By Jessie Wayburn
The following is a jumble-story of my family. It isn’t cohesive or linear. If you follow along, you may get a taste of what it’s like for me to experience life. Maybe you will see your experience in mine. Maybe you will see a new side of reality. I share this in the hopes of addressing the hard topic of family at a time of year when a lot of us are choosing to stay away from family for the first time. I have either had to choose to stay away or had unwilling separation, and I’m here to tell you you can get through it.
If I could, I would tell my father right now: “I will never know how much I could miss you. Thanks for the good hair.”
Every so often, I have to remind myself of how many siblings I have. I am the oldest of four sisters, two of whom I did not grow up with, and one of whom I did. I’ll call her my homesister. I have met one of my two half sisters from my father, both with whom I’ve been friends on Facebook for several years – since his death three days after his birthday, three months after I met him on my 27th birthday. My newest sister and I threw our father’s ashes, which promptly blew back on us, off the Golden Gate Bridge. I haven’t met my other sister. I wonder if I ever will.
For whatever reason, I recently googled the name of the father of my homesister. As a half-sister, she looks nothing like me, and we are complete opposites. Shitty confession: I think I genuinely hated her when I was young, though the adults around me assured me I would grow to love her. She was born when I was 5 and a half. I did say to my mom that we should put her in the garbage can because I was made to put her copious diaper trash out in the hirby kirby, and I legit thought it would be more efficient-slash-I really-hated-the-change-in-my-home.
The real reason I wanted to throw out my baby homesister was that I felt abandoned. Again. I realize now that I was abandoned at least twice in my early life: first, passively/actively, by my father, and then actively/repeatedly by my mother. I deeply love my homesister now. The adults were right. I was a typical, shitty, only child. I probably considered myself an only child most of my life, mostly because we were treated so very differently. Honestly, I haven’t really processed that yet, one trauma drama at a time, please.
Because I corrected my mother when she texted me, “Happy anniversary yyyyyy [sic]! Hope it was a good one! Love you!” on the first anniversary of my wedding after I had told her I was getting a divorce, she didn’t text me again for four months. She hates being corrected so much she won’t check on her offspring going through a trauma. She’s gonna hate this post. Hi, mom. I do love you. You are hard to love, but I appreciate the thought. I hope you find happiness. I hate text messages. Since then, we’ve spoken a couple times, but it’s tersely cordial, and we don’t joke. We are both funny as hell, can you imagine being so hurt by someone, you hide your funny?
My conception story is problematic. Most people I tell this to don’t know their own conception stories (if you can, ask about your own, but prepare yourself). According to my mom, she was raped when she was 30. She told me that when I was 12, which was almost 25 years ago, so let’s just say I am able to put myself in her shoes more specifically now (if, like me, you can’t do math, I’m writing this at 36 and a half). According to my father, and my mother’s story she told her family, they “got drunk and screwed.” I think both stories are true. A yes that turned into a no, maybe during intercourse, maybe post-event. I definitely believe my mom did not want to become impregnated, she let me and my homesister know that repeatedly, actively, that she would, in fact, send us to a children’s home if we didn’t behave, that she never wanted kids in the first place, but she doesn’t believe in abortion. (Who even knew how to behave when the rules/reality changed unpredictably?) So, my foundational understanding of my existence is that I am essentially unwanted, foisted upon a mentally ill mother who was generous enough to let me, the daily reminder of a rape, live under her roof. See? Problematic. I have a very good, patient therapist.
My father’s other two daughters grew up in a lovely, middle-class, nuclear family. He got clean and became a beacon of light in his community, as evidenced by the 400+ people at his memorial. It’s hard not to compare , and of course, their lives weren’t perfect, but it sounds like they did their best, which seemed to be good enough most of the time. My younger homesister and I continue to be emotionally bludgeoned by the generational trauma. I know my mom did her best, but in a lot of instances, that wasn’t good enough. It’s hard to sit with that reality with compassion. I do feel anger. I do feel grief. I do feel resentment. I struggle to trust the feelings of love from others. But I don’t judge.
So how do I get through this half-forced orphanhood? I mentioned my therapist. Quarantine necessitated a dog, who is now my kid. I also find family in my friendships. I have dearly beloved extended family, and of course, my homesister. It’s all given me tools to survive this wild world.
So, as I wrap this up, I wish that your unwilling distance from your family gives you something you didn’t know you needed, and that you notice you can survive.