I know the conventional wisdom: You can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to do even if it is a good thing and, an even lesser favorite, Life’s not fair. I get that. I really do. But, I still think that advice sucks. Those two adages that are far easier doled out then received. I guess I am not as zen as I would have hoped.
I found myself sitting in front of my computer screen tonight watching the Facebook messager waiting for a response or at least a confirmation that he had seen my message. I knew he was on. The green light by his name said so. Not sure why I sat there and waited. As I typed my message I looked over at my husband and said “ You know he isn’t going to write back.”
So, why do I do this time and time again. I put myself in these situations where I reach out to people who are, for whatever reason or series of reasons, not in the same place I am. I want to catch up with them or find resolution ( you know I love me some resolution). I am not sure what they want. They’re not talking. Apparently I am not good with non verbal cues. I am not great at letting things go. And, I like to control situations, so you-know- those are great qualities. Those qualities lead me to sending messages that I should know from experience will not get a response. (Ahh an opportunity for another obnoxiously accurate adage: Fool me once…)The ex that I can’t seem to apologize to enough, that random friend who I really only knew for a few months but I felt a great connection with until she just stopped talking, and the one that really gets me: my cousin.
That is who I was waiting for tonight. He had been my best friend once. I called him, “Neigh”. We were less than a year a part and as children I wanted to be wherever he was. My favorite childhood picture is of the two of us staring out the window. I can’t remember what had caught our curiosity, but that picture reminds me of all the wonder we shared. When his little brother came along a few years after us, the three of us had many adventures. When I was in middle school, they moved to another state and I remember feeling like my heart was breaking. They were the only cousins I had on my mom’s side of the family. I had cousin’s on my dad’s side, but only saw them a few times a year. Through a series of family dramas the family divided and geography became only one type of distance between us. Our parents chose sides and we were young enough that our sides were chosen for us.
Other than at the funerals of our grandparents, just a few years later, I haven’t seen them. Every couple of years I would look them up in the white pages or google them to see what they were up to. I wrote a letter once, dialed a few numbers, and once made it through. I heard my aunt call me “peanut” as she always did when I was a child and heard my younger cousin’s now manly voice. I thought it meant we would stay in each other’s lives but it didn’t work out that way. That was in college, I haven’t heard any of their voices since. The last time I remember talking to Neigh was to try and comfort him at our grandfather’s funeral. We must have talked at my grandmother’s funeral- but I don’t’ recall. My grandfather’s funeral was the first time I ever saw Neigh cry that wasn’t from rough housing too hard or falling from grandma and grandpa’s tree.
I wanted to be just like him as a child and have always wondered what kind of an adult he has become. I have never stopped wondering about my two cousins. I always wondered what version of the family story they got, if they missed me, if they thought of me. I wondered what their lives were like. I grew up and made new friends and made a life for myself, but I was bonded to them in a way that you don’t just forget.
When I finally gave in to Facebook this past year I thought I would look them up. My mom’s brother was not on- in fact he seems to have fallen off the grid. From what I hear my aunt and uncle divorced years ago. I reached out to my aunt but no response. I looked for both my cousins but only found Neigh. Oddly enough my cousin’s aren’t even friends with each other. This only led to more questions- do my cousins not speak to each other? They are brothers. I would find a deep sadness in that. When I sent Neigh a friend request, I wasn’t sure what I would get. I was surprised and delighted to see him accept my friend request.
If you have ever read this blog before, it will come as no surprise that I wasted no time bombarding him with questions. I was worried he wouldn’t give me the chance to talk to him, so I just laid out all my crazy in one big Facebook message. I told him everything I was taught to believe on my side of the family divide and the way my views have changed. I gave him my whole life story. I asked him if he remembered our grandparent’s as I did. I was hoping to rely on him to clarify several hazy childhood memories. I just barged into his life in my over sharing style filled with excitement at the potential for reunion and for catharsis that I had been waiting for.
I am not sure what I had expected to happen. No, that’s not true. I had dreamed of the moment we reunited- where the three of us would sit down and talk. We would admire with pride the adult the other had become. I always imagined our reunion in a living room on a giant couch- actually the couch of their childhood home- sharing about our lives for hours- crying and hugging.
