Missing the past

I’ve started to realize more recently how much I miss the past. I don’t have any real nostalgia for it. In fact, I barely remember any of it. What I am longing for are memories of and connections to my past. I think part of this comes from the fact that I wasn’t really close to anyone growing up, I had no siblings, my dad died 5 years ago, and my mother has blocked out the years of her marriage to him (and memories of me with it). I don’t have anyone left who truly remembers me in my day-to-day life. Aunts and uncles may remember me on the holidays, and a few neighbors might remember me playing outside, but  I don’t have anyone who can tell me what my day-to-day life was like, or to confirm what I remember.

I know that I wore glasses for about a year. I remember the eye doctor prescribing them but telling us that the prescription was so mild that my eyes may self-correct. I remember walking around the mall while we waited for them to be done. I remember picking a padded fabric case for them that looked very grown up and wished that they had something more colorful and “kid-like.” I also remember not liking to wear them, but at least they kept the headaches away. I only had to wear them at school and when I read, so none of my neighbors or extended family would ever have seen them. My mother doesn’t even remember. That is one of the memories that I actually have faith in…but there are others that I question so much.

My great-grandparents also knew me very well. We went to their house every Sunday for dinner (my mother and I did) when I was growing up. Again, they are both dead now. I feel quite a bit lost, like I’m floating around somewhere without anything to pull or hold me down to earth. It would be all too easy to tell myself that I don’t have to remember…that the past doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, it does matter. The past matters a lot. The past is why I have others. The past is why I struggle so much with life as an adult. If I want to heal, to be whole, to be healthy…I have to seek out the past, remember it, accept it, and release it. How do I trust memories of horrible things? How do I know that it isn’t just my vivid imagination conjuring things up for me? The therapist’s question would be: to what end? why? what do you gain? Does it matter if I can’t think of a good answer for any of those questions? Does my lack of answer mean that the memories are real?

I’ve also come to feel culturally bereft in the past few years. I have friends from a variety of cultures with such rich traditions, and I have so little. I’ve gone hunting for my heritage (of which I only know 1/4), and I have tried to learn and integrate some of those old traditions into my life. Most of my family history is a mystery to me. What little I do know certainly hasn’t provided me with any kind of strong cultural connection. What little we had died with my great grandparents. Suddenly I had an aunt making lasagna for Christmas and the whole family didn’t get together anymore. We never had much in the way of tradition, but even it all fell apart. What traditions do I have now? I get a Christmas tree every year, but that doesn’t ground me very much. I have American traditions, and I resent them. I hate that they have taken over my life and left me without any other kind of heritage to hold on to.

I spent some time reading about poor outcomes for bi-racial children. In general, their outcomes are no better or worse than those of any other group of children. One of the few predictors of a bad outcome was a failure to connect in a meaningful way to at least one of the contributing cultures. I am white, and have had all the benefits of living in middle-class America (until I got older anyways), but I still don’t have any more connection than if I’d stepped out of an orphanage with no clue about my parents identity. It has left me feeling empty.

How do I know who I am when I have no past of my own and no cultural heritage to ground me?

I’ve decided to ask my family hard questions and open old wounds. I know everyone would be happier if I would leave them alone with their buried mistakes. But I cannot do that!! I have to ask my grandmother if she still remembers the name of the man with whom she had a one night stand (my mother’s father). I have to ask my mother if she knows any more details about John Brown, the man she had an affair with who might be my own father. I have to ask her if she remembers any more details about my dad’s past (despite all of the lies that he fed her for years about it). I am going to ask about aunts and uncles and birth dates and death dates and marriages and divorces and children and life events and everything else I can think of to ask. My family won’t like it, and they won’t like me for doing it. They’ve all spent too many years pretending that everything is fine for them to willingly follow me down the road to truth. I don’t expect it to be easy, but I’m not willing to settle anymore for whispered lies and buried truths. I want to know where I came from. I need to know who I am.

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~ by Kj on June 16, 2010.

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