Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Choice of Friendship

Family above all.
Nobody loves you like your family.
Blood is thicker than water.
You'll always have your family.

You can choose your friends but you can't choose your relatives.
The phrase, "Blood is thicker than water" was created by undeserving relatives.
Nobody can get under your skin like family.

Catch phrases are a dime a dozen, but quips about family tend to take on a religious mania at times.  When I was growing up, my mom often spouted platitudes about the importance of family, how nothing was more important than family, how what happened in our house was nobody's business.  It was a family thing.

Thank heaven for the Incredible Hulk.  I was thirteen-years-old, torn between telling or not telling about my father's unfortunate (and secret) tendency to climb into bed with me.  I'd just gotten a new batch of comics at the drug store and was leafing through my Spider-man when I saw an advertisement with the Hulk.  He was smashing through something or other and his green rage caught my eye.  The advertisement was about being "hurt" by an adult, and encouraged me to tell.  So I did.  I told my mom. 

It didn't go quite the way I'd envisioned.  She blamed me and told me to keep my mouth shut.  But I never forgot the Hulk.  I never forgot my pleasure when someone was being mean to Bruce Banner and he went all green in a way that had nothing to do with being eco-friendly.  I thoroughly enjoyed the carnage of smashing that commenced, issue after issue, with that living, breathing mass of emerald fury.  The Hulk was my rage, my anger, and I was grateful that he cared enough to encourage me to tell my terrible secret, even if he was only a drawing.

In hindsight, Mom's reaction to my secret shouldn't have been the shock that it was.  That was a common thing in our house.  Keep your mouth shut.  All the beatings and black treacle gropings, the insults and vicious cruelty; none of those were anywhere near as terrible as betraying the family's code of silence.  Even today, knowing better, I still feel that ice water chill at the thought of "betraying" my family.  What loyalty can possibly link me to them?  They raped me, beat me, abused me, destroyed my siblings until they willingly poured themselves into the same poisonous mold...what possible reason can I have to care about what happens to them, or if I anger them?

I think the paradox of family is the fact that it is a paradox.  Even the crappy ones have good points.  I fondly remember fishing with my dad, helping him build something, playing catch in the backyard and bonding over stories about history and nature.  I remember my mom, praising me for something, playing card games and peek-a-boo, taking me to the movies or listening to my long-winded descriptions of comic books.  My brother, my sister...all with equally fond memories sprinkled throughout the bad ones.  We bonded, and I felt the truth behind the phrase "blood is thicker than water."  That bond, that love I had for them, kept me in thrall, just as it had our screwed up families for generations.  We each forged a new and willing link in that awful, endless chain of abuse.

You can choose your friends but you can't choose your relatives.  Somewhere during my late thirties, that phrase took on a whole new meaning to me.  When I first heard it as a teenager, I laughed and said, "No shit, Sherlock" and left it at that, cynically amused and contemptuous as only a teenager can be.  Why state the obvious?  As a mother in my early twenties, I again said, "no shit" but this time, there was no cynicism.  There was only misery.  I held the misery opinion for the next fifteen years. 

Then something happened.  I removed myself from miserable relationships.  It was as simple, and as difficult, as that.  Being an insecurity addict, I had surrounded myself with the warm and comfy horror of what I'd always known.  Security is security, even if it's awful, and the unknown is definitely not secure.  I'd married a selfish, controlling, contemptuous man and spent years beating myself up about it.  I stayed in the marriage as a punishment for my own stupidity in marrying such an asshole in the first place.  My own self hatred allowed the mistreatment of my children, my friends, and myself.  I never allowed physical abuse and was somewhat smug and proud of that dubious accomplishment.  I thought in terms of fists and dicks in the wrong places as the only real unacceptables, and was blind to the damage a cruel tongue can produce.  I had become a link in that eternal chain.  It was only after my daughter's life was in danger and my son had turned to drugs that I realized I had to get out, and get out immediately.  Another ten years would go by before I had all the mess cleaned up and only myself to take care of.

But like a soldier after war, something happened in the quiet solitude.  I moved away from all my relatives.  A friend of mine got an interesting prescription from her doctor, which I've thought of often over the last few years.  She had a family so similar to mine, they could have gone bowling together.  They devoured her until there was little left but a hank of hair and bone which limped into her psychiatrist's office.  He listened to her stories, took notes, and prescribed an unusual remedy.  "Now, I've studied your case, and I want you to take this prescription and don't deviate from the instructions whatsoever.  This is very important.  Do you understand?"  My friend nodded and reached a hand out for the prescription, thinking it was a new bottle of something.  When she took the piece of paper, it had one sentence written on it: Move at least one thousand miles away from all family members.  That's how I met her.  She'd moved from California to New York one month after he gave her the prescription.  In the two years since then, her depression vanished, her health problems disappeared and she'd made friends.  Loving, generous, magnificent friends.  I seem to have stumbled onto the same solution.  I moved not quite so far away from all my family, but far enough.  I have many friends now; people who love me for me, not for what I can do for them.  They don't want to eat me, or devour me, or control me.  They actually care about my welfare, my future, my happiness.  That balm is like nothing I've ever experienced, and it came about by the simple act of breaking a chain.  The simple and all but impossible act.  So yes, I've chosen friendship over family loyalty.  Respect and loyalty must be earned, even by blood, and poison is poison, even if it's people you grew up with. So anybody out there reading this, don't sell yourself short for someone who doesn't care about anything but their own reputation or interests, no matter who they are.  Bad relatives are just an accident of birth.  Go out and find new ones, and remember the other old adage:  The phrase "blood is thicker than water" was created by undeserving relatives.  Heal and become deserving of yourself.  If I can do it, after all this time, anybody can.  Good luck.


  1. I just had the urge to beat your family with a stick, plus taser a few ex-husbands while still going "awe, that's sweet"

  2. Really Great! So honest, I have someone who can benefit greatly from this entry. I will have them read it.

  3. I like that. I have done it in my head.
    I have now a family of my own choosing, it still isn't easy but hey what it?
    I have been reading even if I am quiet, things have been a bit hard here but nothing super me can't handle...
    *sigh* it is what it is.

  4. Thou are god, thou art beautiful, thou art supercalifragilisticexpialidotious.

    Even if the sound of it is something quite atrocious.

    I've been in a balm of love and friendship for the past year: gaping wounds have been healed and infection's disappeared. I too have chosen my non-toxic environment of friends and no, it ain't easy. But it is better. Hang in there and be strong. Thanks to everybody for their comments. Got a belly laugh from the taser comment.
    Love, R