An Open Letter To My Extended Family

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So I’m not going to pretend like I know your situation. And I’m not going to pretend like I understand the implications of adulthood; although, I do know that what it means to be adult is entirely based on subjective, independent definitions of the word, so my guess literally would be as good as yours as to what defines a “grown-up”. But I do know how I feel about you. And I do know what I think of you.

I do know that I utterly resent you and unconditionally love you all in the same flutter of emotion when someone brings you up. I want to all at once say how extremely cool you guys are and how fucking deeply you annoy me. It’s more of what you’ve done to me indirectly, and then to my parents directly, who then pass it along to me directly. So then I get to go ahead and digest two scoops of your bullshit. It’s more of what you refuse to do for kids, your sister (my mother), yourself. It’s the “Emley” gene that you somehow managed to inherit, but it skipped my mom, so I’m guessing you probably have it in excess. Maybe it’s more like a condition, or a disease, where you’re psychologically or emotionally incapable of taking responsibility for yourself. Maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe it is. Where you spend all of your energy covering up your fuck ups, rather than learning from them. Where you literally speak like a baby to deflect the serious questions. Where you spend all of your money on food you don’t share and on cigarettes you swear you won’t smoke.

I have friends over. They want me to show them my bedroom, like normal teenagers do.

I want to say that I wish I could. That, unfortunately, an entire family of five and their unwashed, poorly-mannered dog are in there now. They’re eating Cheetos three at a time and wiping the orange residue on my delicate lace duvet. They’re throwing half-eaten lollipops under the bed, where they’ll be stuck to the carpet for two years without anyone caring enough to take care of it. They will be — I shit you not — spitting chunky black chewing tobacco on my painstakingly hand-decorated faux-print pink-and-white harlequin diamond-printed walls, which were my fourteenth birthday present. I guess it makes no difference to them.

But instead I say something like, It’s a total mess in there, let’s hang in the kitchen. Or my sister’s room, or the bathroom. Anywhere but there.

Because you’d be in there fighting and crying and laughing and smiling and whispering and shouting and being a family. And then you’d invite us into your little world that used to be my little world, which is still technically a room in my parents’ house. I feel like I should have some special right to be there but it’s not mine anymore so instead I’m the one that feels invited and included when you decide to open your little world to my lowly self, which admittedly feels good. I feel frustrated and pleasantly embraced all at once. They sing and play Scene It and know cool magic tricks and random facts about movie stars and cooking. And I do love my cousins. I do.

After starting high school, I never had a room of my own for more than maybe six months at a time. I think that particular six-month stretch only came around once, during the period squeezed between graduation and college. Either I slept in my sister’s bed, or my brother’s floor, or on a cot in my dad’s office. I was perpetually packing an overnight bag for myself, belonging nowhere in my own house, always temporarily setting up my nightly spot in the guest bathroom. I was okay with it — I had to be — and was also definitely not okay with it, and was not okay with myself being okay with it.

My litter sister, Emily, is allergic to your cigarette smoke. And even though I was kind of jealous that she never was the one to give up her room, I always felt a little badly that she had to share the basement you. I wanted her to be the one to have to give up her sanctuary and at the same time I didn’t, because I’d rather be the one to suffer this purgatory. But then again, you always smoked right outside of her window. So it was a lose-lose.

My first instinct is always anger. If I was less introspective I might call it hatred. It’s anger. Loathing, maybe. I guess my first thought is how deeply I despise what you are. Not who you are, what you are. It’s different. I love who you are. You’re my family — extended family — and you’re fun and creative and hilarious and sweet. I despise what you are. You are lazy and irresponsible and draining and infectious. But then I always catch myself, because I think, she can’t help it. I think, she’s family. I think, I love all of my cousins and uncles and aunts unconditionally. I think, she probably has a really good reason. I think, I’m the worst human being for judging her so quickly. But I know that I’m right.

I’m jaded, though. You fucking scarred me. I won’t ever forget it. I mean I’ve forgiven it, but the fact remains that it ever happened at all. I remember when you marked two forty-dollar pizzas that you went on to store in our fridge, reading “Edwards Family: Do Not Eat. For Emley Family Only” while Dad literally shopped and cooked for five extra mouths every night. While Dad paid the utilities with five extra bodies soaking up our heat and air conditioning and showers and electricity. While Dad worked from 5am and stayed out until 8pm because he didn’t feel comfortable in his own home for two years. Who would feel comfortable alone with you? You invaded my house and did not give a single regard to your status as a guest. You physically and emotionally drove my dad away from me and Emily and Josh and my mom.

I despise you. All of you. You took from me relentlessly, and expected me to treat you as a guest, to treat you with the respect and grace of a good hostess, just because you smiled and joked with me all the while? Bullshit. You deprived me of a bedroom, of any kind of sanctuary or hideout, for three of the most private, confusing, critical years of my adolescence. You drove my dad away, and you constantly made my mom decide between her bond with you and her bond with me. You took money from her pocket that should have gone to my sister’s senior trip or my tuition.

And you laughed and drank and smoked outside of Emily’s window the whole time.

Where you are in life is entirely reflective of your own choices. Do not make my mom take responsibility for your mistakes. Stop making excuses. Please get off of the disability checks and guilt trips and just go back to your goddamn job already, because I know you can. Some people can’t. But you abso-fucking-lutely can.

You lost your house. You lost your house to a foreclosure onset by an addict who smoked away your money and onset by your own refusal to show up to work everyday. Or any day. And you’re going to make my mother feel guilty about that? My mother, who raised two responsible, compassionate and hardworking, independent and fucking capable girls and a generous, clever, caring little boy? My mother did everything. She sacrificed for Josh and Emily and me. My father sacrificed for Josh and Emily and me. And you do realize that you have the same roots, the same parents, and the same opportunities that she does?

Do you realize that my mother is not your mother? Did you know that you are not a child? You have no right to act like one, or to liken your situation to mine. You are not twenty anymore. You are not allowed to equalize your hour-long, half-assed job hunt with my mother’s fourteen-hour workday at the office while she’s paying your rent. Do you understand? I believe you when you say you know hardship, I do. But do you know hard work? You are not allowed to talk to me about my trip to Spain and my time abroad because oh-my-god you can’t wait until you get to go when you finally make a paycheck and oh-my-god are you serious? Aren’t you supposed to be putting that money toward adult things, like, I don’t know, FOOD? RENT?

What is family? Are they the people we have to love? I’m talking extended family. Aunts and uncles and cousins who have never done anything but spit black chewing tobacco on your 14th birthday present. So I mean, I don’t have a credit score yet, and I’m still in college, and I don’t pay a gas bill and I’m only 21. But at least I know how to grow the fuck up. I’m a first-generation student who worked her ass off to end up at a top 5 university. I bought myself a car by working 35 hours a week while a full-time student. I mean, I’ve had a job since I was 16. I’ve never not worked since, with the exception of my six months abroad.

I want you to know that I don’t understand you. I do not sympathize with or for you. And you need to know that I do not respect you. But I also need you to know that I love you, very much. TC Mark

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