This is part 2 of a 4-part series. If you haven’t read it yet, click here to read part 1.
Family also leaves an imprint that is difficult to erase. My mom is the second youngest of nine–seven siblings she speaks to regularly, and one she only talks to when his kids are selling mint thins. Uncle Peter is the outcast.
My sister used to nanny for him when his kids were little. She graduated high school at sixteen, and she needed something to do before she could start her chosen career path of a bartender. My mom and I helped out during summers. She works at a school, and I’m a prisoner of learning, so we both had three months of freedom. We spent a lot of time at Uncle Peter’s house, so I found it strange when suddenly everyone in my immediate family cut ties with him.
At first, I thought it had to do with Aunt Susan, the sister my mom is closest to. She moved from California to Illinois with her five kids into a house owned by two of her brothers. The brothers screwed each other over, and the whole family learned a lesson about mixing family and business.
Looking back, it explains why the relationship between Susan, Peter, and Edward has been so tense, but it doesn’t explain my mother’s reaction. She hates confrontation, and it is unlike her to take sides.
I never gave it much thought. We were never especially close to Peter. He was a joke. Most of what I knew about him filtered down through my dad, who saw him as the irrational guy who refused to eat our food because he only eats food he makes himself or is made by strangers at a restaurant.
Around Christmas time, I finally learned the reason for the rift. My mom, my dad, and my sister were lounging on the couch, and I heard my name come up, along with Peter’s. My sister openly professed her animosity towards him. At first, I don’t think anyone realized I had walked into the room because the conversation quickly turned from frank to evasive.
All I could piece together was that Peter had said something offensive and it had to do with me. I don’t know what could have been said to produce such a strong reaction. I could guess it had something to do with my autism, or a shot at my intelligence, some implication that I would never amount to anything. When it first came up, I begged them to tell me why they were so upset, but they refused.
My life is constructed in such a way that I’m either the second or the last to know everything. Sometimes people in the family die, and I don’t hear about it until days later. Why aren’t you dressed yet? We have a wake to go to. Someone died!
My mother hates the idea of me feeling pain, and goes to great lengths to avoid hurting me. But my family loves to gossip, almost as much as we love to shop. Being the quietest member of the family, people easily forget I’m in the room. I was the second to find out my dad lost his job, the second to find out he had been arrested each of his three arrests.
Still, I’m not surprised that after all this time, they still won’t tell me the truth. Part of me wants to know. Part of me appreciates that my mom and sister would cut ties with someone out of devotion to me.
But then I think about every inappropriate comment other family members have said at my expense that didn’t inspire such devotion. Most came from my dad’s side of the family, my dad leading the way. Gay. Girly. Fairy. Stupid. The insults lost meaning. They became words to roll your eyes at, but they didn’t hurt. Hugs hurt. Words are just words. I found the teasing annoying. It had the power to turn a moment instantly awkward. But it never stung deep. When the sound of wrapping presents can make me cry in agony, a little insult couldn’t penetrate the thick walls I had built around me.
The thing that came closest to hurting me wasn’t the slurs but the constant mocking of my speech impediment. Seemingly every time I pronounced a word incorrectly, I had the blunder echoed back to me. I couldn’t (can’t) pronounce the letter “r,” so basically every sentence.
My mom always took my side, and if she was there to stop it, she did. But that didn’t make the teasing any less pervasive. But I never let it define me. I never questioned my identity. Yet, it forced me to rely so heavily on my own perceptions to sustain my ego to that it inevitably created distance between my family and me.
Click here to read part 3 of this series.