I’ve been thinking a lot about family. My family does not talk to me.
Growing up in a traditional mom-dad-sibling household, I would often struggle with my place in the familial set-up. I am the oldest of two, and the blackest of sheep. My upbringing was filled with an underlying current of panic, my parents not wanting me to grow up too fast, my spirit desiring to grow up as fast as possible, to get out. I found great solace in books such as Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted (I had a terrible eating disorder for over 14 years of my life, so I definitely related), or Michelle Tea’s The Chelsea Whistle (bonus: Massachusetts setting). I never felt as though I belonged in the family I was born into, but I loved and still do love them, regardless of our estrangement. But they never really tried to understand me. I was different than them, all poetry and black clothes and Tori Amos, and they had no idea what to do with me.
My family always felt that our issues should never be talked about, not with others, and certainly not with each other. Ignore things and it may all work out in the end. Pretend everything is ok, and don’t reach out; put the burden on the emotionally damaged person to make the first move, and if they don’t it is their fault.
I ran away instead. I made sure my son was in capable hands (though the invitation to come here is still, and always, open), and I went to California and I saved my own life. I am sure, to many, that seems melodramatic. My whole life I have heard, “Oh Kolleen. You’re just so dramatic”. But I am serious: I was almost dead, then I wasn’t.
I’m not dramatic. I am mentally ill and in pain and tired of waiting for people to love me for me.
Instead, they slammed the door on me, and that is ok.
My family would hate that I am even writing this vague letter.
But there are other types of family, those not related to you by blood, those you choose to have in your life, to care about and need and rely on. In this terrible climate, we all need people to rely on, to lean on, to vent to, and I have noticed a trend among many of my peers: the weeding out of toxic relationships, the strengthening of bonds with those that help instead of hinder, that listen instead of talking. Perhaps this election, this political atmosphere, was the straw that broke everyone’s back. So many people are saying enough.
I finally realized, at the age of 35, that there is nothing wrong with my heart. I love, but I do not love out of obligation. I love because I choose to. Where it is warranted.
Build your family. People who hold space for you. People who care about you, who love you for you. Every day I wake up grateful that I have built this family of others, especially in the literary world, a family that supports each other and lends a kind shoulder and an open ear. If you have ever held space for me, friends, I thank you. I love you. I am here for you, as well.
This month’s Writer of the Month is J.D. Scrimgeour, my first CW mentor, the person who first believed in my work as a writer. I remember, way back in 2000, he said to me, If you aren’t a writing major, you should be. He was the first member of my literary family, and I hope that you enjoy his poems as much as I do.
It’s summer now; enjoy the freedom that it can bring you. Stay in the light. Stay loving. To paraphrase David Lynch, we have to fix our hearts, or die.