The Other I

September 17, 2010

Missing persons

Filed under: Family — theotheri @ 2:46 pm
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Since I was born and raised as a Catholic in mid-west America, I quite possibly know more people who come from large families than the average person.

Large families have a good provenance in America.  Little Women and Little House on the Prairie would make you think that love and support and ingenuity cements large families together, providing a wealth that money can’t buy.

I am  someone who has been tremendously fortunate in the opportunities life has strewn in my path, and someone who still gets great delight and enjoyment from my family now spread across the United States and beyond.  But I am nonetheless convinced that large families, even the best of them, have vulnerabilities and wounds and pitfalls that smaller families often avoid.

As I talk to my friends these days about what has happened in their families and compare them to mine, again and again I find that someone has disappeared.  At least one member of the family found living in its tight grip was intolerable.  Sometimes they have disappeared altogether:  “The last time anyone heard he was in Oregon,”  or “J says she moved to Amsterdam.”  Sometimes they have just cut themselves off, avoiding all family get togethers from funerals to weddings to anniversary celebrations.

This happens most often, I think, because you can get squashed in a big family.  You can get squeezed out and suffocated or pushed into a role that destroys you.

I know how heart-breaking it is when a sib cuts him or herself off.  I speak from experience.

But I think sometimes it is not an unhealthy thing to do.  I think sometimes someone finds their role in the family brings out the most neurotic, the most self-destructive, possibly the most cruel aspects of their personalities.

And though it can’t be any easier to walk away than it is to be cut off, perhaps it does often represent a healthy anger, a refusal in the end to be totally defined by this immensely powerful block of people called family who think they know you so well.  And who, with all the best intentions in the world, keep stuffing you back into that bag where you are slowly suffocating.

I was the oldest sister in my family with one older brother.  I had a lot of room to breathe, to be special, to be encouraged, and to feel self-confident.  But as I look down the line, it is possible that some of my younger sibs were not so fortunate.

I know I’d be quite a different person if I’d not been number one or number two from the very beginning.

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