Tomorrow it will be nineteen years since my father died. There are times when it seems like it was yesterday, there times when it feels like it happened a million years ago, and times when it’s as if it happened to someone else, in another lifetime. What’s more disconcerting to me is that in eleven days, my grandmother will be gone three years, and that seems as if it was truly yesterday.
I was all of thirteen years old when my father died. He was forty-one and he was gone in the blink of an eye. Unlike my mother and sister, I remember every moment of that night in vivid detail. I was sick for Christmas (so what else is new??), and everything seemed so normal that night. Looking back, I know it wasn’t and I know my father, whether consciously or not, knew he was going to die. When I think back on it, it’s like I’m viewing everything in high definition, with surround sound and surround SMELL. Everything is so clear, from the clothes we were wearing, to the sounds of the sirens, to the smell of snow on the air.
Somewhere in the midst of all the chaos that ensued after my father’s collapse, one of the Ya-Yas* managed to pull me aside and inform me that I needed to be strong for my mom and sister. Michelle was a baby, eleven years old, but still quite young. My mom was not then nor has she ever been “strong” (Sorry, Mom). You wouldn’t be either if you were abused as a kid, went from being dutiful daughter to being a dutiful wife and mother, and then your world was ripped out from under you at the age of thirty four.
So I had to be the strong one. That’s what I’ve been for the last nineteen years. I’ve always had to be. When Papa died in 1994, I had to be strong for Mom and Nanny. When Nanny died three years ago, I had to be strong for Mom and TJ. It’s only recently that I’ve allowed other people to be strong for me.
However, the fact that I’ve always been the rock has taken its toll on who I am. My mother has accused me of being cold. Others have accused me of being a bitch. One of the Ya-Yas* asked why I was so hard and unforgiving, especially considering who my father was. That man LIVED by “turn the other cheek”. I got sick of having my face slapped, both literally and figuratively.
Which brings me to my current dilemma. One of my cousins has gotten in contact with me, after a silence of three years. The last time I spoke to her was the day we buried our grandmother, and I swore to keep her out of my life after that. She has managed to piss off every single member of my family, except her mother, and we’ve broken ties with her. She has used many of us for her own means and lives as if she is entitled to an easy existence because her dad left her mom when she was four. Well, boo-hoo, baby. My father dropped dead when I was thirteen and I lived through the horrors of hell after that. So did my sister. Neither one of us have ever expected a hand-out. We WORKED for what we have, and we’re stronger women for it.
There are two things about this whole situation that unnerve me quite a bit. One is that my cousin and I used to be thick as thieves, and usually in as much trouble. She took me in off the street, she guided me through my pregnancy with Thomas, she was always there. And then *POOF* she became someone else overnight. She became manipulative and scheming, and yanked her children away from me before I could blink. She stopped calling just to chat and only got back in touch with me several years ago because of a crisis. Against my better judgment, I helped her then, and got bitten for it. I don’t understand her any more and I’m tired of being used.
The second thing that upsets me about all of this is that she thinks she can just waltz back into my life. Her mother clearly told her I was pregnant (although I’ve made it clear to my aunt that I want nothing to do with her daughter), and now she’s texting me about the baby. This pisses me off, because:
a) I do NOT have sucker tattooed into my forehead. Once bitten, twice shy, you know?
b) Where the hell was she when Greg left and I fell apart? When I was so far down the spiral, I couldn’t see the sun? Only GOOD news brings her out of the woodwork??
I would LOVE to have my cousin back in my life, but not this spoiled, dysfunctional brat who happens to be inhabiting her body. I have enough drama of my own, thanks. I don’t need her bullshit.
It’s Christmas, my dad’s favorite holiday, a time of forgiving, and family, and miracles. How come I find it so hard to find compassion and forgiveness in my heart for someone who was once my closest confidant and best friend?
*One of my mother’s five sisters