Open Letter to a Former “Family”
For the purposes of this open letter, the family to which it is addressed will be known as the “Morse Family”, Dana, Samantha and Alicia. —Ty
Dear Morse Family,
I’ve got a few things to say to each of you and all of you today.
It’s been a while since I have heard from any of you, of course. Such is the way you chose it to be over the last several years. Again. Though this most recent ostracizing appears to have stuck for good, given that it’s been going on for about three years now. I wrote Alicia a brief hello about six months ago on Facebook, just to see what would happen. This despite her not following me anymore. I have received no reply, which is exactly what I expected. So I suppose after all these years, and one-sided disagreements to which I’ve never truly felt free to respond, the dismissal is permanent.
It remains somewhat disappointing when I think about it. But most recently it also seemed inevitable, given the pattern of our relationship. It’s become clear you are not what I thought you were initially, and as I result, I’m not broken up about this anymore.
But there was a time when I was, and that’s what I want to mention to you today.
At various times all three of you had said to me, “I love you,” or “you are a member of this family now,” or something equally welcoming and potentially life-changing. I never have and still don’t make that much of an impression on a family very often. So when a family says such things over and over, even a cautious introvert such as myself tends to take it seriously eventually. At least for a while.
But please let’s just be honest here, as we are all adults; you weren’t serious about it were you? Any of you. I’m not exactly saying you were lying, but you were probably a bit loose with your use of the words “love” and “family” right? You can admit that now. You aren’t the first people to exaggerate you affections.
Never mind how often you said it. Never mind that for years I would rearrange my schedule to attend your functions because of how much you “really wanted” me to be there. Never mind how you would beg me to stay behind late into the night after everyone else went home from the party because you always wanted more time just to talk to me. Never mind the individual gestures each of you made at any given time. It’s clear that despite the words, the actions didn’t always back it up when taken as a whole. If the feeling was there on your part, (and perhaps it was), it wasn’t as strong as you allowed me to believe it was, given how often you said it.
Some of that is on me I guess, but it wasn’t difficult to determine how I felt, either, and you could have acted closer to your reality if you had truly wanted to. If you think deep down about the things you said and what we went through sometimes, it becomes easy to deduce why someone might think you were sincere in what you said. (And I’m not the only person to have felt similarly duped by you, by the way. But that’s their letter to write, not mine.)
I’ll admit, I should have probably walked away sooner. Should have accepted what seemed clear to me in the various times I was dismissed from your life for reasons I barely understood and still barely understand.
I should have noted that despite your apparent enjoyment of my company over the years, you never accepted any of the invitations on my side. Never came to a play I was in unless one of your other friends was in it. Never went to any public events I said I would be attending. Never once walked the two blocks from the coffee house you were always visiting to my apartment to say hi, even after I told you I lived there.
In short, it seemed to me quite clear that I wasn’t worth as much effort on your end, as you were on mine. I could come visit and provide whatever entertainment or satisfaction I held in your eyes for a while, but you weren’t about to rearrange anything for me. That may not sound accurate, but I assure you, you never accepted any invitation that came from only me. Not once. There was always a supposed reason of course, but 0% is 0%.
I should have realized there was probably less behind the words than there appeared to be. Maybe I realized it, but was hoping I was wrong, so I kept visiting and spending time with you all.
I should have also realized this when you became the first, and to this day only group of people that ever accused me of excessive “inappropriate affections.” (If anything I’m seen as aloof and cold, thus driving people away.) I didn’t even know there was a problem until after weeks of my “adoptive family” not replying to my messages, Dana explained it all to me. If I laid a hand on a shoulder or a back or kissed a cheek when I left that made someone uncomfortable, it was unintentional, and only the result of feeling that yes, we had become “like family.” I apologized to you Dana, and I even attempted to make everyone feel secure by offering to not come around for a while until things cooled off, or to only ever meet up in large groups where I was unlikely to make the same mistakes.
Dana, your response to my attempt at contrition that day should have been another clue that I and your family were not meant to mesh. I guess I was simply supposed to accept your explanation, and leave it alone, or thank you for showing me the light. But your reality was so different from my own, that I wanted to address the hurt and the embarrassment I had caused you and the rest of the family.
But you didn’t accept my attempts. You berated me. Insulted me. Made me feel like a pervert and accused me of, and I quote “throwing shit up against a wall, just to see what sticks,” instead of owning up to my mistakes. In other words, I found my “adoptive family” both abandoning me and refusing to accept the best apology I knew how to give for mistakes I was trying to acknowledge.
When I then tried to apologize to Samantha or Alicia directly once I knew what happened, you messaged me with more anger, telling me I was trying to turn your own family against you. Was I not supposed to explain what I was thinking to them? Was I not to try to make it right with the very people I offended? And was I not supposed to mention I realized some things when I had spoken to you about it?
