There is a certain sad commentary on my life that I rarely mention. I've always been very clandestine yet candid about my friendships and my relationships and my issues with work and school, but one area that I've avoided is my family.
I don't know if it is because I've always held out hope for something to be happy about or because I tried to act like it wasn't a huge problem in my life, but either way I've been ignorant about my relationship with my family.
Now it is all too painfully obvious. It has been for years, but I've seen too much contrast with other families I see, I've seen too much that presents my family on the ugly platter we feast on.
For years I've known that me and my father will always have a strained relationship. There was the stuff when I was a child of course; The breaking in and the kidnapping and the drugs and the jail time. It all led to the abandonment and the destruction of my image of what family was before I was even old enough to remember my birthdays.
Then when I was a bit older there was the false promises, the stolen Christmas money, the outbursts and the obvious indication that my older brother was more on his level. To top it off, my father always is overly complimentary and cheesy, which undoubtedly contributes to my guarded and stoic reaction to loving gestures.
Then there was the kids he had with his girlfriend at the time that he told me weren't my brother and sister. Then the fact that I grew very close to them and accepted them as my family only to have my dad break up with the girl. She had no other choice but to move to New Jersey to have support from her parents. I haven't heard from any of them in over 5 years. I don't even know how old my brother and sister are. I just keep a picture of them in my wallet.
Then fast forward to the present and you'll see that we have somehow rekindled from the year I refused to talk to him because he broke one too many promises. But even then, he still can't afford to send me $200 a month he promised as a graduation present. Every time I talk to him is a mixture of bravado, anger at my mom or older brother or some random woman he was interested in, uncontrollably and unbearable pride for me, and an eventual breakdown based on his shameful nostalgia. Last time we talked he ended the call crying and then called back to apologize for his recent trend of breaking down every time we talk. I answered in my usual, stoic tone because I don't know how to comfort him... he never taught me how.
Then my mother. I have forever idolized her in lieu of my father, praising and celebrating her success despite what my father did to her. I've always admired her perseverance through so many struggles in her life. Her mom dying on her 17th birthday, the sacrifices she made for her family, the issues with my father abusing her, the nasty divorce that came with it, my step dad and his inability to be the emotional comfort she needs, my older brother and his windy path that has more than frustrated her, and my little brother and his disorder that adds an element of difficulty that she simply shouldn't be burdened with.
In this case one would imagine that the older brother would step up and save the family. But my older brother was far too damaged from the many issues of our family and has always had trouble with conflict. I remember being 10 years old and coming in to yell at my mom and step dad when they were arguing about him, tears rolling and words muffled, trying to get them to stop so he wouldn't feel so awful. I knew pretty early on that I would need to be the one to step up and confront my mom or my dad or my step dad whenever the time was necessary. Unfortunately, each one of them saw me as someone they could trust and they all have tried to turn me against the others. When I was younger, this was more successful. My mom and step dad made me hate my dad and my brother, then my dad made me hate my mom, then my brother made me hate my step dad, etc. Finally I just hated all of them except my mom. She was always my rock.
My older brother ran away before we moved to El Dorado Hills, my little brother was born just a bit before that. Keep in mind that my mom and step dad got married on a whim when I was around 6 years old and that my little brother wasn't planned but came regardless when I was 13. So after spending the longest amount of time in one place, we picked up and moved again to EDH and I found the best friends I've ever had. But in that time I had to become the older brother for certain. I had no problem with this. My older brother came in and out of our lives, causing havoc and then leaving again only to reappear months later. He is a good guy, just lost and trying to figure out his path.
So I embraced my role. I tried to appease my family simply by being the best I could and succeeding in everything I did. I scrutinized myself at every turn, hating myself for any mistakes I made. I constantly overloaded myself and refused to accept any kind of compromise when it came to what I did. I always had to be the best. I figured this would help everyone, despite the fact that my brother's issues overshadowed my perfect grades when I was younger, I thought this would be different.
