel, being in churches where everyone else feels faith and comfort. They're not ruined by someone trying to make her more than she was, by acting like, in death, she'd never made a mistake, that by dying everything she'd ever done was perfect, inspiring, whatever. She was all those things, and she was also a flake. She couldn't sing half as well as she thought she could. She was judgmental, thought I read meaningless crap without taking into consideration that at least I read books, whereas most of my cousins didn't. She nitpicked. She developed "headaches" whenever she wasn't the center of attention.
I remember, and loved, a real person. And the grief I feel, writing this now, is just as real, and just as fresh, as it was that afternoon, almost twelve years ago, when my mother finally got in touch with me (I'd driven down to visit Thomas for the weekend, we were just starting dating at the time, and after work on Friday, I'd drive down 3 hours from Lynchburg to Chesapeake to spend the weekend with him...) to tell me that she'd died.
Other people have closure.
More power to them.
I have a real person. She was real.
I can't be sorry about that.
Once my parents, in their divorce and just the distance between us after that, didn't force me to send Christmas cards, or call, or whatever... I didn't. I saw my grandparents once, or sometimes twice a year. They migrated from New York to Florida and often stayed with my mom on their way down and back. But aunts and cousins... I didn't call. I didn't write. My freshman year of college, my aunt wrote me one letter. The first line of the letter was this, "I don't actually expect you to write me back, because well, I'm sure you feel it's not worth your time, but..."
I didn't write back.
And I didn't call.
And time passed.
My cousins got married, divorced, had kids... sometimes even in that order. I sort of vaguely knew about it. Sometimes I didn't. I don't know what my cousins' families names are, or how many kids they have.
I had my own things to do, and the longer I went without any contact, the harder it got to start any...
What have I done with my life? I've been stupid. I got married young, got divorced. Got fat. Got in a car accident. Nearly died from asthma complications. Got better. Got thin.
I don't have a stunningly interesting job. I don't do the sorts of things that make for a nice, cute Christmas card. I don't even, most of the time, have the sort of life that makes a funny, sarcastic Christmas card.
I couldn't think why to bother to contact them... I didn't like them as a child... but that doesn't mean that as adults we couldn't have found some common ground; even if it was just our past relationships and shared experiences.
And the longer I didn't, the easier it got just to not...
To continue to not. (And in my more self-castigating moments, I'd snarl to myself that the phone lines did, actually, go both ways...)
In the land of procrastination, contacting my relatives... was the mountain that I'd even given up saying I was going to climb.
When I started kicking the idea of doing the Komen walk around in my head, it occurred to me that while I hadn't contacted my relatives in years, my mother was still in some touch with them; at least her sisters if no one else.
And that there were people out there who cared about my mother, and who supported her when she was ill, and who have prayed and thought of her while she recovered.
So... and I admit, it was harder than I expected it to be... I started making calls.
Let me make this perfectly clear: I don't need their support. I believe I can make these donations without their help. It is not "just about the money." I've made a lot of changes in my life. I feel, to some degree, that I might be worth something. Which makes me question a lot of decisions I made earlier in my life, when I felt that I wasn't worth anything. Are my relatives really as useless, stupid, demanding and annoying as I've always said, or were they, too, worthy people? As distanced as we've been, there's no way to know that.
I had to open the door and take a look.
It has not been easy, and honestly, I didn't expect it to be.
I don't know what I expected.