"in my family, somewhere out there, our ghost was still alive"
March 5, 2018 1:06 PM   Subscribe

There are two sides to every story; but when you run away from your family only one story remains. And that story, retold by the people you have hurt and horrified, becomes embellished and embroidered. You leave behind memories of your shortcomings and your mistakes, and you take the good times and the character strengths with you in your suitcase. Or that, at least, was what seemed to have happened with Prim. Saddest of all, as I was to discover, your story stops on the day you leave. What happens to you next – however brilliantly you do, whatever you make of yourself – happens in a parallel universe that your family are not connected with, not interested in, and not even aware of.
posted by Lexica (9 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I have not seen my family for about a decade. This... resonates..
posted by DreamerFi at 1:41 PM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

This resonated with me: " I could see traces of my father and other relatives in her face, her mannerisms and – especially – in her sense of humour, and I sensed that she felt a similar connection with me. Unlike most people I interview, with whom I have to create a bond, with Prim the bond was already there; I didn’t have to try at all."

Years ago, I travelled to Israel on a whim, without much planning (short version: I was in Czech republic, met some Argentinians, yadda yadda yadda, landed in Tel Aviv), and called my Dad to see if we had any relatives in the area who could give us a place to stay. We did, a bunch.

The most striking thing for me was staying with my (7 years dead at that time) grandmother's half-sister. She didn't exactly look or talk like my grandma, but you could see little things sort of poking out around the seams, smiles, tones of voice. I ended up spending a large part of my time in her condo in the outskirts of Tel Aviv just hearing her talk about my grandmother's and her own life, feeling strangely at home in this country two thirds of the way around the world with this 70 year old relative I'd never met before.
posted by signal at 1:42 PM on March 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have thoughts about the whole running away to the other side of the world thing, but mostly I am just blown away by Leonora Carrington's art. Creepy and haunting and beautiful. I don't know that I'd want them hanging on my wall, but they are amazing and I'm glad to have found her work.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:00 PM on March 5, 2018

Huh, I suspect that if I had actually run away I would have ended up like Leonora. As it is I'm already the "interesting" artsy cousin (my sister is more visual-artsy than I am but she had decades of being considered 'normal' with her science degree before surprising everyone save me with moving into illustration; I meanwhile was always the weird mutant fruit on the family tree).
posted by divabat at 3:16 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

How many of us wish we had had the <whatever it is> that enabled Leonora to go. I can’t stop thinking about the pain I would cause (in myself and others) by going, and it seems like an unfair price to ask people I love to pay. I went to the other side of the world to live, a couple of times, and it was exhilarating and hard. Now I daydream of Antarctica, because it is stark and empty and far away.
posted by GrammarMoses at 4:04 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Half of my family ran away from me by dying and leaving behind one member of the family, my 44 year old cousin who is...kind of the worst. I'm okay with not sharing my brilliance with her, because she only cares about herself. I've done thousands of hours of work on our shared family tree and I know if I ever showed it to her she'd give it a cursory glance and then start showing me pictures of her 4 year old granddaughter.

I wish the rest of that half of the family were still alive. I have so many questions and things to show them. I wish I could go back in time and learn carpentry from my dad and grandpa. I wish I could have asked for farfar to have left me his tools in the will. I wish I had known that my last uncle was dying two years ago (selfish cousin didn't bother to share the news - he was her uncle too, not even her father), I'd have driven to SE Washington and gotten the spit for his DNA testing myself. That bullshit sense of loss is so deep and so frustrating, because family should be what we make it, not what fate gives us. But the feelings are still there, no matter how much I try to tell myself how silly they are.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:05 PM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

This was amazing to read both as a fan of her work (via my partner) and as someone with similarly complicated family dynamics. My split hasn’t been so total: I’m still in touch with my mom’s side of the family, but my dad’s side, with their pathetically self-serving unwillingness to reckon with his behavior, still gossips and whines about my distance. To my shame I’m still driven by some sense of filial piety to engage with them in their delusional sense of what this family really is. Carrington’s bravery in rejecting that obligation is inspiring.
posted by invitapriore at 8:54 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ah, ah, ah, this hits so very close to home. Just tonight I was going over in my head the same things I've gone over I don't know how many times. I have this insatiable need to put my family stories together and some kind of interesting narrative let Outsiders will find some sort of compelling reason to share. every attempt has ended pain a lot of destroyed notes. I don't know whether it needs to be a book or a play or a Blog or whether I'm writing from myself or somebody else or what. My grandma always used to say, "Everybody's just a goddamn liar, so what's the use in dredging up the past?" but the more relatives start taking up DNA Testing for Shits and/or Giggles, the more it looks like some people are more goddamn liars than others. I'm so glad I pressed for stories from my grandmother and aunt before we lost them, but it's tough to strike a balance between getting stories before they get lost, and just making old ladies uncomfortable when they don't have to be. (e.g. ever since Mom's twin died, she keeps hinting about some big secret she found out about after the funeral that she can't believe her sister didn't share.

