For several years now I have searched for answers as to why I feel the way that I do. I know that a lot of what goes through my head or the emotions that course through me are out of my biological control. But I still try to rationalize to myself. I want to understand, to truly understand, what has made me this way. Blame enough can go to my mom, both from a nature and a nurture standpoint. While I love her with my whole heart, I do understand the damage that both her genetics and her bipolar disorder have done to me. But there are also other answers that I seek.
I seem to get stuck on the idea of “family”. Stuck on what that concept is supposed to mean and what it means to me. I am somewhat obsessed with it. Maybe it is because I have never really known what family means besides what I have been given by my parents. To clarify, that is by my blood relatives. I have family in the sense that I have people who have become my “family” through longstanding friendships and the support they have provided to me over the years. I am lucky to have them in my life. I have so much more than most. But still, that concept of true family alludes me. The people who were supposed to care about me from the time I was born, never have. Or at least they haven’t in the sense that they have never fought to be an active part of my life.
My dad maintains a relationship with his older sister, but I have had no contact with her since I was in my teens. I can barely remember what she looks like. My dad’s brother died when I was a sophomore in high school. His sons, my first cousins, are both in their late 40s. My dad has a very strong bond with one of them, his name is Scott. My dad talks to him just about every week. When I moved to Arizona after graduating college I started working at Scott’s law firm. We struggled to build a relationship when there had never been one for the first 18 years of my life. We failed. Or rather, he failed in his attempt to connect to me. Perhaps it was doomed from the start. He is of an age where he can be my father, not so much a friend. And I am also partly to blame because at the time I was struggling to define my own identity as a gay person (I don’t like the term lesbian, not sure why). In one conversation with him he told me that I would never get far in the corporate world because of how I looked; the fact that I had short hair and wore guy’s clothes. I attempted to explain that I do not dress to try and look like a guy, I just dress how I’m comfortable. He met that with a blank stare and just threw his hands up in the air. I put in my two week notice the next day and have not talked to him since. It was clear that he could never, for personal reasons, support my lifestyle. And I would never force him to.
The rest of that side of my family are strangers to me. Just names on a piece of paper that evoke no emotion when I think of them. Perhaps my relationships with my dad’s side of the family were all doomed from the start. My first cousins are all at least 10-20 years older than me and so even when I was little we had no reference point on which we could connect. Their children, my second cousins, are closer to my age, but most were just babies or not even a thought in my cousin’s minds yet when my parents and I moved out of Los Angeles. We never spent holidays together. There were no celebrations over anyone’s good news. It is not that we have bad relationships. It is more that there was never a relationship to begin with. Which is a strange concept to me. Most people have some sort of opinion about what family means to them. Good or bad, there is some form of a relationship. For me, with that side of my family, there is nothing. There has always been nothing. And I am not completely sure why. I struggle with that. When I was little, my aunt and uncle never tried to be a part of my life. Neither did my cousins. When I got to an age where I could make my own decisions, they were so far removed from the picture that there was no foundation on which to even try and build a relationship. They are strangers to me. The pictures I have in my mind of each and every one of them are more from actual pictures that I saw of them then from real memories.
Now my mom’s side of the family, that is where the majority of my childhood memories lie. Besides my parents, my grandma was the closest family member to me. And that was from birth. Seriously. My mom was forced to remain in intensive care for two weeks after I was born. It was my grandma and dad who took care of me during that time period. I was not only the youngest grandchild, but also the only girl, so to say that my grandma spoiled me would be an understatement. My uncle was removed from the equation when I was growing up because he was heavily into drugs and in and out of prison. But I grew up with not only a grandmother who doted over me, but also with two aunts, an uncle (by marriage), and five cousins. We were close. Two of my cousins were like brothers to me. I did everything with them. One of them was only six weeks older than me, his name was James, and so the first seven years of my life I grew up with him. Almost every memory includes him. And almost every picture of me includes him as well.
Then my parents and I moved to Nevada and the whole dynamic changed. It shifted. We still would spend holidays together, but we all built lives of our own. One of my oldest cousins told me during one visit that he would protect me for the rest of my life, he was a big brother in ever sense of the word. As more years went by, we grew further apart. But while I busied my life with school and sports, my cousins struggled to remain relevant in an environment that grew rife with gangs, drugs and guns. To my knowledge none of them ever joined a gang, but they learned their lessons from the streets of LA, where I learned my lessons from books. Two completely separate worlds. But yet they remained, at least in my mind, the closest thing to me. James actually moved in with my parents and I during my senior year of high school. He had already dropped out of school two years previously, but I helped him obtain his GED. He lived with us for almost a year. I got back the “brother” that I had known from my childhood. And I cherished our relationship more than any other in my life. Then he moved back to LA, had a child, and struggled more than ever to find a clear direction for his life. We remained in contact, but once again our lives were in two separate worlds. Then two years ago, everything changed forever.
