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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Surprise Party

I haven't written in a while. I'm guessing its because I needed an emotional detox from writing about the situation. It also, however, might be because of the surprise party. See, I wrote about the situation because I kept worrying and reliving it. I was worrying and reliving it because this year is my dad's 60th birthday.

In the years that have passed, my father has reconciled with his side of the family. He used to ask if any of us wanted to join him to visit them, but has since learned the answer will always be no, at least for my mother, younger sister, and I. Karlee, who called my grandmother a bully, goes sometimes. I can only hope it is of her own accord and not because she feels badly for my father.  

Anyway, this year my dad turns 60 and my mom planned a surprise party for him. She asked if it would be a problem for Brandon and I if she invited his family, knowing how much it would mean to him if we were all there. My initial thought was, Sure, we can be the bigger people. Brandon said something along the lines of, Eh, it's been almost three years. If they still have a problem with us that will only be their problem. And with that, the plans for the party began.

In the weeks leading up to the party, I had flashbacks of things that had happened before. Brandon and I, strong and unphased as we tried to be, talked about what could potentially happen in an attempt to prepare ourselves for the worst. My other grandmother, who I think was the most worried of all of us, assured me that she would be there if anything happened as my grandpa replied, "Yeah? What will you do?!" teasing her.

About two weeks ago, on a Friday night, it was time. My dad thought that him and my mom were going out with some family friends for dinner. Little did he know, we were all going to be at the restaurant when they got there. Brandon and I had gone to pick up my friend and the cake. My sisters came a little later with balloons. Everything was set up nicely and then we waited.

The first people to come were of course my aunt, uncle, and cousin on my dad's side. The one who had shared with me the story of my great-grandmother and a variety of Bible quotes. In that moment, I decided gracious and welcoming was all I could be. I walked up to all three of them and gave them a hug, welcomed them, showed them were to put gifts, and where the drinks were.

More and more people began to come with no incidents. It was almost the time that my dad was supposed to be there and my grandparents, his parents, weren't there yet. A minute before I got the text from my mom that her and my dad were there, my grandparents walked in.

At the time, I was talking to my mom's brother and his wife, my back to the door. The minute they walked in both of their eyes got wide. "They're here. Your other grandparents are here," they whispered in the most indiscreet way possible. I couldn't help but smile because I realized that if Brandon and I were nervous, so were all the other people here who loved us.

Again, I chose to take the gracious route, turning around and welcoming both of them. Maybe it was my imagination, but they both looked like they deflated with relief. Again, I realized that if I was nervous, they were ten times as nervous. Oddly, that made me feel better. Maybe they finally knew that what they had done was wrong.

A few minutes later, my dad showed up. He walked through the door with my friend's dad laughing, expecting to be seated at a table to eat. When he looked up to a booming yell of "Surprise!" the look on his face was priceless. Not only was he surprised (which if you know my dad, was a surprise in and of itself), but I saw him scan the crowd of us and take in the fact that we were all there to celebrate him.

When I think back to that day, of course the worrying was really all for nothing. The party went as well as it possibly could have. Though I didn't spend the whole time catching up with my dad's side of the family, we were in the same room together with no incidents. I haven't spoken to any of them since and honestly don't plan to. I just can't deal with that kind of emotional distress and worry for every family function.

Life is full of enough distress already without it coming from your family. I am relieved that for my dad's sake they put their hatred behind them. I can breathe a sigh of relief that Brandon didn't walk into another ambush on my or my family's account. Nothing will ever fix the damage, but I feel like that night I finally got closure. For that, I am unbelievably grateful.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Part 6: Stronger Than Before

Part 6: Stronger Than Before

My best friend, who had moved to North Carolina with her husband who was a Marines, was home and wanted to come and visit. Brandon and I had planned on her coming to my apartment at school and then we were going to go out for margaritas at our favorite salsa bar.

Moments before she was due to get there, we got into the biggest fight yet. Just for background, Brandon and I had never fought until the night of that wedding. It may sound crazy and you might think, "but everyone fights," but we really didn't. Sure we had minor disagreements, but we never had a reason to fight and scream at each other before.

This time, we really didn't have a reason to fight or scream either, except that we were both so tense, confused, and angry about what had happened to us. As my friend rang the doorbell she walked into a war zone neither of us had ever stepped foot into together.

It was not either of our brightest moments, but I thank God that she stepped in when she did. Without hesitation she grabbed Brandon's arm and told him to come with her.

