One day during our decadent family reunion last month, I wrote:
I am not oblivious to the absurdity of taking my alone-time here in the middle of paradise, the ocean visible from our balcony, the whole family – all who are here – lounging in and around the pool, my littlest buzzing around like the fish she is, my big ten-year-old with her four-year-old cousin in tow. I’m not oblivious to the absurdity of my staying inside while the breeze blows on our balcony, while gleeful screeches and giggles waft up from the pool, while drinks and meals are mixed at the swim-up bar, while cousins and in-laws and steps get to know each other just a little more in safe, playful, non-threatening ways.
I am not oblivious, but family is complicated and I’m feeling a bit at sea, absorbed in a novel I’ve just begun about someone else’s complicated family emerging from grief, and the truth is, in my everyday life, I have such very little time alone.
Dad popped in for a visit, ready for his day while I sat in my pajamas. We chatted for easily half an hour, one-on-one. I wouldn’t have had that down by the pool.
Earlier, making coffee, waiting for it to brew, I had the most lovely, relaxed conversation with our eldest – breezier than our day-by-day chats, often held late at night or wedged between meals and work. I wouldn’t have had that either, if I’d gone down to be with everyone.
So here I sit, pen in hand, coffee beside me, next to my water camera and smart phone, while most of the family plays in the water below. This is where I want to be.
Family is complicated.
We live in Chicago. They live on the West Coast. We’re there for weddings, but never for courtship. We miss a lot of things.
On holidays, I’m reminded how little we know one another, and I find myself each time searching aimlessly for a way in, wanting to go deep, failing, becoming disheartened, giving up over and over again but never completely – never all the way – wishing, hoping, worrying over whether or not we will bond. They are close to each other and open to us, to me, to my partner, to our girls, yet I am somehow never able to connect, never able to meet them anywhere near halfway.
This time, it feels different. We feel different with one another. Closer. I am taking that in.
Sometimes I want to say to them, my family: My mother was never your matriarch. Where your mothers and matriarchs have taught you that family is everything, sticks by one another, helps and loves and supports one another, always and no matter what, I have to say this is an idea introduced to me later in life – in my twenties – by you. And my biggest fear when our matriarch passed was that I would lose all of you. Every. One.
I want to claim you now.
By showing up, being present, making it so. By calling, writing, making memories here. These are the ways we bond. This is how we stick.
So please do not mistake my absence this morning for a lack of caring. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But I need to rebuild inside myself. Stay quiet. Listen. Reflect.
I need to see you with fresh eyes from a place of security, of confidence, to approach you with ease, to accept what will or will not be, to make my desires known, to hear what you need or want, how you may like to play, to be present with you, to reach out and let go, knowing family always drifts back together, knocks up against each other again, forcing cracks and melding together in new places all the time because we are fused in the deep love our parents have for each other still, even now after one of them has gone.
As we lingered in the lobby on the last day, my brother Raúl said to me, “Roi, keep writing. I love reading your blog.” So here I am, and here it is, for you, for all of you: My family, who I love. With all my heart.