I spent Christmas in the city my mother grew up. “Springfield” is a smaller city a few hours southeast of here. When my mom lived there, the population was around 40,000. Now it’s at least eight times that size. Even though Springfield doesn’t exactly qualify as a small town anymore, it still feels kind of backwoodsy to me.
My mom was the third of four children born to hardcore Catholics. She has an older brother and sister, and a younger brother. My mom left Springfield when she went off to college. I want to make her seem cooler than she was and say she moved to the big city and never looked back, but I don’t think she had any hard feelings towards the place. Growing up, we spent a lot of weekends and holidays there at my grandparents’ house. Her younger brother, Ned, also left Springfield after high school. Uncle Ned and his family move around every few years for his job, but they currently live on the other side of the country.
Christmas was with my Uncle Michael and Aunt Liz, my mom’s older siblings. They both still live in Springfield. Looking at these two, it’s evident that my addictions/issues/compulsions/whatever they are weren’t born in a vacuum. I don’t know if it’s genetic or environmental, but these two have the same thing as me.
My Uncle Michael married his high school sweetheart right after he graduated from college. He went on to have a successful career in a esteemed field. He was married to my Aunt Beverly for 25 years, but they never had kids. One day he came home from work and she was gone. According to my uncle, in preparation for this departure, she had charged up all their credit cards, and drained all of their bank accounts. She then moved in with a boyfriend she had secretly had for several months. This happened when I was in high school. I was close to my Aunt Beverly before this happened and I’d like to think my uncle’s account was exaggerated, but I have no way of knowing for sure. After she left my uncle, I never saw or heard from Aunt Beverly again.
Less than a year later Uncle Michael was already in a serious relationship with this woman named Lauren. They’ve been together ever since. I don’t even know where to begin with this bitch. My uncle is one of the most respected men in Springfield, not to mention highly educated and professionally successful, and she treats him like he’s some idiot schlub who spends all day lounging around on the couch in his boxer shorts, scratching his balls. She is emotionally and verbally abusive and he just takes it. They never married (he’s proposed and been rejected several times), but he bankrolls her entire existence. They own a couple of different houses. While I’m sure she didn’t put a cent into any of these properties, her name is on all the deeds. I don’t even think they live together the majority of the time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she also has a boyfriend. He has also completely adopted her family (she has two grown kids and four grandkids). He financially supports them as well. While he makes a good living, Lauren and her family are draining him dry. He is really close to her grandkids and considers them his grandchilden. And they are sweet kids. It’s not their fault their grandma’s a cunt.
Part of me is a little jealous of Lauren’s family. Uncle Michael and I were never particularly close. When I was a kid, my mom told me that Uncle Michael doesn’t like children, basically telling me not to take it personally that he always ignored me. He loves Lauren’s grandkids, though. Now that I am an adult, we are closer, but he’s much closer to Lauren’s adult children. I think one reason he doesn’t end things with Lauren is that he is so attached to her family. The bigger reason, though, is that he is terrified of being alone.
My Aunt Liz has been married for close to 40 years. No one in my family likes my Uncle Kevin (including me), just like no one likes that bitch Lauren. They never had children. My Aunt Liz is the kindest, most generous woman I have ever known and her husband is the most misanthropic, curmudgeonly man I have ever known. Like my Uncle Michael does for Lauren, Aunt Liz completely bankrolls Kevin’s existence; although on a much smaller scale, since Liz makes a modest income. Kevin has rarely worked since they have been married. Even though Aunt Liz is the sole breadwinner in the family, Kevin wears the pants. He verbally abuses my aunt to the point that she has next to no self-esteem. He routinely calls her fat, and cheats on her; at least he used to when he was younger, doubt he has much prospects or even the ability to get it up these days (he’s older than her, and has got to be closing in on 70).