To this day, I don't know exactly what she said to him, though I have heard pieces from both of them. All I know is that when he stepped back into my apartment, things were different. They weren't fixed by any means, but we both had realized something very important.

We were fighting because of something someone else had done, someone's opinion, someone's reality, but it wasn't our reality. Really, our relationship was as strong as it had ever been. We had been through something so traumatizing and came out loving each other even more. They hadn't ruined our relationship, they had made it better.

-     -     -

Brandon and I got married July 11th of last year. The wedding was about half the size of what it would have been if this whole thing hadn't happened, but we were surrounded by people who truly loved and supported us. 

Through all of this, I think that was the most important lesson either of us have learned:

Life can get complicated sometimes and there will always be people there to tear you down. These people, regardless of blood relation, are not family. The people who love and support you no matter what are family.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Part 5: Catholic Guilt

In the aftermath of the situation, one of the biggest things I have struggled with is my faith. This is not to say that I was ever angry with God nor is it that I felt less connected to my own personal beliefs. The thing I have continued to struggle with the most is finding a home for those beliefs.

I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic grade school, taught religious education in my parish through high school, and sought out a Catholic religious group in college. For the majority of my life, Catholic was a large part of my personal identity. It was, in essence, my home. It wasn't until my merit as a Christian was questioned that I really began to wrestle with this aspect of my life.

I found myself rereading those Bible quotes that were sent to me. I questioned whether or not I really wanted to be associated with people who identified with a faith they used to make me feel guilty for being, well, human. I attended services with my family and could not focus on anything, but the negative association I had with my family. I found myself getting angry at church. I didn't mean to, but I had let them ruin my faith identity.

I now realize that it was a blessing in disguise. I have used this time to explore my own personal beliefs as well as other faiths and churches. I can't say I have found my home yet, but I will continue to use this time as a self-reflection.

The following poem was one that I wrote to sort out all these hostile feelings I had about not only the people who were using my faith to hurt me, but the faith I had associated with for so long. It was also the poem that sparked my aunt's rant about how I "should just go write another poem about it."

Whether they agreed with me writing about our family or not, this poem was the stepping stone towards my current journey of faith exploration and for that, I am grateful.

-     -     -

Part 5: Catholic Guilt

The Lord is my light and my salvation
Of whom should I be afraid?
Psalms 27:1

A sign above the sink in the teacher’s lounge
warns that God is always watching.
This is why all the dishes are clean.

It is the same reason that we were taught
to always ask ourselves what Jesus would do
so we could “decide” were our values lied,
why I always sang in church,

why when I turned 13
and began wearing mascara to school
and rolling my uniform skirt,
my teacher thought it appropriate
to stop the entire class and inform me
that I didn’t have to try so hard
to get God’s attention.

I didn’t tell her that her God is not mine.
I couldn’t afford one more sin on my conscience.

I was raised to believe that all I have to do
is openly admit my sins, ask for forgiveness
and they would be cleansed.

So why did I spend my whole life
feeling so guilty for being human?

Sometimes I still find myself wondering
what Jesus would do in my shoes
and I remember the one day each year
that we spoke about the story of Him in the temple
how He screamed for the disrespectful people
to leave His presence.

So when she pretends her intentions are pure
as she tells me that she will never forget
the image of my great-grandmother
throwing herself on my great-grandpa’s coffin
and begging for his forgiveness,

when she reminds me that by then it was too late
and attempts to leave me speechless with a Bible quote
about how I won’t get into heaven unless I forgive,
I will picture this Jesus.

I will remember His teachings
that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated
and that if I were to be as hateful as you were
I would never expect to be forgiven.

I will remind myself of the stories my mother tells
of me sitting in high chairs at dinner time
and trying to show her and my father the angels
watching over us from the corner.

There is something more significant in this
than in the out of context Bible quotes,
passive aggressive notes convincing me
to clean my dishes or feel God’s wrath,
the overdramatic stories about our family.

And I cannot let guilt be the reason I try to forget
because I know that when I am standing
at the gates of my God’s heaven
He won’t have to ask why I never spoke to you again.

He will smile, knowingly,
remembering the time that He got angry
and cast the ignorant out, too.

So keep telling me
that I don’t need to try so hard
to get your God’s attention,

but my God knows what I’m going through
and He likes a little spunk,
would rather me stand up for myself
than feel guilty
for being what He made me.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Part 4: BULLY!

Part 4: BULLY!

