Wow, I haven’t written a blog post in a long time. Just in time for my holiday depression.
Which, this year, is starting around Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving has been a source of family tension for a number of years now. When I was a kid, it was difficult because my parents were divorced, so we had to coordinate holidays between two households. For the most part, this wasn’t a bad thing (hey, twice the turkey and pumpkin pie, amiright?). But I lived most of my life having to schedule when I would go to Mom’s and when I would go to Dad’s. Thursday with one, Friday with the other (and later in the year, Christmas Eve/Day being split between them). Things got even more complicated when we all grew up.
See, almost no one in my family has been speaking to each other since about 2007. I’m estranged from my mom, older sister, and younger sister, all for completely separate (yet inevitably intertwined) reasons. This has made things difficult on my dad; now he’s the one having to coordinate schedules between different family members, holding three events, one for each of his children (my sisters aren’t speaking to each other, either, and I don’t even know why). To add to the awkwardness, my little sister just got divorced, but apparently my ex-brother-in-law still hangs out with my older sister.
The reason I’m writing about all of this right now is because today, my sister sent me an email inviting me to come to her house for Thanksgiving. It was a simple message, worded politely, and under any other circumstances it would have been a nice gesture. Except that she’s only contacted me one other time in the last eight years, and that time it was to scold me for what she perceived as my mistreatment of our father (long story short: Christmas 2008 I had a panic attack over the complications around family scheduling and couldn’t spend Christmas with my dad, so my sister emailed me to scold me for putting him through that).
So what led to my sister and I losing contact to begin with? Well…
From January 2006 to July 2007, my sister and I were roommates. It was a mutually beneficial situation: she’d recently lost her roommate and was struggling with the rent on a three-bedroom townhome, and I’d just moved back to New Jersey and was struggling with my own finances after the move and a job change. Situations in the household were…complicated, to say the least.
I made every effort to keep from intruding on my sister’s life. I kept mostly to my own room, so as not to disturb her routine. The only regular time we spent together was Thursday night dinner, which included me, both of my sisters, my niece, my brother-in-law, and anywhere from three to six other friends, depending on who could make it that week. I helped clean up the kitchen before dinner each week, my sister cooked, and after dinner we had either movie or game night. It was the biggest regular event we had going on at the time, and my sister made a very big deal out of it. So much so that if one of her friends couldn’t make it that week, she would call them up and ask why they couldn’t make it, try to convince them to come anyway, and insist that they come the following week to make up for it.
Other than Thursday night dinner, I was mostly excluded from other social events. One night I came home to find my sisters and their friends dressed as pirates, ready to go out to see one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I was “allowed” to tag along since I was there, but I hadn’t known about it until I got home from work, and I’m quite sure they would have all gone without me had I not stumbled across it.
Then I was excluded from the big family reunion picnic. My extended family (all the way out to my mom’s cousins and great aunts and so on) has an annual picnic each year, and my sisters made plans to attend, making food and packing coolers with drinks, and so on. Once again I basically walked in on them while they were preparing to leave. But no one said anything to me. I sat in my room, waiting to see if anyone would come talk to me about what was going on. I didn’t even know the picnic was that weekend…I hadn’t received an invite from anyone in my extended family, no one had told me the date, and I was completely unaware it was happening on that particular day. My little sister came over to meet up with my older sister so they could carpool, they loaded all their picnic supplies up, and they drove off, knowing that I was in the house but never once mentioning to me where they were going or what they were doing. I was, quite simply, snubbed.
So things were already pretty rocky in the household by July 2007. At that point, I’d met a girl (long story, and not crucial to the main conflict with my sister). I ended up moving out of my sister’s townhouse at the end of July, after having given her more than 30 days notice. I moved in with my new girlfriend, who I ended up living with for four years (until she almost got me murdered…but that’s another story).
The last time I spoke to my sister face-to-face was the day I moved out. I’d been slowly moving stuff over to the new apartment, a carload at a time, so as to save on the money of a truck rental. By the end of the month, 75% of my stuff had already been moved for several weeks. I still had my computer and a few odds and ends to pack. I had also left my Wii in my sister’s living room, since when I bought it, she’d asked if we could have it in the living room to be available for everyone to play.
Of course, I was also flat broke. I’d had to pay first months rent at the new apartment in July as well as paying my share of the rent to my sister. I was so broke at the time that I couldn’t afford to get the internet hooked up at the new apartment for at least another month.
So it was a Thursday night, two days before the end of July. I did my laundry at the townhouse, since there was no washer/dryer at the new apartment, and I still officially lived in the townhouse at the time. Then I cleaned the kitchen, put away the dishes, and took out the trash, all to set up for Thursday night dinner.
Then my sister came home.
I asked her if I could keep my computer hooked up in my old room for a couple of weeks, until I got the internet at my new place. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, since there was no one moving into the room and it wouldn’t cost her any money to leave an extra computer lying around for a little while. I needed internet access to pay my bills, check my email, and so on, though I was only planning to do so once a week when I came over on Thursdays. That was when I believed I’d still be welcome for Thursday dinners.
When I asked if I could leave my computer there, my sister got angry and started practically yelling at me. She told me in no uncertain terms that since I’d only paid my rent until Saturday, I was going to have all of my stuff out by Saturday, and I was to leave my key. I stood there, stunned, feeling like I was being attacked, when all I’d done was ask a simple favor. But I told her fine, no problem, I’d leave.
I packed the rest of my stuff, including my Wii from the living room, and went off to my new home. An hour or two later I got a phone call, but I was too upset to answer. All I got was a voicemail from my sister: “Hey Jason, I saw that you took the Wii when you left, which is fine since it’s yours. But my Mario Party 8 game was in it when you took it, so please bring it back.”
When anyone else wasn’t coming for Thursday dinner, they got a phone call begging them to come and insisting they make it the next week. I was asked to return a video game.
She never called me again. I was never invited to dinner again. I sat by the phone the next week, waiting for a call that never came. I was so upset that I had to drop the game in her mailbox rather than delivering it in person.
Now it’s eight years later. And she wants me to come over to Thanksgiving.
There was no apology. No words attempting to make amends. Just the invitation.
And I don’t even know how to react to it.
Yes, it’s good that she is finally reaching out. Maybe she wants to repair our relationship. I don’t even know if we have a relationship to repair. Long before the day I moved out, I was already being excluded from everything. I’m pretty sure the only reason I was ever allowed to come to Thursday night dinners was because I lived there, and it’s kind of hard to exclude me when I’m right upstairs.
More than anything, one thing sticks out in my mind. My sister ran a now-deactivated blog back then, and she wrote a post about my moving out. But she didn’t talk about being upset that her brother was leaving. She didn’t say she’d miss me. She said, “My extra rent money is moving out at the end of the month, so things are going to be a little tighter around here.”
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over that.
And I don’t think I can go see her on Thanksgiving. Not without more being said than just the invite. Not without clearing the air first, instead of showing up there and pretending like everything is okay.
Because everything is not okay.
And I can’t deal with another uncomfortable family holiday like that.
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