I’ve always been pretty close to my Aunt Liz. She’ll call me up and tell me about some shit that Kevin did to her. Nothing makes me angrier than my loved ones being mistreated. “Throw! That! Bitch! Out!” I want to scream into the phone, but I usually manage to be a bit more polite. I tell her that she deserves better and that she doesn’t have to put up with this. The next day, she’ll call me up and tell me she was just having a bad day. “We don’t always get along perfectly, but I really love your Uncle Kevin. He’s my soulmate.” I don’t believe in the idea of a soulmate. I think there are potentially thousands, if not millions of people one could connect, fall in love and live happily ever after with. But if I did believe in this silly notion, there is no way that that asshole Kevin is my sweet Aunt Liz’s soulmate.
I stayed with Uncle Michael over Christmas. Aunt Liz was supposed to join us, but she ended up getting pretty sick. On Christmas Eve, I dropped off some cookies I had made for Aunt Liz and, by default Uncle Kevin (would never make that twat cookies on his own). I called her up Christmas morning to see if she was feeling any better. She said that she had had a rough night, that Kevin had been mean to her. She was about to eat one of the cookies I had made and he said to her, “why don’t you go take a look in the mirror before you eat that.” That bitch! When I was over there he stuffed no fewer than one third of the cookies that I had lovingly made for MY AUNT into his gaping maw, and she didn’t touch any because she wasn’t feeling well. Then she goes to have her first one and he has the balls to shame her for it. On Christmas Eve! Who the fuck does he think he is?
Then she said to me, sounding more depressed than I have ever heard her sound, “single people might think they are lonely, but the pain of being alone in no way compares to the loneliness and pain someone can feel being in a relationship.” Merry fucking Christmas! Later that day, I told my Uncle Michael what she had said (the people in my family are far too polite to criticize Lauren and Kevin to their faces, but have no trouble throwing shade behind their backs) and he agreed with her statement so emphatically that it became clear he was no longer talking about Aunt Liz and Uncle Kevin. Merry fucking Christmas, again.
I was depressed as fuck after these conversations. It’s one thing if someone just wants to park him or herself in a shitty relationship and just deal with it for the rest of his or her lives, but I can see that the stresses of these relationships are killing my aunt and uncle. Uncle Michael and Aunt Liz are both compulsive overeaters (as am I) and severely overweight, to the point that they are having major health complications (don’t judge me for the cookies, I really didn’t give them very many). My Aunt Liz can barely walk half a block and my Uncle Michael would react by visibly stuffing food in his mouth every time Lauren would berate him. They also both self-medicate (as do I), one with pills and alcohol, and the other with pills and marijuana. Also, they both seem so fucking sad.
Clearly, like their niece, these two are love addicts. They also abuse food, alcohol, drugs, and have issues with depression. Looking at both of them, I see how my life could go, and that scares me, because neither one of them seems to be leading a particularly pleasant existence. It also pains me seeing two of the people I love in such pain. I don’t have many parent figures left in my life, and I fear that if they don’t find healthier ways of dealing with their issues they won’t be here for too much longer.
One thing that separates me from my aunt and uncle is that I don’t get trapped in toxic long term relationships. I have had exactly one long term relationship in my life (you can read about Peter here) and the experience was so traumatic that I haven’t been able to commit to anyone since. I don’t know that bouncing from one toxic four month relationship to another toxic four month relationship is necessarily any better than staying in one awful relationship for years and years; but it feels a lot less lonely, just like my aunt said.
When I was driving home from Springfield, I noticed something. Despite the depressing time I had in Springfield, I felt okay. Not great, not awful, but okay. When I was constantly dating and acting out with men, I only ever felt elation or agony. I would feel elation at the beginning of a new romance or sexual relationship. This feeling of ecstasy was usually short lived and quickly replaced by intense agony. Agony that he didn’t seem to be as into me as he was at first, agony that he wasn’t responding to my calls/texts quickly enough, and agony at realizing that he had lied to me and he wasn’t who I thought he was. I will take feeling “just okay”, to feeling agony, any day.
As I pull myself back on track after all the slipping I did this past couple of weeks, I need to remember this.