Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The first time I experienced a wall...

The first wall that directly impacted my life was built between my mother and father, and their families. When I was very young, my family was big, quite big. I remember huge gatherings of extended family from both my mother and father's sides. Four grandparents, eight aunts and uncles, and their husbands, and wives, and children. The fact that my extended family was so close was important to me, as I was/am an only child. 
Then, when I was nine, my parents separated, and construction began on the wall between the two families. My parents avoided speaking to each other as much as they could, and family gatherings were restricted to one side or the other. In one sense, I felt as though only I was allowed access to either side of the wall, a seemingly advantageous position that really just felt lonely. In another sense, I felt like it had been built straight down the middle of me, my emotions, my time, and my relationships. My whole world was divided. 
As I got older, things changed on both sides of the wall. On one side there were new family members: a step-mother, step-brother, and step-sister, on the other a new city and school. On one side I could wear make-up, on the other I could not. On one side, latchkey evenings in an empty house with myself or my friends, on the other babysitting, chores, church. The double-life began to wear on me, and eventually I starting making decisions to stay where I was most comfortable and relinquish my ability to cross. As a result, I visited my father and his new family less and less. 
Today, I rarely feel the remaining effects of the first significant wall in my life, though I know they are there. Recently, my grandfather on my dad's side passed away and I attended the funeral, seeing some family members for the first time in several years. While there we looked at photo albums in which my father was pictured with my mother, her brothers and parents, and with a much younger me, together with my cousins in a big, cohesive group that was the family before the separation. The images definitely saddened me, along with the stories my relatives told about the days when my family was unified, but ultimately I felt a sense of reconciliation with what was lost and thankfulness for the family I have now.
Although I don't consider my father or his wife and step children immediate family, I value them as members of a broader group linked through a common history, and my immediate family has become more than my mom and I. In living with her parents throughout high school, I have come to consider them another set of parents, and I feel very lucky to have such a deep, intergenerational connection with them. Overall, the wall between my mother and father was hurtful, confusing, and destructive for me and others who were affected by it, but it also afforded me opportunities and perspectives to which I I may not have otherwise had access, and lead to the formation of the group I am lucky to call family today.

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