When we had finally made it back inside the venue, the decision was made that it would be best if we all left so my dad, mom, sisters, Brandon and I got back in the car and drove home. 
The ride was silent. 

What do you say after something like that happens?
Ironically though, when we got back to my parent's house, my memory is mostly in phrases...

My dad
"I am so sorry."
"I hope you don't think this is a reflection on me."

My sister Karlee,
the one who had been crying,
who has Down Syndrome
and loved when her grandparents came
to watch her compete for Special Olympics,
at the top of her lungs,

We drove back to my apartment at school that night. I remember walking in to find my roommates and friends laying around watching a movie.
"How was the wedding?"
They asked enthusiastically.
I shook my head.
"I'll tell you about it later."
-     -     -

The days, weeks, and months that followed were by far the most emotional and trying of my life. 

Brandon and I fought, really fought, for the first time in our relationship. Every time the argument kept coming back to the same thing...

"But it was just my crazy grandma!"
"Yes, but that's the thing, its your grandma!
How can we be together if someone so important in your family hates me?"
I watched him slip into an intense period of self-doubt. I caught him in moments questioning not only our relationship, but his own self-worth. He spent most of his time in worry and I spent most of mine trying to assure him what had happened wouldn't define him or us.

To top it all off, I received daily emails from my family. I don't remember everything in them, but like I said before, my memory consists of mostly phrases...

From my lesbian aunt, who had been sitting with us that night:
When I came out to grandma she reacted the same way. When I was pregnant and then had a miscarriage she told me I deserved it for the lifestyle I chose, but now she supports me. She even tells the other seniors she swims with in the pool that she has a lesbian daughter.

From that same aunt in a different email:
Don't you dare come to my mother's funeral. I will personally escort you out.

From my aunt, whose daughter's wedding it had been: I can still remember the image of great-grandma throwing herself on great-grandpa's coffin, but by then it was too late. Please don't let it get to that point.
From that same aunt:
"For if you forgive me when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." -Colossians 3:13

From the lesbian aunt who shared her horrifying experience with my grandmother and promised to escort me out of her funeral if I showed up:
How can you call yourself a Christian?

My mother also received messages...

From my other aunt, who had for the most part stayed out of it:
Your kids were always the favorite. They loved them more than they ever loved my kids. How dare they choose to not speak with them. 

From the same aunt:
Why doesn't she just go and write another poem about it?

The sharing of these thoughts sent my brain into a frenzy. 

Why would sharing your similarly horrifying experiences make me want to welcome my grandmother back in my life? That just proves that she has done it before and will most certainly do it again.

What makes you think I would show up to her funeral? I plan to only attend funerals of people who I respected when they were alive. (I know that sounds horrible. I have felt guilty about this thought since the day I had it, but can't dispute it's truth.)

So are you saying I am like great grandma and will eventually be throwing myself over grandma's coffin, begging for forgiveness? I guess I just don't understand what I should be asking forgiveness for? 

How dare you bring my faith into this? I refuse to feel guilty for not welcoming her back into my life with open arms. Who are you to tell me that I am a bad Christian and how could you possibly know that I haven't forgiven her? 

I asked for them to leave me alone continuously. Some days, I avoided opening email because I was so afraid of the hurtful things that could be there. Eventually, though, I sent one response that stopped it all:

There is a big different between forgiving and forgetting. 
I forgave her a long time ago, but I will never forget what she did.
Whether I marry Brandon, or someone else, 
I would never willingly subject them, let alone my future children, to such hatred.
We have faced too many hateful situations from outsiders
there is no way we need to also hear it from family.
so I am making the conscious choice to forgive, but never to forget
and surround myself with people who love and support me.

I have not seen or heard from anyone on that side of the family since I sent that message.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Part 3: A Line Was Drawn

Part 3: A Line Was Drawn

I grabbed Brandon's arm and with my sisters, walked back to our table. It wasn't until I sat back down that I realized I was shaking. My mom looked over, wanting to know what had just happened, why we were all so upset. My dad sat smiling, obliviously watching the dancing.

As I began to explain what had happened, my mother grew angry. My father, realizing something was wrong, also wanted to hear. I reexplained, this time the rest of the table, my aunt, her partner, and my two cousins, listened in as well.

My mother was fuming. My father didn't believe it at first. My aunt shook her head. Her partner, a psychologist, claimed early onset dementia. Brandon sat quiet, eyes staring at the floor, a single tear running down his cheek, when suddenly his phone rang. It was his mother.

