“I was so blessed to have such a great, horrible experience. Without that horrible experience, I would not be here.”
“People Who Care From a Distance”
Fiction. Based on a True Gathering.
By Starry Teller
All journal entries are inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
Growing up, my absolute favorite thing in the world was spending time with my extended family. My parents are each one of six siblings, so my sister and I never had a lack of cousins or aunts and uncles. Usually we all celebrated Christmas on our own, so Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday—we’d all be together. Of course, we tried to spend time with each other for birthdays and anniversaries and graduations as well.
I have countless fond memories of spending time with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. However, I have mixed feelings about several occasions and events. One memory in particular always comes to mind. I was at my grandmother and step grandfather’s house with my family. I was in my first year of college, dealing with inner and outer battles every single day—questioning everything, but willing to engage with deeper questions and concepts. As everyone greeted each other, we went through the usual custom of interrogating each other regarding pointless information. It will never cease to amaze me that the most important thing to people is what you’ve been doing and where you’ve been. No one ever cares about what you’ve been thinking about or what emotions you’ve learned to tap into.
People who care from a distance
Never understand the hearts of those who
Keep to themselves in contemplative thought,
Or purposefully hide their emotions too.
I’ll never forget one conversation I had with two of my dad’s siblings—an aunt and uncle—that day with my grandparents. They were talking about growing up and maturing, and rather than asking me about the things I think about or the books I read, my uncle blatantly says, “Well I mean you wouldn’t understand, since your brain won’t be fully developed until you’re 25.” I was taken aback. I hadn’t seen this uncle in over a year, because mind you, he had converted to some religion and cut the entire family off. He had no idea what I thought about or went through in life. He had no idea what any of our lives were actually like, since he was so consumed in his own. After he made the very rude statement, he proceeded to test me by asking me a question: “Why shouldn’t you steal something from someone?” A thousand things rushed into my mind: “because working hard for your own belongings is more rewarding, because it’s not a sustainable practice, because it’s illegal, because it’s morally wrong…” However, before he let me respond, he says, “Because it’s depriving someone of something that’s rightfully theirs. You see, you’ll be able to come to conclusions like these once your brain has fully developed. I remember staring at him blankly, then looking at my aunt for some kind of support. She said nothing. It was then that I realized that people, even family, will simplify your entire life into one sentence or one question, without even giving you time to respond.
People who care from a distance
Like to think that they see me clearly.
But they don’t know the words I write,
What makes me who I am, or what I hold dearly.
As a child, I never understood the subtle comments or bitter remarks that took place in conversations between all the grown ups. I didn’t understand the pain of wounded relationships or scarred childhoods. I ran around the house in my overly fancy dresses with my sister and cousins, playing Barbies or card games or Mario Kart. All the lights were on, and the aroma of turkey and apple pie filled the two story house. Life was good. Those of us normally separated by distance were reconciled to each other once again. However, the relationship I imagined we all had with one another was a romanticized one. As I’ve grown, I’ve learn to understand the nuanced phrases and hurtful words. What’s worse, is that I’ve learned to participate in saying them. I’ve learned to put down the current least favorite uncle, or boast about my latest accomplishment, to somehow win this messed up game that we all play.
And what is the approval worth? I’ve found that when family is near, nostalgia and a false sense of security coil around my feet and hands and I long for their affirmation. The things I would say and decisions I make would not align with the ones I would ordinarily make. But their familiar smiles are enough to wind the coils tighter. As they depart and return home, I’m left with limp coils weakly hanging from my limbs and I stand in the midst of words I neither wanted to say nor know how to unspeak.
And it’s just that I want so desperately to belong to an intact and loving family, that I’m willing to do whatever it takes, until the point that my heart breaks, for I compromise who I am to be someone they don’t even care about. Though we’ve always been separated by physical distance, I realize now, that a much deeper chasm has always existed between all of us.
When we fight with those we love, we engage in close combat with them. We spiral around each other in circles until the attack. We wrestle with one another. We can break each other’s bones and scar each other’s bodies. We achieve intimacy through our battles because to wrestle with someone necessitates close proximity. Battles with those we love intensify quickly but also subside quickly and lead us closer than we ever were before. Those who fight in a close proximity will deeply hate but just as soon deeply love and genuinely care when a bone is broken or a wound is created. Those who break us open are the ones who hold us while we heal.
But when we fight with those who care from a distance, it is as if we are poking each other with the tips of long javelins. The instantaneous pain will wear away and lead to no permanent damage necessitating healing. Intimacy can not be gained across the vast distance between those engaging in the fight. Thus those who care from a distance do not sow seed into a fight that will reap intimacy. They only interest themselves in short-term jabbing that will reap insecurity, neither providing guidance nor heartfelt compassion.
So I’ve tied myself down,
And bound myself up,
To the people who care from a distance—
Who are really so far that they don’t care at all.
And I’ve ended up estranging parts of myself.
For in chaining myself to their affirmation,
I have in fact, disassociated the parts of myself that remain true
And the parts that are forced to
Wander to a distance beyond my reach.