15 January 2011

End of The Line: “When a Branch of Your Family Tree Breaks”

Part Twenty-Five

Studies show that when a woman is shown images of babies their pupils dilate. I have never experienced that sensation but know when I see furry images of a floppy-faced, innocent eyed puppy, my mouth breaks into an immediate smile and my heart is filled with joy. Like when The Grinch is converted by the unconditional love and compassion of little girl Who?, in the town Whosville he’s taken Christmas away. An x-ray of his heart shows it expanding and beginning to pulsate with love and joy, while the sparkle in his eyes give way to half mooned grin. That’s how I feel when I see dogs.

Was that the prediction that I would never bear children? Or was it because me and three other sisters were molested for a three-year period all under the age of 12 by our ex-stepfather and his 16 year-old pedophile son?

When that psychic scar penetrates your entire life---with a secret that distorts all your romantic relationships. If by your 30’s you don’t allow it to surface into the rage it’s festered---then we turn on ourselves.

As my older sister Karen did with hard drugs introduced to them at 16 by a street hustler twice her age. He infiltrated her life preying upon that protection she craved since the death of our father when we where six and nine. The drugs numbed out the childhood pain, and glazed over the domination, exploitation and beatings he’d give her to keep her submissive and fearful of leaving him.

In her 20’s her love for heroin was stronger than the addiction she once had for him. And she parlayed that for a new life for herself with other functioning addicts that didn’t abuse her. But it was only time before the drugs would call her home….

At 28, while she was going through a period of sobriety she said to me she longed to be someone’s wife, at the same time her demons clawed at her and wished she’d contract AIDS and die. She married a pharmacist with a drug habit and access to pharmaceuticals….and with all her fortitude attempted to salvage her once reckless life. But the mantras of death had already begun to weave their web and she developed full-blown AIDS Easter of 1987. She died that May at the age of 29.

Tormented by sexual abuse of my ex-step fathers hand, Karen partied hard and lived recklessly until her body couldn’t withstand the violation it absorbed when she was 12. I watched as she psychically willed herself to death.

It left four sisters and a brother to grant my mothers wish of grandchildren. The latter would be removed from carrying on the name since he was gay. The future rested in the wombs of the four remaining.

When she died I was 27 and the loss shook the foundation of my holy trinity as she would never reach her 30th birthday and I would ultimately outlive her. Her life was frozen mid-stream---her image burnt into the Kodak paper in my mind. Like a caveman in search of a fossil---I clung to her personal effects as remnants of a life half lived, but had evaporated into the ethers. Her remaining belongings reduced to a few cardboard boxes were sifted through by the family---like wiping the dust from the rubble of a gold mine---in search of the one nugget of artifact that extracted the totality of her life. That would essentially invoke an image, thought or feeling of her.

Now only I was the locket of our shared childhood of bumps and bruises, lies and betrayals, jealously and envy, love and empathy. I inherited what was and had the power to change what would be for my own life.

I stopped drinking, getting high, partying, quit smoking and became celibate. I lost the support of my intoxicated weekend friends and turned inwards for the first time in search of myself, my pain, my God.

As the calendar months flipped by, so did the decades. As I celebrated the milestones of 30, 35, 40---I marked the loss of what could have been for her. Having come from a family of five girls and one boy, after our fathers death in 1966, our innocence was sacrificed for the pleasures of out ex-step brother, as three of us had suffered sexual abuse by him. It would permeate every facet of our life, and forever stain our ability to love, trust and experience intimacy with a man.

So damaged, I observed each of us girls become abstinent and relinquish our maternal clocks. While I feel the pricking of turning 50 in a few months I am acutely aware I am childless. Having lost my mother in 2002 at the age of 72 I am now parentless---officially an orphan. Being emotionally maimed by abusive relationships until I was in my mid 30’s---I find myself spouseless. The psychological injuries obtained stunting my ability to love again---trust again. As I’ve resolved it’s too late for me.

