One of the wonderful things about a visit with my beloved brother is our conversation. Having the relationship we have means we can talk about anything and everything, and neither one of us needs to consciously prepare mentally or emotionally for whatever comes up in a conversation. Neither of us ever pre-plans topics for our time together in conversation. We just talk.
Of course, our conversations invariably cover family. It’s rather fun to be the only two ones left in what can be considered active family, because it leaves us a lot of people we can dis about without worrying who is listening and whose feelings might be offended or hurt by what we say. And both of us are pretty realistic about our family members – immediate and extended. It’s nice to have a safe place where we can talk about Uncle Fred or Aunt Janine or Cousin Alex (fictional names), and it’s an extremely precious place where we can share thoughts and feelings about parents and sibling and grandparents.
One of the several things that came up during our very recent visit together was the realization that we don’t know much about our parents’ lives before we arrived in this world. Well, we know bits and tidbits about our mom’s life before us because we had ongoing relationships with much of her side of the family. We know next to nothing about our dad, other than parent(s) and siblings and a few cousins by name. I was very young when my mom’s grandmother died, while I could tell you nothing about my dad’s grandparents, not even their names. We knew nothing about his childhood years, his high school years, his time in the service except one, that he flew planes in the Army Air Forces (a separate Air Force was not in existence at that time) and two, that he lied about being a year older than he was so he could enter the service. He joined the service and was active during a war, but we don’t know exactly how active HE was in the war. We assume he was honorably discharged at the end of his service, but that is a 100% assumption and not something we know for fact.
We talked specifically about how little we knew about our dad’s life before we entered it, but as I thought about it later, I realized we knew very little about our mom’s life as well. Both were children of the Great Depression – dad born in 1928 and mom in 1930. But childhoods were never talked about.
As I thought back even more after our visit, I began to realize that, back in those days, most lives were very secretive. My grandfather got cancer, first of the stomach and then of the voice box as well. But no one ever talked about it – I remember that the word “cancer” was a whispered word when it was spoken aloud. There seemed to be this mindset that, if you didn’t say it aloud or talked openly about it, you could, in some sense, try and pretend it wasn’t true. The same could certainly be said about mental health as well, even more so than physical health. Only in much more recent years have we begun to feel more free to talk about these things, ignoring, or in spite of, the stigma involved. And I’m sure it pisses us off in these days that such a stigma still exists – – I try but can’t imagine a time when the mere knowledge of such things as ‘cancer’ and ‘clinical depression’ were considered a sin of some sort!
So what was the purpose and the point of the silence and/or whisperings? Who were we trying to protect? It’s nice to think that silences were kept under the ideological idea that we were protecting others in some way, but I see the truth as being that the silence was a way of people protecting themselves! It was, as I see it, about people not wanting others to know something about themselves that they feared others would judge them for. As I said yet again to my brother, it was the idea that as long as the car in the driveway was relatively new and kept clean, and the lines from the lawn mower’s wheels in the grass were symmetrical, it didn’t matter if the inside of the house was a hoarding station covered in filth or the place where outrageous forms of abuse occurred. It was always about the pretenses….about what people on the outside could see.
This is the place where my brother and I became the black sheep of the family. Our older brother, Mark, adhered to those expectations with the wife and child and nice car and house with a picket fence and a well paying job that brought him both money and accolades from others. It didn’t matter if he hated his job, it didn’t matter if the house was a proverbial ‘money pit’ or if the wife was a bitch (she wasn’t) or the child was a terror (at times, she was). That wasn’t what people saw, and therefore, not how they were judged.
It’s the second half of 2021 now. Dad and Mark both died in 2015. Mom died in 1999. There is no need to protect what people thought about them while they were living their lives. Most of the people they knew who would have judged them are gone for this world as well, those still living in it are no longer a part of their, or our, lives anymore. Sadly, those few remaining ones largely have written us off as “people we used to know in another life time”. So it should be safe to say that the hornet’s nest is dead.
And yet, somehow, there are a few frisky ghost hornets who linger around it, protecting it from being beaten down and opened up for all to see the inside. Brad and I are who are left to know anything we might expect to find if it were to be broken open. And yet, we linger around that dead nest, still encrusted with the cult-fed fear that opening it up will reveal cracks in the armor of the hornet’s bodies who once lived in it, and having some sense of still wanting to protect them from being seen in the shining light of full truth and disclosure. Those hornets, though dead in body, are still very much alive in our minds, and we are stuck between wanting to know what made those hornets who they were and recognizing that there are no answers to be found to that question.
Some years ago, my dad having remarried after my mother’s passing, Brad wrote a long overdue letter to my dad to address something within our family history that was never talked about. That something was the fact that I was sexually abused by dad for a number of years. I’ve never shied away from talking about that as a fact, but I don’t go around talking about it like I’m talking about the weather. I know I am far from the only person who has ever had this happen, and while it took me a whole LOT of years, I did finally find my spot of forgiveness. Dad had been Brad’s hero, and I cost him that hero when he found out. But I ended up telling both of my brothers because they each had children and I, never understanding why I was abused, not feeling sure in my gut that he wouldn’t act that way again if he could get away with it, felt I needed to protect those two babies “just in case”. Anyhow, Brad sent his letter to dad, and I knew about it beforehand. When dad mentioned the letter to me, and I told him I knew about it, he asked me not to tell his wife about what was in the letter. I promised him that I wouldn’t bring up the subject, but assured him that I wouldn’t lie about it if I was ever asked.
At the time that had occurred, I felt really proud of myself for being able to say those words and mean them. Well, the subject of that letter and my response came back up in my recent conversation with Brad, and later on that evening, it dawned on me that the request from my dad had nothing to do with me or my feelings and very much to do with him wanting to protect himself at all costs. And now that damned hornet is buzzing around in my head again and I’m pissed off about the fact that, even then, his need to protect what other people thought of him was so much more important than what happened to me. Trust me, I will not go into detail about the many, many decisions and choices I made in my life because of that abuse. You don’t have the time to read it all and I don’t have the energy to write it all. I will only say that I wish the only affect that abuse had had on me was to have people judge me for it.
But it’s a damned ghost hornet and it’s just going to buzz around until it gets tired and leaves me alone. And in the end, it’s just going to be one more check mark on the side of the list of ways my parent(s) let me down again in order to make them feel better about themselves.
So be aware, my friends – things from your past will never leave you. You may think they are tucked away and neatly dealt with, but please know that those ghosts can – and probably will – come up throughout the rest of your life and buzz around you. Just let them happen, feel what you need to feel, and let them go back to sleep again. And be proud of yourself for knowing they are just ghosts and you no longer have to leave in the reality of their presence and their sting.