Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Ever since I was a little kid, I've always had conversations with myself. These conversations are usually "fantasy" conversations with others or me replaying a conversation in my head the way I wished it would have happened. Last night, I crawled into bed and realized that I wasn't quite ready to fall asleep. I knew it was time for one of my fantasy conversations. I don't usually make a conscious decision as to who I'm going to speak with. Typically, I just get really comfortable in bed and allow the buzz of the fan to relax me. Then in my mind I find myself in the location I most long to be in and that's when the person I need to have a conversation with appears. I don't dictate these conversations as they usually happen very naturally.
Last night, I found myself wandering along Ocean Beach in San Diego and I ran into my older brother Tim. We've been estranged for a few years now. Our estrangement came after years of him and I having an awkward relationship at best. We have both made it known on different occasions that we really admire one another, but that mutual admiration never helped us move from being blood relatives to being friends. Tim and I had a lot to talk about last night. We weren't there to debate the past or to argue or to even project any blame. We came together for resolution. I have no idea if these connections happen because the other person is feeling the same, but I do know that they seem very real and very reflective of who we both are.
I write a lot about my teenage years and the decade that was my 20's. I don't always paint a pretty picture, but at least I paint a realistic picture. However, it's not like I was the devil child in a family full of angels, but I do realize that at some point in your life you have to take ownership of who you are. To do so means you have to take ownership of your whole life because everything you've ever said or done has led you to where you are now and that's what makes us who we are.
My family fell victim to one of the laws of the human condition: You get what you give. This explains a lot about our family as a whole, as well as the individual experiences each one of us had growing up in our household. For me, I look back and feel like I always got the short end of the stick. I felt short-changed and out of place. I felt like no one understood me and I even felt as if no one in my family liked me. Chances are, I was good at accepting the short end of the stick, so that's what I always got. I know for a fact that I was constantly distancing myself from my family members and pushing them away. How can you get to know someone who won't let you in or even let you get close to them? And if I was always rude and mouthy to them, why would they make any effort to understand me or try to get close to me? Many spiritual texts, both old and new will tell you this. Whether it be "do unto others...." in the Bible or The Secret talking about The Laws of Attraction.
This is what my brother and I talked about in our fantasy conversation. I told him that I wasn't mad at anyone anymore. I asked him if he was mad at anyone. He told me that he still harbors anger in his heart. He said it's not so much at certain people, but certain situations and maybe how people acted in those situations. It was then that I told him that maybe it wasn't the way people acted, but how they reacted. He pondered the idea for a few moments and then asked me to give him an example. I said, "When you graduated from high school, mom and dad threw you a big party. When I graduated from high school, they didn't even get me a cake. So instead of telling them I was upset or asking them why, I thew a fit. I yelled and screamed about me being left out and never getting anything. This put them on the defensive and they started yelling back." For years, I was mad at them for how they acted that night. The fact is, they were merely reacting to me. As a matter of fact, I can trace many fights I had with them over the years back to it all starting with them reacting to me. As it turns out, mom had asked me months before my graduation what I wanted to do that night and I said I wanted to go out with my friends. I was upset that she didn't push harder to do something for me. Truth is, we lived in a tiny house at the time and there wasn't any room to have a party. They weren't giving me the short end of the stick, just honoring my wishes.
He stopped for a moment to look out at the waves and then said, "So, how come I still have anger towards you? Was I just reacting to you all these years?"
I said, "Yes and no. Tim, I can honestly think of more than a few bad situations that I instigated and you just reacted the way you saw fit. Which is heated a lot of the time because you're backed up against the wall. However, that doesn't cover everything. At some point you have to stop and think if you were the one reacting or the one others were reacting to. Make sense?"
Most of the anger he harbored towards me was the result of how certain situations affected his relationship with his wife and the dynamic between them. Also, how my self induced estrangement changed the dynamic of the family. He realized that much of that was his reaction to me and much of what I did, was my reaction to the family. We fell victim to reactions. Our conversation continued and we came to the conclusion that I wasn't a horrible little brother and he wasn't a bad big brother. When it became obvious that we weren't going to connect, we both put out negative energy towards each other. We fed that awkwardness between us. Instead of just realizing that not all brothers are going to be buddies, we instead came up with reasons to NOT be friends. So, where I pushed everyone away, he decided that it meant that I didn't want him around. And if I didn't want him around, he didn't want anything to do with me.