My family jests my apartment is so over run with memorabilia and collectables---that when I die they dread having to dismantle my tangible life. Threatening me and my objects of affection with a garage sale or much worse the dump. As I scan each intricately placed photograph, shelved Norman Mailer books and an assortment of his framed letters of encouragement and sketches to me, souvenirs from my world travels and longings for Italy hang side by side, religious artifacts, and wall of achievements---my eye rests on a Bible sized, Italian leather bound coffee table book, with a cover etched with a trio of naked female figures.

Within the parchment pages is my New England Family Tree dating back to 1834 and 1844 in Naples, Italy, 1616 Scotland, 1711 Belfast and 1847 County Cork, Ireland. My fathers and mothers lineage ends with me and my siblings.

Having four childless and spouseless sisters prepares us for a life of spinsterhood. But even more jarring is there’s no one to tell the family stories to, no one to leave the genealogy with, and no other generation who’s interested in my baubles, much cared for chronological photo albums of 25 years---all of which will one day lay on a wobbly aluminum table in a dusty thrift shop. Being picked over by the pelicans of the future.

Like those before me who beloved trinkets line flea market tables or antique shops because their family found no attachment or they had no one living that would carry on their memory. No one to leave their every hope and dream, shared laugh and tear, no one to mark the life they had lived.

It brings sadness to my heart, as I mourn the life I’ll leave behind. The life that will ultimately vanish into the incinerator of death. The only value of my achievements will be in the money I leave behind. There will be plenty of takers for that…. But my grandmothers cameo pendent and engagement ring, my grandfathers communion ring, my fathers WWII dog tags, my mothers Mother’s ring and ruby, the jewelry from the chapters of my own life---will they lay encased in a darkened, antique store marked with white price tags? Will they strike a strangers fancy and find a home ‘round their finger or neck….their history forever dormant.

Or do I have all those keepsakes buried with me, or thrown into the crematory with me? Is it vulgar to ponder adopting a teenage boy and girl to selfishly carry on my Family Tree, and who will mourn my passing by cherishing my volumes of poetry, journals, books, manuscripts and other possessions? Or do I spend the last segment of my life distributing what I’ve amassed over the years to my friends? What will come of my mothers belongings that I horded after her death? The white chest stacked with magical memories and doo-dads laced with her fragrance of “White Shoulders”….the contents and their past only sentimental to a loved one. Will it be impersonally bulldozed into a landfill for seagulls to nest?

After her death is when I became more entrenched in her lineage---the parts she kept secret or long ago forgot. I uncovered generations of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins she intentionally detached from decades ago when she was a young bride in her 20’s. The reasons were hazy. Her estrangements made us, her six children suffer, as we knew no one else except each other.

The floodgates of her private heritage opened up with merely a brief tug. My desire to know who she was, and who I am, brought forth a domino of living great aunts, great uncles, cousins, and childhood chums who happily resurrected her life by recalling moments with her. Within two years I’d been introduced to branches of my mothers side back three generations to Italy, and three to Ireland. As I became engulfed in the family history I longed for while she was alive. I saw a pattern in the Irish genealogy beginning with the seven children born in early 1800’s---none ever married.

I noticed every generation from then on, whether in a family of two or seven siblings; one, two, three, five or six of them within that family never married. Including my own. And I wondered had their families fallen victim to abuse or dysfunction? Just as I noticed numerous drowning from boat or water accidents over the centuries in my lineage, should I beware of the water? Is it better if a family not reproduce and die-off---rather than perpetuate the dysfunction? Was our need not to procreate a good thing for our lineage? As the torment on my mothers side will end with us. Could it be our mission, our destiny is fulfilled, our spiritual work complete? Or had it been in our bloodline----a prophecy effecting certain family branches like mine?

The answers I may never uncover, and it may just be a destiny that no matter how I play tic-tack-toe with my life----the end result is the same for my family: no heirs. At some point I have to come to peace with my inability to pass along all that is precious to me. So along your journey if you come across a bauble, a trinket, old pictures or a journal along the way and find my name etched somewhere----please buy it and give it life----knowing that it came from a girl without a tree.

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