I spent high school working as much as I could, performing in theatre, getting good grades, and just trying to do as much as I could to be a model son and student. Despite all this, I didn't see the change I had hoped. I received a kind of silent admiration in a way, something I would strive for. It was as if I was fighting wars for pennies in return. My little brother was the baby now and his disorder earned him a level of attention he sorely needed. I decided that my success was necessary just so my parents could focus on my older brother and my younger brother.
So I tried applying to a bunch of colleges. My mom wouldn't pay the application fees or take me on any tours, so I was very limited. Arizona State caught my eye because we actually got to take a tour there because my parents had a house nearby. I became obsessed with going there because, well, it was my only option. I even received a partial scholarship to go there. I was ecstatic. But shortly after I arrived there, my parents informed me that I was responsible for paying all the loan that they had taken to cover the rest of my costs. Not that I had expected them to pay for everything, but I guess based on their wealth and what I saw from other parents I expected some help. I was hoping they would match the $7000 I received from my scholarship and then I would pay the rest through loans. I was wrong.
So I came back after a year, realizing that I didn't want to be 60k in debt from going to a school that wasn't my first choice in the first place. I finally did exactly what they wanted, I stayed home for a year and worked full time and went to school full time. I don't know how I did it, it was incredibly stressful and sent me into a deep depression. But I managed to do it. When I applied to colleges again for transfer, I had to pick and choose because I couldn't afford the application fees again. I set my sights high as always and lost steam halfway through my second semester. I dropped half my classes and almost settled for another year doing the same thing.
Then I decided I didn't want that, and I got in to UCSD and took that opportunity to get out of there and away from them. I thought that maybe things would be different this time and that I would receive some kind of support. I was wrong again. Sure, they were willing to throw me a few hundred if my bank account was in the red, but definitely not willing to cosign a loan or help me with rent. This time, I couldn't work full time and go to school full time, not at a university. So, I had to either move back home or take a year off school and make it on my own down here in San Diego.
And here I am in San Diego. I found a job, I have a plan, and I am completely on my own.
I made the mistake of thinking my parents would come through for me and I'll never make it again. I love my family, I really do. But I learned long ago that what I tried to do for them and for myself doesn't matter to them. It always ends up being about them and about what stresses them out. No one ever comforts me about how things are for me. I always get to hear about how much harder it was for mom, or feel guilty about having fun with my friends, or (most ridiculous) how hard it is to be raising my little brother. I have always come with the response, "I didn't have a kid, you did. Thats why I'm not having kids yet."
And yet, despite all this neglect, all this lack or respect, all this lack of support... I still feel guilty. I guess they raised me well. I feel bad for my dad even though he can't send me money he promises that I really could use to pay my bills. I feel bad for my mom even though she has a huge house with 5 bedrooms and 3 cars for three people (including my little brother) and trips to Vegas every month, but she can't even help out the one son she has who actually wants to be successful enough to take care of her someday. I feel bad for my brother, who is almost 25, making the same amount of money as me and needing my mom to give him money and help him manage it even though he should be setting the example for me.
I was with my best friend's family this past weekend. And yes, they bicker like any other family and have their issues. But at the very core, they love and care about each other. Their parents support them whenever they need it despite how much financial trouble it may put them in. I see their kids pursuing their dreams without having to worry if someone will have their back if they fall. Most of all, I just see love in that family. I see it in most of my friends' families.
It breaks my heart. I've tried for years to change that and just hope that I might have a glimpse of that kind of family. But the truth is, I'm here and I'm on my own. When I talk to mom or dad or my siblings, I have to support them even though I'm the one who has to take a year off from school too work just so he can go to school.
I guess thats just my family. And I know I will be fine, but years from now when I have my degree(s) and I am on my feet and stable, I won't be able to say that I had my family behind me the whole time.
And at that point in my life, what will I say to them?