And then my father disappears without a word or a trace, the same way his own father left his boyhood home as soon as he was strong enough to to earn a farm laborer's wage and never looked back as long as he lived. I don't know whether to include them or not.

If I had children I guess I could put it all off a few more years.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:54 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

This was quite the read. Given that Leonora left when she was just twenty, that means that all this:
These were the snatches, picked up from Maurie and from my grandmother Miriam (who was Prim’s aunt), and from Prim’s brother Gerard (who was my father’s best friend as well as his cousin, and a regular visitor to our house when I was growing up). Prim, the family narrative went, had simply refused to fit in: she had been expelled from various schools, had failed to net a husband during her season as a debutante, and then she had been caught up in some scandal so shocking that my great-aunt and my grandmother still seemed to be reeling from it decades later. If you asked anyone in the family, the story was that everyone else had behaved entirely reasonably throughout. “It certainly wasn’t us,” one of my cousins told me, years later. “It was Prim; she was the reason everything went wrong.”
happened while she was a child. Rebellious childhood behavior doesn't happen in a vacuum. One of the signs of child abuse/neglect on the part of parents is even "denies the existence of—or blames the child for—the child’s problems in school or at home".

When you've run away, built your own life, lived several decades, and a young woman arrives who is still attached to the family you left, you understand that their life and choices are just as important. Your single story is just that; a single story. It's something I think about from time to time; I ran away precisely so that my individual story could survive and grow. The story my family tells about me only belongs to them. But if, in a few decades (or even now), someone new from the family were to approach me without the abusive negativity I grew up in, I wouldn't tell them my family story; I would tell them my story. "Family" is something they get to define for themselves, and when you've been a family black sheep, you know all too well how you-as-object gets used. I don't bother challenging the fraula-as-object narrative. Those who believe it will believe it; those who don't will have their own reasons. I refuse to use dictation, story-as-object, as a weapon against dictation. The freedom to choose your own story is far too important. In a word, agency. And what is a story if it can't grow and change?

I'm often reminded of my own farfar and grandmother in these cases. They gave me just that; the freedom to choose my story; my life. As a child, I knew my grandfather had been abused; he initially told me he had lost his hearing due to his work as a construction foreman. Being a too-smart-for-her-own-good kid (hi yeah, I am well-versed in the "damn smartypants rebel" narrative from negative family), I noticed that no one his age who had worked with him was deaf. He would only grumble in reply. One day, when I was eight or nine and in the thick of my parents putting me in our evangelical church three days a week (Wednesday evening Bible study, Saturday Bible study, Sunday morning service followed by Sunday school), my father – my grandfather's son – convinced me to gift grandpa a Bible.

I will never forget my grandparents' reaction. My grandfather gently took it, flipped through the pages, and set it down silently. My grandmother was white, silent, unmoving. My grandfather said nothing. Grandma, finally moving, asked me to come with her. Once we were alone, she said something along the lines of "honey, your grandpa loves you, but please don't ask him to read that book."

Bit by bit, over the years, piecemeal, I learned that my grandfather had been raised by a vicious man. He was deaf because he'd had his ears boxed. My grandparents were atheist; they wouldn't say why, it didn't matter, it was their choice and they accepted others' choices so long as theirs was respected.

When I started doing genealogical research, I quickly discovered that in fact, my great-grandfather (grandpa's father) had been a key part of a small Norwegian doomsday cult, many of whose members emigrated to Canada and later Oregon. One in which the children were routinely abused – if you're imagining the worst, yes, it happened.

He had never told me. When I asked him, he said he had gotten out so that his children could be free. Nothing had hurt him more than to see his son get pulled back into extremism.

It was then I understood what the Bible must have done to him. What he had chosen to do in response, to allow me to make my own choices. It's largely thanks to his and my grandmother's warm, freeing influence that I knew I too could escape and create my own life.
posted by fraula at 2:44 AM on March 6, 2018 [24 favorites]

« Older America’s last audience of loyal, committed TV...   |   A world of (disco and more) sounds from Athens of... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments