April 6, 2010

points of view

Posted in shit happening tagged , , , at 9:20 pm by ben

I try to be the kind of person who looks at everything from as many perspectives as I can.  I make every attempt to see where a person comes from and what their motives are before I make any kind of judgment.  I was not always this way.  Age, experience and the past week have enlightened me a little.

My brother Bob, his wife Candy and their three teenage kids were here last week.  This is the first time they have been here since I made peace with him three years ago (after several years of not speaking) so that they would come out for my dad’s 60th birthday party.  This was the first time they have ever stayed to visit for longer than a few hours… ever.  I was beyond shocked when Candy (who I have always had issues and a barely cordial relationship with) called me to say they wanted to come spend spring break here to visit us and my parents for the week.  I was too surprised to even question why they were coming.

Candy puts us all on guard.  She has a history with my family that is something we always felt was barely shy of evil.  She has hurt us.  I could reel off many instances where she appeared to go out of her way to damage us and our relationship with Bob but at this point that would serve no purpose and I really want to get to the good stuff.  It is enough to say that she puts our hairs on end and makes us wary of her every move as if she might attack at any moment.

The visiting was all quite superficial on the first day. Most of the chatter surrounded the kids and funny anecdotes.  Since we see them so rarely it was easy to keep conversation light.  It wasn’t until the evening of day two that things changed.  I invited the kids down to play Wii after dinner and my brother and sil came along to hang out.  Once we started talking the floodgates flew open.

Candy had been preparing for the conversation, I could tell, since she spilled her guts about a few things.  She said she was very shy and never felt like we liked her so she kept her distance.  We saw someone who didn’t talk to us, didn’t seem to want to fit in to the family and appeared to look down on us in general.  She said she had been hearing from my brother what a nightmare all of our family gatherings were so that put her on edge before she even arrived.  I still haven’t figured out why Bob had such issues with the family (everyone thinks he’s Mr. Wonderful) but again perspective comes into play.  Bob saw things differently than the rest of us.  He was uncomfortable in those situations as a kid and they grew in his mind and festered and became more and more unbearable as he got older.  Candy picked up on it, reflected it, and it made her an outsider.

That was where it started.

Bob also admits to having serious middle child syndrome.  He saw me and our youngest brother get everything we wanted (material and otherwise) while he felt slighted and even blinded to what he received.  He had many misconceptions about what we were given.  He didn’t know I paid for my first car and that our brother’s trip to Europe was earned through fundraising etc. etc.  His memory is selective, like he stored the bad stuff and forgot the good stuff.  Once we talked about it for a while he began to see that maybe not all of what he remembered was accurate and it opened him up for some forgiveness.  To me, Bob was the one who got away with everything and Chris (the baby) was spoiled rotten.  Chris knows he was the golden child and Bob admits he was a shithead of a kid and that I got the worst of mom’s hand… and her vicious tongue.

My mother has often tells the story of why she stopped working.  I was 11, Bob was 9 and the baby was a year old.  My dad worked away from home during most of our younger years and he was rarely around on weeknights.  I would go home after school and have to watch the boys and prepare dinner while my mom worked evenings at a diner.  I was a very responsible kid and I took my “job” very seriously, plus I feared the hand of mom so I tried hard not to fuck up or giver her any reason at all to find fault with my efforts.  Bob hated Chris.  He was jealous.  For eight years he was the spoiled mommy’s boy and he lost that title to this mini interloper.  Most of my time babysitting was spent playing referee as Bob tormented his younger brother endlessly.  Chris told me recently that he used to keep a tally on a calendar of the days when Bob didn’t make him cry.  He said there weren’t very many.  Sad.

One afternoon, while mother was working and I was fixing dinner,  Chris found his way (crawled) into my parents bedroom and ate a bottle of baby aspirin.  When I went to check on him he was still playing with the open (and empty) container.  I called mom and she came home and took Chris to the hospital where they pumped his stomach.  He was ok, no harm done and nobody was more relieved than me.  My mom still refers to this as “The day Brenda tried to kill Christopher.” And since I was so irresponsible she had to quit her job.

As Bob and I were talking this incident came up as one of those things our mother wouldn’t let go of, he began to get teary.  It has only been the last few years that I have wondered how the baby got the lid off of that pill bottle.  I assumed that it had not been on tight or that he managed to chew it off somehow.  “I gave him the pills.” Bob admitted.  “I didn’t know you got blamed for it.”

I didn’t even know how to react.  I didn’t ask him if he was trying to kill our brother or what his agenda was… mostly because I didn’t want to know.  He thought he should confess to mom.  I said “No.  She wouldn’t understand.  She would be hurt, angry and bitter and it’d put a whole new wedge in the family.  The only reason to tell her would be to exonerate me and to cleanse your conscience.  I know the truth, I wasn’t irresponsible (she should never have left a child in charge of children to start with!!) and your confession to me is enough.”

“But she will always blame you.”

“She does anyway.  I can take it, I have for thirty years.”

I had a lot of revelations that night and I hope this is a new beginning for us.  Mom and Bob had a talk after I helped her to see where they were coming from and explained the whole perspective and perception phenomena to her.  She (as well as the rest of us) is at least making an effort to see beyond her own blinders and that is a start.  I want Bob and his family to be as to the rest of us as we are to each other.  It means a lot to me to be part of his kids’ lives, to be a real aunt to them.  I feel like at least some of the weight of the past has been lifted and although there were a lot of bridges burned in the past I am hopeful that we’ve managed to look beyond the gap and build a footing or two for some new ones.

Memory is all about perception.  People can have the exact same experience yet see and recall it completely differently.  The best we can do is try to find some common ground and look beyond our own understanding and acknowledge that nobody is right and nobody is wrong and accept history for what it is.  We can’t change the past so it’s better to look forward and  make a better future.