"I'm going to take this," he whispered, getting up from the table, and walking towards the door.

"I knew it," my mom said. "There was no way she actually wanted to say hello to him." Her face was red, the agitation growing. My father attempted to calm her down. My aunt's partner continued to try and explain away the outburst. I stood up.

"I'm going to make sure he is okay," I said, making my way towards the door. As I walked around the dance floor I came face to face with my aunt, whose daughter's marriage we were supposed to be celebrating. She hugged me immediately. I told her how sorry I was that we had ruined her day. She assured me it wasn't my fault.

I continued on to find him. At first, I didn't see him outside. I panicked, until I saw him pacing at the far corner of the parking lot. He was still on the phone with his mother, but I approached anyway, waiting. When he hung up I didn't know what to say.

I found myself apologizing again. 
It was my fault. 
My family. 
My request for him to get up. 
My naivety that led him to such embarrassment, 
such pain. 

We talked. 
We yelled. 
We cried. 
We yelled.
We cried. 
We questioned. 
We talked. 
We hugged. 
We decided 
to go back inside. 

At some point, my grandparents, my aunt who had been sitting with us at the table, my aunt whose daughter had just gotten married, and their sister had made their way outside. A mob we would have to walk through to get back in.

My mother was waiting inside the door, watching for us. As we made our way through the crowd, they yelled. All of them yelling. Some at us. Some for peace, but all screaming for something. Instantly, my mom came out the door, defending.

I don't remember exactly what they said to us, or what my mother said in our defense, but it was in that moment that a line was drawn. It had suddenly become all of them versus us.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Part 2: Setting Fire To The Olive Branch

I believe that when certain people or things begin to appear in your dreams, it means that your subconscious is trying to work through a situation in your life, much like I do with my writing. Last night, I dreamed about them. I think it was my cue to tell the next part of the story.

-      -     -

Part 2: Setting Fire To The Olive Branch

Fast forward about two months later. It was time for the first grandchild in our family to get married! It was my cousin and her fiance's wedding, which was going to be interesting anyway because my grandmother openly disapproved of him since they began dating.

Brandon had been invited and though I explained to him that he didn't need to feel like he should come after what happened, he assured me it would be fine. We got dressed up, drove out to my parent's house (because we were still away at college), drove with my parents and my sisters about forty minutes to a beautiful, restored barn, and got ready for a potentially awkward scene.

Much like the texting conversation, I only remember pieces of the ceremony and cocktail hour. Mostly, I remember images. Tea bag party favors. A bar set up in the silo. Old family wedding photos. A white distressed door adorning the altar.

For the most part, everything went as we had expected. My family whispered throughout the ceremony, complaining that it was too nontraditional. We drank cocktails to curb the awkward atmosphere. We did not speak with my grandmother because we weren't sure what to say. My grandfather, however, came right over to us and shook Brandon's hand.

I should not have assumed that this was the olive branch to restore peace again. Maybe it was one two many cocktails. Maybe it was the emotional effects of the wedding. Maybe it was something else altogether.

Where my memory really begins to pick up is the dinner. We were all seated at farm tables that were labeled with the type of tea our party favors were. The tables were lined up all along the walls, a dance floor in the middle.

We watched my cousin and her bridal party enter the room. We watched the typical wedding dances occur. It was during the father-daughter dance that my grandfather came over to our table. He told us that my grandmother was upset that neither I nor my sisters had said anything to her yet.

Feeling a certain obligation, I went over with my sisters to say hello. I was the first to hug her, leaning over and telling her how beautiful she looked. She was crying as my sisters hugged her next. We stood there awkwardly, when my grandfather suggested that I bring Brandon over to say hello.

Not really thinking anything of it, I went back to our table and said my grandparents wanted to see him. My mother, already predicting it wasn't a good idea, protested. He assured my mother it would be fine and followed me to where they stood, still surrounding the dance floor as my cousin danced with her father.

When we approached, Brandon leaned down to give her a hug. Just as he was reaching out his arms she threw hers up over her head and yelled, "Get away from me! You've ruined her!" It was in this moment, that set fire to the second attempt at an olive branch.

The people surrounding us, just trying to watch the dancing, stared. My sisters, still standing there looked on in horror. Karlee, my middle sister, began to cry.

Brandon took a shocked step back as she continued, "You have ruined her reputation! How dare you?!" His eyes fell to the floor and his only response was, "but you know that I love her." I think this was the moment I knew I would marry him...