My mom is the oldest of her siblings. She has always had a tumultuous relationship with her two sisters, but there was at the heart of it, a relationship there. Even if they argued or had differing opinions, they talked almost every day. My uncle had found his way back into the family and had moved in with my grandmother a year previously after the death of his wife. He was “changed”. However, I think it was more that he had relied on his wife for so long for financial support that he was too old to learn a trade and become self-sufficient. He was too old to live on the streets and sell drugs. But that’s just my opinion. Either way, he was the one to find my grandma’s body that day. From that point on, everything I had ever known about family from these people was altered.
And it was all attributed to a letter that my grandmother had written nearly 14 years before. In it was her “will”. She had been talking about writing a new will and what she wanted done with her estate and even had stated several months before her death that she had written it all down in a new “will”. But it was never found. All that was found was this letter, handwritten by my grandmother in 1993. It was a rambling mess that was hard to understand. But the gist of it was that she wanted her estate split between two of my cousins, myself, my two aunts, and my mom. Nothing about my three other cousins or uncle. In one sentence of the letter she stated that she wanted the “majority” of the estate to be given to my two oldest cousins. And in that sentence lie the weapon that would destroy our family forever. My aunt and cousins clung to that sentence. The bulk of the estate was to go to my two cousins, with the rest divided between my mom, me, and my two aunts. Everyone that had spoken to my grandmother in those months before her death knew exactly what she wanted done with her estate and it was not this. But no, my aunt said, it stated it perfectly in the letter. The letter. The letter. The letter. That is all we heard. We are now in the midst of a legal battle. Not over millions of dollars, but over a $100k estate. My aunt has stated multiple times that after the situation is done, she no longer wants any contact from me, my mom or my other aunt. At the beginning of this I reached out to one of my cousins and asked him his take on everything. I wanted the situation to be discussed between our generation, I already knew where my aunts and mother stood. I wanted us to be able to discuss things as the close family that we once were. He accused me of starting drama and trying to twist his words so that I had something against him when it came time for court. Mind you, he is 13 years older than me and should be perfectly able to handle an adult conversation about serious matters. I told him that I wanted nothing to do with it, I wanted to follow what I knew my grandmother had wanted, and that meant nothing going to my cousins and I; the estate was to be split between my grandmother’s four children. He said that I had no right to come after him as I did and he would fight for what he believed was his. He portrayed nothing but hatred for me. That moment broke me. I realized the battle lines that had been drawn and that I had no more family to speak of. My aunt and cousins destroyed what remaining relationships we had over such a small amount of money that would never truly pay for anything of worth. The concept of family was tossed into the fire as greed consumed these people that I no longer knew. Mind you, that aunt was my godmother. The one who was supposed to play a part in my life, to nurture me, guide me, lead by example and show me the true meaning of life. She cast me aside without a second thought. They all did. For nothing. Everything I believed that my family was, was just a lie. An unstable link that was destroyed at the first inkling of a payday for my aunt and cousins. Maybe somewhere down the line I’ll reform a relationship with my cousins. But deep in my gut, I know that that’s a lie. This is too big. Too deep to just be ignored and forgotten. The relationship with me was worth less than the ink it took to file the lawsuit.
And so, at the end of all this, I struggle to define what family truly means. I feel abandoned. Tossed aside. I have no siblings to fall back on. I have family that is that only by title alone. I understand that family does not necessarily mean blood. I have a “sister” who has been the closest thing I’ve had to true family in recent years and gave me a godson and “nephew” that I could be proud of. I have “cousins” and “aunts” that have always supported me. I love them. And know that in them I can always find solace. But still. The thoughts of family that never was haunt me. The memories of what family could have been fight their way to the surface of my mind. I can’t help but feel that I am always abandoned. Left. That I am not worth the time. Or the trouble it takes to maintain a relationship with me. Because if I couldn’t be worth it to these people who were supposed to love me from the first moment of my life, how could I be worth anything to anyone else. On one side I have family that barely knows my name. I do not exist to them. On the other side I have family that disregarded any relationship I had with them in their pursuit for a minimal amount of money.
I have amazing parents. I am blessed in so many ways. But yet I cling so tightly to what I want “family” to mean because I know how easily people can cast you aside. I mourn for people who never even knew me. Who never gave me a chance to truly know them. It kills me. It eats me up inside. All I want is just to matter. To someone. Anyone. I want people that will be there no matter what. Who have known me my entire life, have known all of my mistakes or poor decisions and love me anyway. I know families like that exist. They surround me. So how come I was never worth it?