While walking on the beach, Tim and I kind of jumped back and forth between conversations about the past and talking about our lives today. He said that he was not surprised that I was the kid who moved the furthest away and I said I wasn't surprised that he got married first and had a bunch of kids. He told me that he always admired the way I picked up and joined the Army, traveled Europe and then went to a war. He said that he couldn't imagine the kind of courage I must have had to get through all that. And then to top it off, once I got out of the Army, I up and moved to a big city and then out to the East Coast to settle down. I said to him, "You know, it may look remarkable from where you stand, but to me it's just life. My life. And I survive the same way you did. I put to use the survival skills that mom and dad taught us."
I told him that I admired the way he seemed to always be on the right track, even from an early age. He seemed to know exactly what he wanted and always got it. He married the woman he loved most and brought some pretty amazing children into this world, as well as giving a baby in Korea a second chance on life. (That baby is now his 13 year old son Jacob). I admired the way he lives his life, the father that he is and how proud he must be of his kids. I told him that it freaks me out sometimes when I look at me at a certain age and then compare it to him and think, "Wow, he had a house, a wife, 2 cars and three kids when he was my age." I told him that I often wished I had turned out the responsible one instead of the gypsy child with a wild heart. "At least you'll leave a living legacy." I said.
He paused again and then we made our way up to the parking lot so we could walk over to the pier. "You'll leave behind a legacy too, you know. Your writing, your photography, your songs, your art...and even your friends. That's the kind of stuff that lives on forever. Even if you decide not to have kids, you'll still leave a legacy... a living one. Art has energy too. Art is life."
We walked in silence to the pier and found our way to the end and leaned on the railings staring out at the sea. He broke the silence, "You know, Mike's wedding just wasn't the same without you. Which is weird because I have no idea where you would have fit in since we haven't seen you in so long. But your absence seemed to linger in our heads. It's especially weird to look at the wedding photos and not see you."
"I know, but Tim I had no choice. Too much has happened and too much has been said for me to just show up at his wedding and expect everything to be alright. My presence alone would have deterred from his special day and I didn't want to do that."
We fell into another silence, only this one was awkward and it found me scrambling in my head to find something to say. As I scrambled, I seemed to get younger and then felt as if I was about 12 years old. Then I took a deep breath and remembered that I was in control of this situation.
"So," he started, "get a few more tattoos since I saw you last?" We both laughed and then headed back down the pier. The conversation switched to topics like pop music and how I don't like it anymore to us laughing that my dog and his oldest son had the same first name. As we got to the end of the pier and we parted ways, he said, "Thanks. I really needed this talk. Who knows, maybe we'll be friends some day."
"I hope so," I said. It was then that I realized I had fully fallen asleep and this was now all a dream. Which was odd because I had a dream about my younger brother and I reconnecting last week. And then Tim said, "So, at least we made peace here, right? Like you told Mike, even if we can't make it happen in the real world, we can always meet here."
Things around us got foggy and we realized the dream was about to end. And just like I told Mike, I said to him as he faded away, "Don't be a stranger."
Many people will probably tell you that these fantasy conversations and even these dreams are manifestations of my subconscious trying to put things right in my life. Some may even tell you they happen out of guilt. I don't think it's either. In all honesty, I think we're able to travel in our dreams and with our subconscious. In acting class, we called them "journeys." I think that anytime you connect so strongly with someone in a dream or even in a fantasy conversation it means that they are reaching out to you as well. So, why don't I just pick up the phone and call him? Because too much has transpired over the years and if there is ever going to be any resolution it needs to be in person and without the distractions of life. And I'd like it to happen like my dream fantasy conversation. Where we can come together and talk free of anger and judgment.
An Aunt told me a few weeks back that my siblings and I need to put aside our childhood arguments and just get over it. I wish it were that easy. However, it's not our childhood arguments that keep us apart. It's the fact that as adults we have adapted some very different ideas about life and God. These ideas are what form our fundamental belief systems. There's still hope. Maybe someday down the line we'll find our way back to each other. Until then, we can always meet in our dreams. In the past month, I've met Sandy, my Aunt Dottie, my brother Mike and last night, my brother Tim. Maybe next time, I'll run into my sister....