It is hard for me to key in to the rational adult side of my brain and consider the many flaws in my plan. Most especially that my plan involved two other adults and that perhaps their aim was not reunion or catharsis. I saw that he viewed my message and I waited for months for a response.
Then our aunt got sick. I felt like it was my responsibility to tell him. So, I turned to my good ol friend Facebook messaging and left this graceful message:
“I know you didn’t respond to my last message, but I want you to know that I got a call today that aunt Nancy has only 48 hours to live-I have the telephone number if you want it- I haven’t really talked to her in a long time..I wanted you to know”
I always want all the information all the time, so I make the false assumption that other people do too. There is not a hint of malice in my intent but yet it occurs to me (after sending the message) that perhaps my cousin does not want to find out about our ill aunt from an online message. Perhaps, he doesn’t want to know at all. That notion, however, does not stop me from sending the following message the next day:
“She just died- thought you should know ”
That was in August.
Today, I was online and I saw that little green light tempting me so I decided to step in the direction of hope even though I was armed with evidence to the contrary. I thought I would give it once last try. After all, he didn’t unfriend me after all of that. So I messaged him. Instead of something so heavy I went with “Hi.” I waited… no response and then the green light was gone.
So, assuming he got offline to avoid me (self-centered or true? You decide), I decided to unfriend him. Seems counterproductive, I admit. But, I am a self admitted control freak and at least unfriending him was doing something- I was taking some kind of action. I do not know how to sit idly by ( there is room for a nod to yet another adage here but I am getting adage-ed out). I guess in some ways I seem to do better with finality than the unknown. But, the truth is, at least on some level I am never going to stop dreaming of that conversation on that big comfy couch where the three of us catch up on our lives. That is why I didn’t just unfriend him, I explained why I was unfriending him. I do this sometimes. I call it the “soft unfriend” that is like a “soft no” in which there is room for possibility. That went something like this:
“Ok. Not trying to bug you. Saw that you were on and thought I would try again to reach out. Not sure why you are my FB friend if you ignore my messages. But, I get that you don’t really know me anymore. I just hope you are well and I welcome an opportunity to talk to you should you ever want it. My email is _____ and I hope that at some point you will want to talk with me. Sorry if I have intruded on your life after all these years. I have so many questions and just genuinely care that you are well. But, I need to realize that that may not be where you are at. So, I am going to unfriend you now. You can friend me again on here anytime if you want to reach out or email me at the above address. Be well.”
I read these things after I write them and think: who is the woman who writes these messages? She really puts her crazy out there. Well, that might be true. But, I am ok with it. Because no one can ever say that I didn’t try. I make my life messier than it needs to be at times, that is true. Certainly messier than a lot of people would choose- but I am in it. I am honest and authentic to the best of my ability and I am down in the nitty gritty of my life and I am owning it- mess and all. Besides there is a lot at stake here.
This is bigger than just a bond from childhood. This is our family’s story. It is hard to write a memoir when so many of the voices are missing.
I know a memoir is primarily from my perspective, but I think the best memoirists do research outside of themselves. There are so many questions and gaps that I can’t answer or even speak to- parts of the puzzle that the perspective I was raised in do not address. There are old photos to be shared and memories of our grandparents to write down and compare.
There is another generation now. The generation above us is still divided, but all the more reason for us not to be. Why fight our parent’s fight. Our grandparent’s are dead and our aunt is dead. That only leaves my mom and aunt who raised me and I know their perspective well but my cousin’s do not, and my aunt and uncle who hold stories and perspectives that I know nothing of, but wish to.
We are all that is left. If my cousin’s don’t have children our family name dies with them. We are a tiny family now and a broken one as well but there are still so many stories to be told. As a writer, as a lover of archives, as a mother and as a member of this family it crushes me to know how many stories died with our grandparents and our aunt and; how many family heirlooms got thrown to the wayside and their meanings and their meanings along with them.
From what I have been able to gather, Neigh seems really Intelligent. A little snarky and sarcastic maybe. A bit of dark humor and a skeptical eye. All things I can appreciate. It seems he might be a writer too- and thus, I assumed that he would have a similar love for history and story as I do. Maybe he does. The problem is, I just don’t know, and I don’t need a stale adage to remind me that that sucks.