On Family

Five or six years ago, I was at a pizzeria with my father and little brother, Dan. A large group had arrived shortly before us, so the service was crap. We were hungry and waiting. Dan, who must have been seven or eight at the time, was not dealing well with his impatience. He was starting to give a sort of show, advertising his unhappiness. He sounded mournful sighs and squirmed around in his chair. My father was doing his best to placate him until our food arrived, but we hadn’t even been given breadsticks to calm our hunger. Dan was loud. People were staring. The big party that arrived before us was being served.

So, Dan has trouble communicating. And he can’t deal with not getting his own way. And when I say he can’t communicate, I really mean he can’t speak in more than fragments. And when I say that he can’t deal with not getting his own way, I really mean that he is essentially incapable of empathy. Dan is autistic.

And here’s an admission: I tried, sadly, to pretend that I didn’t know my family, that we weren’t related. I sat quietly, leaned back coolly in my chair, and refused to help my father with Dan. It was a decision. My dad asked what was wrong. So I told him:

“I’m embarrassed.”

And my dad was just quiet. He gave me this look that I think only parents can give with effectiveness. You know the one I mean. And you know the feeling that comes with it.

Dan has a different mother than I. She is always scheming to gain full custody of Dan, by hurtling myriad absurd and false accusations towards my father. Once, she filed a completely bogus restraining order against him so that he could not bring Dan home. The brash insult of it. The hopelessness of it. Pathetic and cruel woman.

Here’s an aside: I once fell in love with this girl who lived very far away. She liked me, too. We were sort of like in a relationship whenever we both happened to be back home from college, but on a weird hiatus otherwise. And she had better things to do than take care of some (love||home)-sick kid’s mental health. And I was really unfair. I made my happiness entirely relient on her, and made sure she knew it. I perceived her as my consistency, my savior, at a time when everything was changing and lonely. Eventually, I managed to coerce her into trying a long-distance relationship. We would give this experiment all it demanded for two weeks, and make a real decision after that. The night of the fourteenth day, she made out with her ex-boyfriend. Something tells me she did it just to get out of this stupid relationship. Fair enough.

But I was crushed. This was the girl on whom I had placed, idiotically and cruelly, my entire faith: in myself, in her, in relationships at all, in humanity. So much of this contrived facade, this broken mode of thought, was rapidly destroyed. Certainly it was for the better, but it fucking hurt. I was confused and alone and every other cliché thing I could have been.

But here: when Dan’s mother tried to gain full custody of him by filing that restraining order, whatever pain I had felt because of that girl was rendered tiny and invisible. I first felt a void, or the beginning of the realization that you may never see someone you love again. Then I felt a rage, like, is this woman seriously trying to take away my fucking brother, like she was telling me I couldn’t ever see him again? The restraining order was not just an attack against my father, but against my entire family, and against me personally. And this is hard to explain.

I think that, while growing up, people tend to take family for granted. I obviously did. This is what it took for to realize what these people actually mean to me. This is a family member I felt publicly embarrassed by. A brother on whom I do not rely, as I do on my parents. I was honestly surprised that when faced with the prospect of losing him, I simply crumbled. That’s how I learned what family means to me.

The judge quickly realized that the mother’s restraining order was frivolous. Dan is still with my family. And when the food finally did arrive, they had gotten all of our orders wrong, but we didn’t really care at that point.

Listening to Dan Deacon’s Spiderman of the Rings.

1 Comment

Filed under Navel-gazing, Story

One response to “On Family

  1. Interesting. There is this thing in linguistics called pragmatics. The professor usually gives this example: “If someone asks you how many children you have and you reply “two” when in fact you have five, are you lying?” Everyone in the class answers “Yes!”. The professor then goes on to explain that it is not a lie because if you have five children, you do have three children. Technically, you are violating a rule of discourse (there’s a point here, I’m getting to it). I long agreed with those students until the day I realized that when people ask me how many siblings I have, I always reply “I have four sisters.” Embarrassment is one reason I don’t mention my sibling who has Downe’s syndrome, but there are many more. Sadness, confusion, protectiveness, privacy, perhaps even a diffuse sense of anger. We are complicated creatures. Even you.

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