Last week was a bad week. Last week the dysfunction in my family played front and center on life’s stage. Does that sound dramatic? Yeah, it does, I know. And I’m not a drama queen by nature, really. But last week was full of drama. And anger. And tears. And sleepless nights. It was Drama with a capital D.
My younger brother and I have never gotten along. Well, that’s not quite true. I think we had a few years where things were OK between us… from the time he was born ‘til he turned 6 or so… and then again when we were about 18 and 19. But it’s been downhill ever since.
I’m not sure exactly where or why things went wrong. We have very different personalities and outlooks – always have. He has always believed that I think I’m better than he is. I think he has always believed our dad loved me more than he loved him. He resents me for not being here when my dad was sick; for the fact that he shouldered a lot of responsibility he felt should have been spread more evenly. I can’t help any of those things. They are his perceptions… but I’ve learned that a person’s perception is his reality, regardless of what reality IS.
Over 20 years ago, I moved away from here. When I lived far away, it was easier to manage our volatile relationship. When he said or did things to hurt me or other people, I could walk away and be gone for months. The tension would dissipate over time, though a divide certainly formed. Hurt stays with you, doesn’t it? You can work around it; you can push it down; pretend it doesn’t affect you. But it’s always there. And it always comes back to haunt you.
When my marriage ended, I came back here and being around my family on a regular basis made it hard to ignore the differences between my brother and me. He is extremely conservative. Extremely. He supports George Bush, believes in the war in Iraq, voted for McCain, likes Sarah Palin, swears Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist, believes everyone in the country should be armed (and then there would be no crime), bought my 8-year-old niece a rifle for Christmas, tells racist jokes, listens to Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly, and is extremely proud of all of those things. He also believes that because I think very (very) differently than he does, I’m stupid and uninformed and I hate America. I believe he is an angry, bitter, intolerant, closed-minded person, who lives in a very dark place; who is willing to see the worst – certainly in me – and in the world as well. We cannot have a civil discussion about anything on which we disagree, which is pretty much everything. And I am as guilty of the animosity as he is. He brings out the worst in me. When we argue, it gets ugly and I get angry with myself for allowing him to push my buttons; for losing control.
Last week, things came to a head. Because of a silly situation that shouldn’t have even been acknowledged, let alone dwelled upon, he accused me of hurtful things; things that were completely ridiculous and false. He never bothered to ASK me about them. Willing to believe the worst of me, he simply assumed I had done something wrong. He called me a liar. And when I proved I wasn’t lying, he ignored the proof. He called me terrible names. He insulted my beliefs. He insulted me on a personal level. He seethed with hate and anger and resentment. He brought 30 years of hurt and pain to the surface. And he ended our relationship. He made it clear that it’s time to walk away.
I have wondered at times if I am the person my brother sees; the person he believes me to be. But then I think of my friends and my family who truly know me; who have taken the time to learn what is in my heart and my head. I think of the amazing people who love me; who trust me; the people who believe in me and believe the best of me; who see my faults and accept them as part of me, but who don’t define me by them. I think of those people and I know my brother is wrong… about so very many things.
And it makes walking away a lot easier.
So here’s to this week… and much less drama.