A Complicated Relationship

Today for Father’s Day, Thomas and I went up to Dawsonville to see my parents, and while my relationship with my dad is complicated, this isn’t about my dad. Warning, this is long, and I have no idea why I’m writing about this.

My mom has one sister. I think that A., as I’m going to call her, is four or six years older than my mom, and their relationship has always been tough. Jokingly my mom would tell me how she and her sister used to fight so much, they broke a lot of my grandmother’s antiques from Scotland; how A. hit her in the head with a glass baby bottle; how her pet bird was let loose outside. All pretty standard sister stuff. When I was younger and we lived in Lawrenceville and my aunt’s family lived in Snellville (if you are unfamiliar with Gwinnett County geography, it’s not terribly far), my mom and my aunt used to go shopping, or at least out, every weekend at Gwinnett Place Mall, and we traded holidays – we would do Christmas at our place and Thanksgiving at theirs and vice versa every year. Maybe this is normal, but instead of the tension falling off between them as they got older and had families, it seems to me that things largely stayed the same. I remember my aunt, even when I was 8 or 9, used to do weird shit like show up early and then freak out that my mom and I weren’t ready to go yet. She used to make my mom cry over all kinds of weird stuff, things I don’t even really know the gist of, but given what I *do* know, I assume it was all chock full ‘o nuts, if you will. When we moved away, for example, my aunt accused my mom of moving to “get away from her,” which was pretty absurd – generally speaking, no one moves their entire family 50 miles north just to escape one person. After that we made some effort at the every-other-holiday thing, and mostly stuck with it until my cousin got married, which threw a whole other wrench into the works and is probably another story all on its own, and after that, we just trailed off with it.

Over the years through high school and college, we saw my aunt’s family fairly infrequently. Her husband, my uncle, is and always has been very, very awesome, so when we did see them, that was fun. They came to my dad’s mother’s funeral when I was a freshman in college, but honestly I am not 100% sure that I’ve seen them since then. By the time Thomas and I were engaged, my mother’s relationship with her sister was pretty weird – if I recall correctly, A. would sometimes call and sort of confide in/berate my mom and Mom would just sit through it and kind of pretend that it was a normal way to talk to people.

I guess it was three, maybe four weeks before our wedding when A. called my mom and proceeded to explain to my mother everything that had ever been done to wrong A. within the last 10 or 15 years, up to and including the mythical idea that Mom had known that the Mother of the Bride at A.’s son’s wedding was going to wear the same color that A. wore (which, for the record, wasn’t true as far as I know but because that happened when I was 13 and no one ever talked about it before, none of us had paid attention to this detail). She ended up the conversation by telling Mom to consider Mom and the rest of us to “be dead to” A. and her family. Mom called me up in tears. I said, fine. We’re dead to her. One less thing to worry about. By this time the phone-call weirdness was just really epic and I was over it. O-VER it. It was pretty emotionally abusive, actually, and I was glad that it was over.

Naturally it wasn’t actually over. Sometime after we were married, A. got breast cancer, and then she wasn’t so interested in being dead to my mom. They’ve talked over the years, but I’ve not spoken to her – it seems like inviting needless drama to open myself up to that, so I haven’t done. Lately my mom tells me that A.’s had some sort of episode where she can’t talk – it started out with her sounding drunk – and increasingly she can’t breathe very well. Apparently no one knows what’s really wrong with her and she’s gained a lot of Lose Weight Exercise because she can’t do anything. My mom says that she didn’t even recognize her when she went to see her – probably the first time in six years or so – and that she expected to be crying the whole time she was there, but it was like she didn’t even know this person who was so ill and had been so angry, antisocial, and just plain mean for so many years. As for myself, I don’t even know what to feel. I kind of feel as if I should feel badly, be sad, or something else, but mostly I just feel like I would feel about hearing about anyone else in that situation – I pity them and wish that they didn’t have to go through it, but I have no real emotional attachment or reaction. And I think that in and of itself is kind of the sad thing – that someone can so abuse the other people in their life that generally, those people are not mourning them. Because I’m not and I don’t think I can.

One Response to “A Complicated Relationship”

  1. Amber Rhea Says:

    It sucks when you feel obligated to have a deep emotional reaction… but the truth is, it’s not always like that. I feel like society expects these reactions whether they’re authentic or not. But that’s not always a realistic representation of people’s relationships. To be *very* simplistic about it, I think we all understand caring more for someone you’re not related to thru blood than someone you are, because you have a deeper relationship w/ the former person whereas you just happen to share some DNA w/ the latter.

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