I’ve always been interested in my family history. This includes my immediate family, of 5 sisters and 2 brothers. I know almost nothing of their lives. I never did. It was as if we all lived in a house together but somehow managed to never see each other. At least I never felt they saw me. In fact, once (when I was still on contact with some of my siblings) my two younger sisters asked me where I was all the time. They don’t remember me being around. The sad part was I was always around. I didn’t date. My friends thought it fun to say they would pick me up on Friday and we’d all do A, and then not show up. I had a very lonely childhood, despite sharing a room with my two younger sisters. When I told them I was always around, they seemed surprised. They were the ones who were out and about. They had friends in the neighborhood their own age. It seems to me now that I had no friends my age. I know a couple of boys were, but I was older than the young kids, and too young for the older kids. Middle child thing, I guess.
When I left home just before my 18th birthday, none of my siblings said good bye. They didn’t make an effort to be home the night before I left. My friends did at least have a party in my honor. It was the kindest thing they had ever done for me. I had to get up about 5 a.m. the day I left. The only one who saw me off was my mother. I remember her standing there in this big, dark blue, fuzzy robe she had. She looked like a blue grizzly bear. There was a snow storm headed our way, so my recruiter picked me up and they put me up in an old hotel for the night, so I’d be close to the airport in the morning. No one called my room that night to say goodbye.
I kept up the delusion that we were a big happy family after I left home. The first Christmas I was away, I was in Okinawa, Japan. I spent months buying just the right gift for everyone in the family, plus my best friend from highschool. I don’t recall getting a single thing from any of them, with the exception of Christmas cards. But I didn’t care, Husband and I were wildly in love and we spent oodles on things for each other.
As the years went on, I became more disillusioned about my family. No one ever called me on my birthday. No one asked after my health. No one sent me a get-well card when I was unexpectedly hospitalized and had surgery. It’s like to them, I just did not exist. I would write long letters telling them everything we were doing. All the things I’d seen and done. I talked about my job, and books I’d read, and ask them dozens of questions. I tried so hard to be a part of their lives.
Then came the year of the family reunion. I went back to visit, was there two weeks. My one brother had us over for dinner once. And my other brother called. He didn’t want to come by since his kid was down with chicken pox or something contagious. I sat around and talked with my mother, and husband, son and I rented a car and visited my home state. We ate smoked chub along the shores of Lake Michigan, went to see the local sites, just the three of us. We had a wonderful time, but I was saddened and disappointed none of my siblings could take the time to have lunch or go shopping. They were all busy working. This visit had been planned for a year, and none of them even considered taking a day off work? One family member said, “I didn’t want to waste my vacation time staying home visiting family.” Only one sister has ever visited us in California. I’ve live here 30 years.
Then came the year of the split. My oldest sister accused my dad of molestation and worse. Most of you won’t remember but there was a whole rash of young women in therapy discovering all sorts of “repressed memories” about molestation, abuse, and satanic cults. My sister unfortunately had been diagnosed as one of those with repressed memories. My father, understandably, was horrified. The family quickly chose sides, and everyone but me sided with my dad. Not that I believed the stories R told, but because she was obviously “crazy” and needed the support of a loving family. Apparently, my family didn’t believe in supporting our mentally ill sibling. If they didn’t support R during this time, of all times, would they support me if I needed them? These were the questions I had.
It took some time, but eventually I stopped all contact with my family. First my parents, then my brothers, and one by one, my sisters, until all I had left were memories of what I thought of as happier days. For some siblings I have not seen or spoken to them in more than 25 years. The last time I spoke with my mother was 13 years ago.
Then last year I found one of my sisters on line. My sister R, the crazy one. She was even more deeply into her repressed memories, had in fact “False Memory Syndrome.” A title the psychiatric community coined when it was discovered that these “repressed” memories, often did not really happen. There was a lot in the news about the syndrome. I recall one woman sent her father to prison for the murder of her friend when she was 7 years old. She remembered the murder while undergoing therapy. Turns out therapists unintentionally would ask leading questions like: What’s the first thing you remember about your abuse” and similarly worded, leading questions. It has been determined that False Memory Syndrome (FMS) was caused by poor understanding of memory at the time and bad psychological technique. Years later the girl who put her father in prison, recanted her story and he was freed. I doubt the family was ever the same.
It turned out that my sister had become a therapist. She was deep into denying the existence of FMS and was constantly learning new quack ways of diagnosing and helping (mostly) women with repressed memories. The first thing R would ask me was “what do you remember.” I would tell her I remembered very little and liked it that way. I had chosen to live my life not dwelling in the past, but living in the present. We had hour-long phone conversations, wrote lengthy and frequent emails. For about 6 months. Every time R asked me about what I remembered, and she did so fairly consistently, I put her off with the same answer: I don’t discuss it and won’t discuss what I do or don’t remember.”
One of the key problems with FMS is the patients requirement that they must be believed. If their memories are not validated by some other source, it is emotionally very draining. It’s got to be hard for a sensible person to keep up this facade. For if someone were to prove one of these memories is wrong, their entire house of cards comes tumbling down. R had been living this way for 30 years, more than 1/2 her lifetime. If her house of cards fell now it would crush her, destroy her practice, and probably her marriage. It was imperative to be validated, and my sister felt I could do that. When I continued to refuse she simply stopped contacting me. If I called she would put me off with lame excuses. So, after less than a year, that relationship ended. I was inwardly devastated, but outwardly accepting. For more on FMS see: http://fmsfonline.org/ and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3143501/, to give you just a couple links. (Much of the information about this phenomena came about during/after the infamous McMartin Preschool trial of 1990.)
Now during this difficult time in my life, three of my sisters and one brother have been found via Facebook and the question has risen in my mind; should I contact them? It’s only been a couple of days, but thanks to my friends here at WordPress, I’m pretty sure I won’t. What could I possibly gain from people I didn’t know 30 years ago and know even less about now. I can make many assumptions based on what I do know. They are conservative Mid-Westerners, Catholic, and predominantly Republican. Exactly where would an Atheist, Buddhist, radical, peace mongering Liberal fit into their lives? Sure this could be hidden, but I’d tried hiding myself from R and that ended badly.
My therapist suggested I write some letters, and I will. They may not be sent, but then again, I could change my mind. I’m sure I’ll let you know what I ultimately decide. In fact, I will likely do my letters here (a warning for those of you who may not be interested).