Sunday, December 16, 2012

The loyalty trap

Recently a friend tactfully and gently pointed out that the way I write about family isn't exactly standard. The kind of help I think I would get is fairly unusual. I couldn't name a close friend who has the kind of relationship I write about wanting. No one has family who just shows up to take care of you--that isn't how things work in America.

To this I reply: Ahh. You think that I have a mental model of a healthy family with boundaries. Hahahahaha. No. I come from a crazy enmeshed codependent family. What I talk about wanting is what I have seen. I get my longing for family from watching how people treated my sister having kids. Quite frankly folks worried about her being incompetent and immature. So they just showed up and helped. My mom did. My aunt did. My brother did. I did. Sometimes cousins helped too.

I've been watching a lot of movies lately trying to figure out what I mean when I say "white trash". I'm trying to figure out how to explain it. Some day I want to have a concise definition that really explains what it means to me. I'm not there yet.

Movies I have streamed on Netflix recently: Winters Bone, The Poker House, The Burning Plain. All featuring the same actor (Jennifer Lawrence) and I feel kind of weird about her going on to be an action star. I probably won't get around to watching the action movies any year soon. I care about the depictions of violence and family.

If you care about movie spoilers don't read the rest of this post. That is your warning. That said, I think all three of those movies would be useful for people who want to understand me. Of course none of them is exactly right but there are interesting elements in each.

In Winters Bone she is trying to track down information about her father. She has to ask nosy questions. She lives in the Ozarks and she has to pester extended kin that don't like to be pestered. She gets beaten by a group of women who do it so that her uncle can't get mad at the men. There is this strong pressure through the whole movie that the police are the enemy. Drugs. Drugs. Drugs. My family used to do drugs like that. These days everyone has prescription meds.

In The Burning Plain you see seemingly disconnected stories that eventually make sense. It's about mothers and daughters and feeling invisible and accidents and hating yourself and running away to deal with how much you hate yourself. Charlize Theron manages to look as empty as I feel. The way she self harms, the way she runs away because she is bad... yes. I understand that.

The Poker House is the most recent one. It is based on Lori Petty's actual life. (The chick from Tank Girl.) Holy shit for shoe shine. My mother never prostituted herself and my mother never did drugs in front of me, so I had a very different set up than this movie. Nevertheless I had similar levels of neglect. Similar kinds of being abandoned in unsafe environments. I thought the rape was extremely well done and non-graphic but accurate. That is the truth. That is how fast and how easy it happens. I actively dislike the fact that Lori Petty's take away message is "Don't hold a grudge--forgive people for hurting you because they were hurt too". To that I say: "Bullshit. I have children to protect."

When I gave up on my family I gave up a lot. I gave up a support network that hasn't worked in years and fucking loves hanging out with little kids. My family loves children under about eight. They are still cute and fun. Especially little girls. And my little girls are so angelic and wonderful that they would have done well.

But three people in my family have told me that my sister sexually abused them. I have fairly good reason to think that my kids would be good targets for her. The price of all the support is that you have to keep your mouth shut and understand that "people make mistakes" and ignore horrifying behavior year after year. If you need the support and you cannot survive without it this is the bargain that must be made.

I don't fucking need the support that bad. I can sit home and cry from being overwhelmed instead. It'll all work out. They are less overwhelming by the month. Shanna is much better at picking up after herself and my life is getting much easier on a day by day basis. Before too much longer they will actively make my life easier. They want to. They understand that doing so leaves me with more energy to do the things they want to do. Their mama didn't raise no fools.

My sister hasn't had a job since around when Shanna was born. She was laid off and lived off unemployment. I have the general impression that they are waiting for my mom's social security to come in. She's going to get my dad's because they were married long enough. I think that is totally fair and it means that her retirement will be the most financial security she has had since divorcing him. I hope she finally settles down. I hope my sister isn't molesting the kids she baby-sits. That's what she does with her time. She stays home and takes care of little kids so their teen moms can go to school and/or work.

But I know she is a pedophile. I know how inappropriate she was with me. We didn't have sex. But she did start telling me when I was four years old what I had to do to relax my anus so anal sex didn't hurt so much. It was actually a thing for me for years. I didn't manage to successfully have anal sex until Noah. (Violent sodomy as a small child doesn't count. No, I didn't relax enough to make it hurt less then either.) He was the first person who could work through that fear. A number of people tried before then. It always hurt too much and the hysterical crying freaked people out.

I felt specifically bad and like a failure because I was not able to have anal sex with the people who wanted to before Noah. I have had a lot of intense feelings of lack of worth because I was not able to do what people wanted. I was supposed to.

My sister is probably really who taught me this. I think she was the main consistent source of this. She talked about sex all the time and had sex in front of me and consciously and deliberately told me what I should go do.

I can't play the game any more. She's not ok. And my children do not deserve to be exposed to her.

But I'm losing out on cousins who fix my cars. And cousins who know how to help with plumbing. And all the free babysitting I want. And holidays full of people. And a niece and nephew who really need my help.

I can't play the game any more. I'm not at the bottom of the shit hill any more and I won't allow them to set the terms of reality. I just can't. But it is hard.

You know how I moved around a lot as a kid? I was often staying with relatives. I didn't know them well and I didn't stay long so I never got to know them... but they took me in. Over and over. My family takes care of children. They would have been very happy to know my children.

But it's a trap. It's all or nothing. You have to play the game and keep the silence or you are out.

I'm out.

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