Meet the Relatives

by Enitan Doherty-Mason

Thinking about my family often exhausts me.My shoulders immediately slump and I begin to try to force the toxicity in my lungs out through my nostrils. I become heavy, as if weighed down by a ton of boulders as I sink. Breathing becomes difficult and my head feels heavy and foggy as if it were wrapped tightly in plastic bags with no room for air to come in. I begin to choke on the carbon dioxide that I exhale. I am unable to struggle under the weight. Like a puppy held by the scruff of its neck, I become limp and give in to despair.I am trapped. Nausea takes over.Food that I previously thought had gone down well begins to well up in my throat, pushing against it as when trapped water is ready to break the walls of a dam. But nothing happens. Then I suddenly drift off into a weary sleep.At least I do not have to wrestle with my demons today.

The family in my memory is one where unrealistic expectations and vicious competition walked hand in hand. The word love was largely irrelevant and politicking was absolute. Egos were typically eggshell thin, extremely delicate. A word said in jest was easily perceived as a deadly slight. Each battalion of relatives rested solidly in the comfort of old allies and appeared ready to wage war to death on old enemies or perceived threats to the old guard. Those who choose not to fight often withdrew into fortresses of their own. Wealth, influence, and social status clearly defined fortresses. Old suspicions veiled real people. The few clusters of people who genuinely cared for each other were rather obscure and had to be sought out with Sherlock Holmes like diligence. Behind this screen of my memory and on this stage of my mind is the family I knew. How might lifting the veil influence my uncluttered, well-organized and healthfully normal lifestyle?

After nearly 50 years in relative isolation from the family (this excludes spouse and my child), I am now forced by the death of a second parent to revisit the people defined as my family by blood ties. I know very little about their lives except that which I gathered as a child through my own observations and the memories of frequently emotionally charged and confusing conversations of the then adults. Now, I am an adult in a world where the previous adults have become elderly. I now share the place called adulthood with their children and younger siblings who perhaps know as little about me as I know about them. Shall I really lift the veil? Do I really want to know what lies behind the door?

I was and remain content with my life on the edge of such a large family, but a parent’s death has thrown me into the cauldron once more and curiosity seems to be getting the better of me. Meeting the family is even riskier business than I thought. It puts me in a place far removed from my comfort zone, largely because change, as it always does, has touched the family; the players have increased immensely in number, some have increased in volume, some in intensity of purpose (whatever that is) and all in age. Surely, I have not increased in cynicism and my early memories have no bearing on my nervous anticipation as I plan my adventure into family land.

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Anonymous November 16, 2006 - 11:28 am

It's much harder to love your famiy than anyone else. in early years you learn to trust them the most which enables them to hurt you the most.It is easier to be isolated from them but sometimes a burning desire or curiousity will lead you to them.Fear not, just ensure your boundaries are set

Rosie October 24, 2006 - 1:37 pm

Aaah…family… They are the people we are supposed to love, even though in other circumstances, if they were strangers, we wouldn't give them the time of day. No one can tell you what to do. If you lift the veil, do so because you want to get to know these people, not because you are obligated. Keep your priorities at hand at all times so you don't get sucked into petty nonsense


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