I have an ancient, ancient copy of Rudyard Kippling's The Elephant's Child. My grandma read it to me, and I read it to her. By the time I was 19 and both my grandparents (paternal) had passed away, the only thing I wanted was this book. I was looking through it today, and saw a picture of my as a child and my grandmother stuck in it. It made me think of cleaning out my grandparents' house, and my aunt.
Oh, my aunt. She and my father, her brother, have always had a high conflict relationship. I don't know who aggravated it more, or what family members made it worse, but it was firmly entrenched by the time I came along. It wasn't a feud, but close.
What I understand now is that watching your parents become more helpless, age, and die must be a terrible thing to watch happen, especially when you feel you've left things unsaid. Then, I was 19, and I just watched, alone, as my grandfather died. I couldn't handle the drama; I needed to figure out how to handle what I saw. My mom and I began cleaning out the house--there is always junk, unnecessary things. We thought the empty, broken hatbox was one of those things.
Apparently, it wasn't. My aunt from zero to sixty, accusing my mother and I of breaking into the house, looting and trashing things, destroying all that was good in the house, and good in the world. Then she let loose on my mother about how I was a terrible child, because she was a terrible mother, and I would have been better raised by wolves. The thing I should have done, my aunt said, was take her away from you and raise her myself.
The grief was talking. There isn't a kernel of truth to this, and I couldn't have asked for a better mother. I was furious. My dad wasn't defending her, and neither were my siblings. I marched one mile in the dark and rain to my grandparents' house where my aunt was wallowing and told her off. I'm sure I addressed the looting issue, but I don't remember. I do remember telling her I would throw myself off a bridge before I ever went to live, if this was an example of how she thought people should be treated. I said everything I could think of to hurt her like she had hurt me and mine. I'm quite sure it worked. Even now, I don't feel regret when it replays in my mind.
We all tried to forgive each other. It was the grief talking. That's what we all said, over and over. But it got worse and worse, culminating in my aunt inviting my sister to her daughter's wedding, but refusing to my father's face to invite my brother or myself. My father was furious--my brother and I did a dance of celebration, and laughed at my sister, who was a dutiful daughter, niece, and cousin, and went. Not unforgivable, but in light of it all, it was the last thing.
I've tried, on and off. There are Christmas Cards, and thank you notes, and wedding invitations, but every time I get to the point where I think, I can pick up the phone and call you... I get the passive aggressive letter, the note, the snub, etc. Her husband is sick, and she blocks us from talking to him and sending cards. Her daughter's husband turns out to be a psychopathic abuser, and she says nothing to us, when we would have reached out.
I held that book in my hand twenty minutes ago, and I remember how angry I was when I first claimed the book. I wanted nothing other than this ratty old book, and it disappeared from the house. From May until December, I blamed my aunt for taking the only thing that made me cry. On December 25th, it was waiting for me under the Christmas tree. My mom wanted to put a picture in it of my grandmother and me before she gave it to me.
Did she deserve this? I don't know. I blamed her for it, and she had nothing to do with it. But sometimes I think she earned it through all the rest.
There was so much damage to that hat box. It was old, and barely on the hinges, and the box material itself was dryrotting. It was empty. There's been so much damage to this relationship. It's old, with too much history, and the hinges are broken. There is nothing but emptyness exchanges between the parties.
Can we forgive without regret? How do we let go? Do we let go? Do we try, but keep our guard up? Do we try with open hearts? Or do we stop drinking from the glass we know has made us sick every time before?