Thursday, June 14, 2018

Sorting Through Essentials When Your House is About to Burn Down: Living with the Durango 416 Fire Part II

In the middle of a forest fire might seem like a peculiar time to unfriend your sister, but I think that's what I just did. I don't mean unfriending from Facebook. She's never accepted my friend request so that's not even possible. I mean from my actual life.

Now that I'm experiencing it, it makes perfect sense that I would cut ties while I've got a forest fire breathing down my backyard. Wandering around my house with a haze of clever smoke that's found it's way through cracks I haven't yet found and sealed, I'm photographing my belongings in the event my house burns down and I have to prove to the insurance company that I really owned this and that. I'm choosing which ones I'm actually going to carry away in the car with me, and which ones money can actually replace. In the process I'm learning there's a lot that I can do without, and there's a lot that weighs me down and drains me. It's an interesting exercise to conduct when all of your thought processes are taking place in your amygdala, otherwise known as your most primitive, survival-driven lizard brain.

I'm sorting between my daughter's toys (from birth (moved four times) to stuffed animals she got for her birthday a few weeks ago, our favorite books, shoes, sweaters, files, photo albums, climbing equipment...why not family members, too? Granted, a few weeks from now, perhaps, when the rains have come and everyone is safe and dandy, I wonder if I'll regret this, but right now? Not a bit.

Last week, i sent an email (because that's how my F-ed up family communicates, almost exclusively) about the fires. I sent a video of the billowing smoke that my daughter and I were among the first to spot while out garage saling. Nothing. No response. This passed Monday, I sent an email talking about what it was like to live in this cloud of smoke and helicopters. I told them how scared we all were. I asked them to pray for rain.

No response. Finally, a day later, I get an email from my Uncle saying he'd pray for us. From my sister and my mother: Not one word.

If you've read my book, you know our relationship has never been what you'd call close. It's barely civil. My sister and I haven't even seen each other in person in over 5 years and I haven't heard her voice in 3. We've barely spoken since my parents got divorced. I'd grown accustomed to this bizarre, arms-length sisterhood and didn't really think it bothered me that much anymore.

Our family has never been overly affectionate. I remember as a child lying at my mother's feet while we watched movies and slowly trying to inch closer to her for chance she might lay her hand on my head, for that rare moment she might pet my back. If I was a plant I would have shriveled up and died.

I'm not telling you this story so you'll feel sorry for me. Don't. If you did read my book you'll see I'm having an amazing life, full of adventure and love. I'm telling you this so you might understand unfriending my sister from my life. I never said it doesn't hurt. Hurts bad.

After years of struggling to be a part of our messed up family, getting absolutely no response from my sister or mother...well, truth is, being part of this arms-length family has become more painful with time, not less. It's painful to struggle to remain a part of it. But I struggle because...well, they're my family. And we don't really have much. It always seemed like it would be worse to have conversations with people who ask, "Do you have any brothers and sisters?" And to try to evade revealing how the relationship was so toxic I had to disconnect it. But lately? People are leaving our family not so much from family deaths as from opting out. My cousins, one by one, stopped talking to their parents. I've hung in there, if for no other reason than to try to imagine to myself I actually have a birth family. (Again, don't feel sorry for me. I have an amazing husband, daughter and puppy. I've MADE a wonderful life.).

But after getting no response about the email for several days, and operating almost completely from that ole lizard brain, I did something I should have done a long time ago. I let loose with this email:

"Really? Bobby is the only one who responded??? And you wonder why I moved out West and never came back? When I lived in Memphis I heard from no ONE. EVER. Lana, you didn't call me for 5 or 6 years. I don't think I've heard your actual voice in several years now. Mom, I saw you maybe once or twice a year and when I did, you acted like it was the worst thing that could have happened to you that day, and it's how you've acted every time I've visited from Colorado, too. The last couple of years you act like me going to the time and expense to come see you is mild compared to the inconvenience to you to make time for me when I do get there.  I'm really starting to wonder why I've ever bothered."

I should probably mention I'm still Lizard braining it, so posting this entire thing might be a questionable decision. My husband cautions that I might burn bridges. Right now, in this state. I'm not out to burn bridges. I'm lobbing grenades. 

Anyhoo. My response from my email? My mother "excused me" (by email) because I was obviously so freaked out by the fire. She still expressed no actual concern. She warned me not to put things in email (or blogs) when I'm upset because those words are difficult to erase. 

Now, I can't be certain of this, but in times like these, aren't families supposed to call and console, encourage, or something??? As a mother now myself, I know that's exactly what I would do. I'd probably be on a plane to be by her side or urge her to come to mine. 

In my time of need, my mother, on the other hand, warns me not to say things that might upset anybody. Well why not? Cause I might damage our families fragile bonds? That I might be cast out of their warm embrace and they might not be there for me when I need them? Let me tell you, I've had a lot of hard times in my life (again, see my book ) and they haven't done diddly squat during any of them. Actually it's been worse than that. There responses have been about the way they have been during this crisis: Furthering my sense of isolation and driving the heartache deeper. Abandonment issues? Yep, got 'em in spades. 

My sister and I exchanged ever escalating emails to the point that the last email signaled the end of our relationship. Will I change my mind after this is all over? Will I regret sharing this with you? Frankly, it feels so good to say it out loud, to finally stop trying to figure out what I've done wrong and decide that they're wrong, to believe in my stance so strongly that I'm willing to open it up to challenge. Bring it. Right now, I examine this relationship. What is it? What is this family that communicates primarily through email and shrugs, gloats or SHUNS in times of need. It's dirty, dusty and barbed, difficult to handle, really too prickly to hold. It's something I just have, that just sits there as part of my existence but doesn't nourish my life. Quite the opposite. If I reach for it, it hurts me. Throughout my life, despite my best efforts, I struggle with the emptiness, the longing, the self-doubts and self-criticism a life of being treated with something that feels more akin to disdain or aversion than familial love brings. It has made me strong. But it also continues to wound and scar. Parts of my psyche, of my self-perception, have been on fire all my life and I've been struggling to hold onto them, to drown the embers, but the fuels just keep coming.

With limited resources, the Firefighters out there on the actual ridges have to choose where to make their stands and when to let stands burn. Maybe I should too.  

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer, researcher and author of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. 


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