“So, did you get the presents I sent?”
“Well…. did you open them?”
“No. We threw them out unopened.”
“*sigh* Should I even continue trying with you?”
– Last discusssion I ever had with my father, over the phone, Christmas 1996
Dear biological family,
I’ve hated Christmas for years. I didn’t use to hate it. In fact, it use to be one of my favorite holidays. For years it was the day that I mourned being told to stop trying; that I should give up hope on ever being part of the family again. These days though I usually try to spend today alone, in quiet contemplation. Doing so over the years has transformed it for me, into a different kind of holiday.
You know, over the years, my perspective on this has changed dramatically. The first 5 years after I was declared “Dead to me”, I spent the entire holiday season in a deep despair or angry at you. Now? Almost two decades after escaping the toxicity of being in the family, I’ve moved through being angry about it to now being kind of indifferent. Because, really, you gave me the best Christmas present ever.
By not having you in my life, I was forced to grow into my own person. Without having the support people normally get from their families, I had to make due and figure it out on my own. If anything, this made me a vastly more interesting person and certainly a stronger one.
When you removed me from the family, you also cut off the pipeline of guilt and self-loathing. This, I think, is one of the better gifts from all of this. Because I didn’t have you tsk tsking, I was able to have adventures you could never dream of. I was able to live my life answering only to me, without guilt, without apology. Thank you for that.
I know you don’t think of what you did as a gift. I know, to you, it was punishment. Punishment for breaking the rules. Punishment for speaking out. Punishment for saying this is who I am, if you don’t like it… door. ass. try not to let one hit the other on your way out. And while I *know* I’m not entirely blameless for how things went down (I was awful and a kid and under a hell of a lot of pressure from multiple sides), the fact is, I’m much older now (and much grayer) and I realize that being mad at how you handled my transition doesn’t help anyone.
So, biological family of mine. Thank you. For two decades of freedom from you. For two decades of quiet holidays. For giving me the space to find my chosen family, those who love and cherish me (even if they’ll never quite get why I spend this day in my lab, working). For giving me space to heal from the damage that exists in our family, that you inherited just as much as I inherited my damage.
I hope that this time away has given you some of the same healing. I know none of this was easy for you and that you, like me, were navigating without a map, muddling around in the dark, damaged, blind, people walking about on rough terrain.
In closing, I was reminded of a valuable lesson this year. Life is really fucking short and can be revoked at any time. I lost a few good people this year. Some I knew very well and not having them around during this season pains me. Some, I hardly knew, but people I cared about did and seeing the pain their deaths caused was yet another reminder. Life is fragile and fleeting and being reminded of it so often this year, has given me the kick in the ass that I should probably say some things before it’s to late.
So, Mom, Dad, Sister, and yes, even you my Brother, who I’ve hated for so many years, I give you on this Christmas day, the only gift I can from so far away. My forgiveness. Because, no matter how much you wish it wasn’t true, I am your daughter and sister and my imperfections are a reflection of yours and without forgiveness, well… what can we ever hope for?
And while I have no overwhelming desire to have you in my life again (I may be able to forgive you, but trust is something that has to be built), I do want you to know that this last present is one I hope you open.