Days 22 & 23: Monday, June 30, 2014 and Tuesday, July 1, 2014
They say “you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” For years, I retreated to my left coast 3,000 miles away from my immediate and extended family and maintained little to no contact with many of my relatives. I can’t really say what happened or what changed that prompted such silence on both ends but I believe it had to do with the distance, miscommunication, and purely a lack of effort on both party’s ends.
With that, despite being raised closely with a handful of my first cousins and having quality relationships with my uncles and aunts, as I entered adulthood I retreated from my family.
I went to college then immediately after I moved to LA. As far as I was concerned, my life on the east coast was so foreign to me I didn’t even know how to be a New Yorker if my existence depended on it.
Let’s rewind a little and let me give you some family background and back-story to bring us all up to speed.
My father has three siblings: His oldest bother Ira, younger sister Stacey, then the youngest of all, Seth. My father is the second born in case you were wondering.
My uncles are both very wealthy and successful businessmen in the accounting and finance worlds. My aunt lives in Florida and has led a life filled with pain and struggle with not much to show for years of working her ass off. That’s not necessarily a bad thing per say, but my Aunt Stacey has a rough go of it and let’s leave it at that. And then there is my family, my father Eric or as my sister and I call him Abba, Abbz, or THE ABBZ (Hebrew for father and no, we are not religious in any capacity–don’t ask). We are as blue collar as it gets. My mother works in New York City for Con Edison at the same employer since she was in her late teens doing the same work every single day of every single year.
My father on the other hand has had a myriad of jobs, businesses, partners, stores, and grand plans. I guess you could say, that he’s had to find his way of sorts. In many ways I resemble my father with respects to our desires to have many different interests and the need to cultivate them all simultaneously. However, despite my father’s initially abrasive nature, he is a passionate and heart governed man. He is a voracious reader, watches documentaries (and the Lifetime Channel, he LOVES rom-coms), gardens, takes care of all the pets with patience, and is the essence of a life-long learner.
My father was the best teacher while my sister Kassi and I were growing up. We were what I would classify as ‘pretend middle class’. Meaning we had a nice enough house, cars, and zip code but we were barely getting by and bought our shoes at Payless. I didn’t get my first pair of Nike sneakers until I was almost 13 years old and they weren’t even the Nike Air model because we couldn’t afford them. But not having quite as much as my peers didn’t really phase my sister and I much, as my parents worked tirelessly to make sure our family unit thrived and that my sister and I never knew of their financial woes. We took winter walks on the beach, had family picnics, went to the nature preserve, watched movies, went to museums, and my favorite memory of all from my childhood: bedtime, when my father would read aloud to my sister and I. Now, this seemingly idyllic childhood definitely didn’t come without a price.
In my youth, I experienced something that I shouldn’t have.
At the risk of sharing too much with the world, I am only going to talk about how events in my childhood affected me and those in my life. Specifically my family. So if I appear vague, it’s not that I do not want to share: I am ready to share my story with the world. I am holding back out of respect for the people I love. Wow. I think they call that maturity and growing up. It sure feels good to be an adult!
For as long as I could remember, I was angry. I was filled with a rage and fire that when unleashed transformed me into a demon. I was violent and biting with my words. I said terrible things to the people closest to me and never apologized. As a teenager with all those hormones coursing through my veins alongside my anger, I was impossible to wrangle. I retreated into art and writing for solace. During my adolescence, I was in and out of therapy–on and off various medications for depression and I also developed an eating disorder. I was an internal mess but to the outside world with my boyfriend, sports, decent grades, positive relationships with my teachers, and great wardrobe, I had it all. In hindsight, I was not asking for help, I was screaming in a room full of people and no one could hear my cries.
I went off to college and got into some trouble with a credit card. Knowing my parents would murder me for being so irresponsible, I called my Uncle Seth to ask him for help. Sure enough, not only did he bail me out but he wouldn’t tell my father either. PHEW!
As the years unfolded and social media exploded, so did my desire to express myself publicly (I guess something’s will never change, huh?). My Uncle Seth, much more conservative than I, home-schooled my cousins, and then sent them to private schools. We didn’t really have much in common as I grew into adulthood other than I was a public school teacher and felt strongly about not home-schooling children AND the private sector. Anyway, one day I posted something on Facebook about lesbians. I mean it was a stupid post but my reaction was even more ridiculous. I deleted and blocked my Uncle Seth and then basically refused to speak to him. Yes, the same man who GAVE me money when I needed it—I just turned my back on him, my cousins, and most of my family. I mean c’mon? They were soooooo difficult and didn’t understand me anyway. I’m an Angeleno and you’re New Yorkers. What do you all know about living life anyway?!
Ugh. Writing this disgusts me. I am ashamed and embarrassed for how I have behaved. So why am I sharing all of this?
I am now 32. It has probably been a little over 10 years since my Uncle Seth and I have really sat down to reconnect—I mean really connect as people. Two years ago we saw each other at my cousin Michael’s wedding, and even though we buried the hatchet and I re-friended him on FB there wasn’t any real resolution.
Prior to my yoga practice and some serious self-discovery, for the greater portion of my life I allowed my rage and anger to define me. I permitted this pollutant to seep into my pores, into my being and unleash a monster. I lacked compassion and the ability to be introspective. The world was out to get me and that was that. Frankly, I let my anger shield my emotions and heart like a mask and I hid behind it–afraid of ever really feeling anything or at the risk of getting hurt.
I never did thank my Uncle Seth for helping me all those years ago. I imagine I said it or maybe called, but he deserves so much more than that. Because right now, my Uncle Seth is trying to re-unifiy us, reconnect us, and mend the holes in all of our hearts. My Uncle Seth is trying to pick up the shattered pieces of our family and put them back together. It just goes to show you that you don’t have to be the oldest or patriarch to fix something —we all have the power to promote healing.
My Uncle and I have spoken on the phone twice in the last week. The first time was to FaceTime so he could show Greg and I his home in Florida as a possible place to have our wedding. My Aunt Amy eagerly and excitedly showed us the features of their beautiful home and made suggestions of how we could set up the reception. Finally, we got down to the nitty gritty family business. As I opened up to my Aunt and Uncle they shared how saddened and hurt they were to learn about some of the things I have endured over years and told me I would never have to suffer like that again. They told me they loved me and that were so proud of all the professional, personal, and emotional successes I have had in my life. My Aunt and Uncle cleared way in their hearts to let me back in and I am so very grateful. I am glad to have them back in my life to learn from, to grow from, and to just be my family.
Ladies and Gentleman, I am sharing my story with you all to encourage you to reach out to that person in your life. You know that person you’ve been holding hostage for something they did to you. It is time to let them go. Free yourself. Moreover, give them the permission to forgive themselves. For all you know, people sometimes act out of pain, survival mode, or anger. Perhaps that person whom you view as having hurt you or slighted you was really crying for help? More importantly, make space in your heart for love to reside again. Look, I am not going to say that’s going to be easy. What I am saying though, is it will be worth it.
Over the years, as I started to relinquish the iron grip that my anger had over me, great things started to come into my life. I acted better and I felt better too.
The power in healing is when a wound heals, scar tissue is fibrous and dense. It’s tough and hard to break. I am stronger now than I ever was because I let love and light into my heart and I am starting to get my family back.
Thank you Uncle Seth for your unwavering love and kindness.
And oh, thank you for your help all those years back—I never forgot about that and never will.