When Family Ties Become a Noose
Last night I went to bed at 2AM, much later than usual, and even then I couldn’t sleep. My mind was too busy formulating arguments, acting out imagined confrontations, and wondering how their consequences would shape my future. I was thinking about remote places I could move to so that I could avoid similar confrontations, then chided myself for entertaining the idea that even an ocean would provide a carpet vast enough for me to sweep my demons under. Sure, Fiji is pretty far away, but the demons that inhabit my head would still be within a whisper’s reach…unless I could somehow unscrew my head and punt it into orbit. Yet even then, would I finally find solace, or would what once were whispers turn into ear-splitting screams, increasing in pitch after every attempt to drown them out?
Probably the latter. But I didn’t go quite this far last night in bed. I was just pissed. I had just finished a two and half hour long “conversation” with my older brother. We barely speak unless we have to, and these days, I strongly prefer that arrangement. He does not. He wants me to call him more often, and he wants me to want to call him more often. He wants to be close, the way were raised to be, the way brothers are supposed to be. To many this may sound logical and wouldn’t be the subject of much debate. But when dealing with personal relationships, especially familial ones, how can there be a blueprint for the way they are “supposed to be”? Don’t all siblings have different relationships with each other? Relationships are based on mental and emotional connections between people. If every person is different, would not a relationship reflect that distinctiveness? Shouldn’t it?
The problem lies partially in the fact that my brother has an idea of the kind of relationships brothers should have, and he wants ours to conform to it. But I don’t feel that way. Not that brothers should not be close, but rather the relationship should be built on that mental and emotional connection, rather than the inherent physical one that family members are born into. I do believe that there is something innately unique about the familial bond, the idea of a shared origin and history. But I also feel that my brother, and many other people, get too lost in the melodrama of “the same blood coursing through our veins” bullshit and forget the bottom line – I’m and adult, you’re an adult, I’m this way, you’re that way, I believe this, you believe that…and in this case, I believe that you’re way of being and adult makes you an asshole.
There, it’s out in the open, sitting on the table both of us were envisioning in our minds as we spoke on the phone. A little box that my brother’s astral form walked over to and opened, pulling out the sweater that my astral form knitted for him. It was a thick, heavy sweater with an unattractive horizontal stitch that made him look fatter than he was. And in the middle of the sweater, it read, “ASSHOLE.”
He refused to wear the sweater, of course. I tried to explain to him in a sincere and sympathetically blunted fashion why it was a perfect fit for him, but when I held it up to his chest and he stole a glance in the mirror, he didn’t like what he saw, and threw it back in the box. But I explained to him that I didn’t knit that sweater alone; he had been knitting it with me, guiding every pierce and pull and knot of thread. Whether or not it looked the way he wanted it to look is irrelevant. We both made the fucking sweater. Wear it, Goddamit. I’m sick of hearing that the sweater should read “BROTHER” instead. If you want, you can make it read “ASSHOLE BROTHER”…but he never relented because he didn’t believe that the two words could form a meaningful phrase.
But you know they can. You have a sibling. You share a deep bond that will probably last your entire lives. You say you probably love him or her in a way…but really you know you do and just don’t like talking about it. You haven’t had such a fucked up lifetime movie-esque past that would cause you to completely deny those feelings, or to outright abandon them. But you can love someone and still dislike them. How you interact and socialize with someone on a regular basis – not when compelled to by circumstance, but rather on the basis of trust and comfort – will be governed by whether or not you like that person, rather than by virtue of a shared genetic code that too often unravels and takes the shape of a noose that tightens with every struggle.
Unlike my brother, I am OK with not being that close; our relationship is 23 years in the making, and I accept it for what it is. I cannot will myself to change how I feel about him, nor will I attempt to in an effort to recreate p. 17 of the Happy Family Handbook. I am not against change, but if it happens it will happen naturally, just like it always has. I am lucky enough to have people in my life who I genuinely like and trust and can count on for support, mainly close friends. And while my brother spent a lot of time last night on the phone trying to impress upon me the fact that friends can never be family, and warning me that they cannot be counted on the way a brother can, my past and recent experiences, as well as my observations of the experiences of others, have proved to me that anyone who believes this has not been blessed enough to experience true friendship. Your brother or sister may also be your friend, but then again, they may not be one at all. My brother was quick to regurgitate what he felt were time-tested nuggets of traditional wisdom, but given that he has proven himself to be unworthy of my trust, they were interpreted to me as nothing more than clichés – hollow and meaningless, and certainly inapplicable. I can’t help but imagine someone sitting in small lonely boat out on a lake, hookless, baitless fishing lines deeply submerged, floating stationary and lifeless as the fish swim by, attentive but not persuaded.
What I’m trying to say is that while family ties are special, they should not be taken for granted so as to simply assume that they can forge and maintain a healthy relationship amongst those between whom they exist. It is not that easy. Meaningful relationships rarely are, and they shouldn’t be. Trust may lie in the heart, but it is not necessarily bound by blood. And while the grounds for closeness might be more fertile in the family plot, it also requires a hell of a lot more water. If it’s important to you, you would be wise to tend to it often, because even if the flowers never completely dry up, it is actually quite easy for them to grow apart.