Friday, March 12, 2010

This week has been unexpectedly exhausting. I find myself, like usual, in my car, occasionally surfacing from the haze to try to remember what day it is, when I last ate, what the hell I ate, what I did the day prior.

And it's a mental work out.

I have to link to something.

Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday... Tuesday was the meeting with the grad head. Which meant Tuesday was the night at my parents' house, playing cards with my mother, talking about my sister, about the navy man that has taken up residence in the guest room, about how my father's big deal just fell through, about his medication, the doctor's appointments, the box of stories that my mother found in the closet, the poem to his father he wrote when he was in his early twenties, telling him how much he hated him. Petting my cat, feeling his love and adoration, his yellow eyes, his casual, hip-swaying saunter that my mother continues to threaten filming with me walking beside him, so she can prove how much we walk alike. Eating leftover carnitas, guacamole blended in to give moisture.

Ace, two, three, pending the four of spades, my mother and I play the game her mother taught her, the game the three of us used to play together around my grandmother's kitchen table before she could no longer take care of herself, before the agoraphobia and anxiety kicked in so hard she could not live alone, before the dementia set in and visiting her meant visiting the mental ward above the senior citizen's home.

Punching the in code so the doors would unlock for long enough for us to slip in, hoping an aggressive resident wasn't on the other side.

Watching the dye in her hair fade out from brown to white, watching her reject my mother, blaming her for what happened, denying food when she'd try to feed her, as her hands were too shaky to feed herself.

The tongue darting out again and again, wearing a spot down on the corner of her mouth.

I come from a line of frightened women.

Anxiety through men, fear from our fathers.

My father, his unpredictable rages, darting in front of his anger to protect my mother, my sister, from his lack of control. Too young, too young.

My grandfather, brilliant scientist and alcoholic, terrorizing my grandmother in front of my mother, my mother watching the fear her merchant marine father instilled in the woman who gave birth to her.

My great grandfather, a severe hypochondriac who would shut the house down, black-out curtains, silent children traveling the hallways whenever he would convince himself he was about to die. Death was always coming. A childhood behind heavy curtains.

My mother's family has been in Los Angeles for four generations. Very few can make that claim. M great-great grandmother had a house in the middle of Hollywood, torn down to make room for a gas station. I look at the pictures of this beautiful Victorian house, the white picket fence, the arching trellis, the vines entangled, leaning beauty.

I wonder if she lived in fear. I wonder what it is that she gave to us, what her husband brought to us.

I used to dig through my mother's genealogy reports, used to go through them with a fascination, watching the names change, flipping through the yellowed paper, folded up on itself, woven into a hard cover with twine. Hundreds of years of families, of people, of things passed down into us. Stories that were passed down from my grandfather to my mother and her brother, stories that he learned from his father or mother.

It is not the stories that shape us, but those who tell them.

There is a picture hanging in the downstairs hall, on the way to the master bedroom, of my grandfather in his merchant marine uniform, a cigarette between cocky, smiling lips.

In the master bedroom, there are two pictures sharing one frame. On the left, a middle-aged couple, regal, the man, my great-grandfather, in another military uniform, medals decorating it. On the right, my grandfather as a young boy, six or seven, in a child's sailor costume.

The sons join the military. They focus on science, on technology, on serving the government. My uncle was a colonel when he retired, on his way to becoming a general when his wife asked him to stop his promotions. My grandfather was one of the designers for the NIKE missle bases that protect California's coastline.

But my mother did not have sons.

She had two daughters, two daughters so foreign to one another that there is more that would link one of us with a perfect stranger than to each other.

I find myself wondering if it ends here.

Do I take this, so many generations of people, and terminate the line? My one true cousin has already reproduced, his wife giving birth late last year. Do I need to add to it? Is there any reason, other than to give my parents the joy of being grandparents, something they want so badly? My sister hates children, she's never going to willingly reproduce.

So it's me.

My family, on both sides, has never been one towards replenishing itself, at least not in these last few generations. So many of the last generation was either gay, disinterested, or prone to suicide that there are only six of us, ranging from 17 to 35. My sister and my eldest cousin, they'll not have kids. My two younger cousins probably will. My first cousin already has, but may stop at one.

It makes me look at the Christmas parties, the Thanksgiving dinners, as more and more of my relatives die, watching them age from party to party, wondering if by the time I am my mother's age, the gatherings will have shrunk from what they used to be when I was a child, around thirty to forty people, to ten.

And then less.

Is this the way it is supposed to go, funneling into nothing?


  1. This is a very thoughtful post.
    Reading it re-opened some self-scrutiny on my part.
    A sense of past, a sense of history. Even if we took no part in it, the sense of familial lineage leaves its mark on you.
    Confronting it, being shamelessly vulnerable to it, and best of all, questioning it; these are the first steps.

    I think you'll do fine.

  2. I relate to the fear that we are links in a chain. I don't have the same lineage. Women, I mean. It's both sexes, different disorders on the same spectrum, winding around each other. I wish to take a sledgehammer to both of our chains.

    At the same time, I trust your strength. The strength that I see
    hidden in sentences structures.

    Thank you for continuing to make me feel less alone.

  3. If you still have 10 people at your family gatherings then you still have a "big" family compared to me. My father died when I was 9. My grandparents on my fahters side died when I was still a baby. My Moms Mom died when I was 16, My Moms dad died when I was 24.

    My imediate family lives 3000 miles away. I got to see them in November and my Mom, my brother, my 24 year old son, and my 26 year old daughter were there for a total of 5.

    The rest of my family is scattered all over the east coast. Cherish the times you have with your family, because nothing lasts forever accept the memorys.

  4. Grim, pal. It's easy to think of ourselves in terms of a narrative that starts before our parents and ends somewhere after our progeny. Totally limiting though. Identity can be so much more than that.

  5. Maurice,

    So says you. ;P


    Thank you. It's more work than I'll ever truly be able to tackle in this lifetime, but I'll try anyhow. Must. Fit. Whole. Pie. In. Mouth.


    I seem the same links, the same circles and repetitions and one of the major reasons I try so hard to identify and stop my behaviors is so that this might be it, and any of the future generations of my cousins or even myself... it won't be as bad. And their children will be even better.


    I'm so family focused, yet so tentative at family gatherings. I've been trying more and more as the years pass to connect with my uncles and aunts, get to know them and their stories, enjoy them, before they're gone.


    We're in complete agreement. I want to break that view of myself.