It was some of the deepest hurt and sense of betrayal I have ever felt, those years ago. And the calmer I tried to explain that there was a mistake, the more pissed and bitchy and nasty you got about it, until I said nothing.
Is that how you treat family? Is that how you treat someone you “love”, and someone who has attempted to be there for you in the best way he knows how during darker times? I suppose in your mind, that is the godly thing to do? In my mind, it was not, and is not. I attempted my apology over the incident even though I didn’t completely understand what I did. I never received yours, and of course, I know I never will. Even if we were still talking, you never were one to admit a mistake of that magnitude. None of you are, it seems to me.
Forgiving isn’t easy, but I know it is the right thing to try to do. Which is why a year later or so when you all slowly made your way back into my life, for the second time, (an incident that was less dramatic years earlier had also driven me away) I let the past alone, and began to hang out with you again. Message you again. Let you tell me you loved me, again. I thought I was being a good person for doing so. But I was a more careful person this time, and I think I may have paid a price for that as well.
Why did I allow you back into my life? I suppose I thought of all of the better times. Or all of the times when you showed trust in me. Like when Dana would vent to me for hours on end over AIM about how poorly her husband treated her, and her plans to divorce him. Or the time you all invited me and me alone to the single most awkward, uncomfortable dinner I have ever attended when said husband/father came back and began what you thought would be a reconciliation. A dinner to which I was given the impression several others had also been invited.
What in hell was I doing there?? In the end, I determined I was there because I was important. Because I was family, and you wanted me there for the start of what you thought was a reconciliation. I don’t know, for sure. I only know that once somebody has been made a part of such a strange moment, it’s hard to forget.
Maybe I allowed your return into my life because such things, and others, appeared to prove that I still mattered. That like any family we had gone through our issues, but had come out of them before, and could again.
But it was not to be, despite encouraging signs. Signs that looking back make me wonder what my place in your life actually was.
Samantha, what exactly did you mean when you repeatedly listed me as “best friend” on your various websites over the years, only to remove the title time and again? Or when you lamented I never came to see you at college? (Only to allow me just one visit once I finally did so?)
Or Alicia, what sort of person did you see me as when you personally invited me to your graduation ceremony, or sent me a birthday card a few years ago which read among other things:
“The truth is, special people don’t often get the recognition they deserve, but that’s not true today…Happy Birthday to one of my very good friends.”
Perhaps all of you still thought you saw me as important. Perhaps you thought you loved me again. Perhaps you were hoping I would become what in your minds was the shiniest version of me…a version I did not embrace. Perhaps you just found me entertaining like a favorite movie that could talk back to you, but like all movies you tire of is put on the shelf when better movies show up.
Perhaps it’s none of these things, or it’s all of them. But a hole remained. A hole that this time I could sense a bit more often, because I had become a bit more cautious, even though I still enjoyed being with all of you.
But there was an inconsistency I couldn’t ignore. A sort of bipolar nature to our relationship after your second return. Sometimes it would feel like it always did, and other times it felt like I was merely a casual acquaintance. What’s the reason for the dichotomy? Surely it can’t all be just my personal perception.
Samantha, perhaps you still considered me perverted, even as during one of my visits you opted to fold and sort your lingerie in front of me while we talked. I don’t consider that a sexual act per se, but certainly one that doesn’t jive with the “You need to be proper and appropriate” sermons I was given when I touched a shoulder or kissed a cheek years before.
Forget underwear, there were plenty of emotionally intimate conversations you instigated with me…when you required them.
Alicia, were you somehow concerned that I would reveal to other people your deep misgivings about your sister’s long-time boyfriend? Misgivings I shared, but which you later acted as though you never had?
Maybe you were all offended because I couldn’t make it to Samantha’s eventual wedding reception, and thought I was being flippant about it. (No Samantha, I neither approve nor disapprove of who you marry. Your love life was not and is not a high priority in my life, and I am not sure why you kept asking me the question when I had to decline the invitation. As though the only reason I could never make it to a wedding reception was out of protest to the wedding. (To which I was not invited.)
Or maybe, (but hopefully not), the final straw was when I wanted my last name pronounced properly.
A simple status line on Facebook was how it started, if you will recall. I mentioned how mindless it is to mispronounce my name, when it is easily sounded out. Samantha, you commented something to the effect of not understanding why everything was a big deal to me, and that my name’s pronunciation wasn’t straight forward. I told you it was a big deal because a name is all we have in the end, and that it was in fact quite straight-forward; you say it how is is spelled. Before long, you were sending me a nasty pre-emptive private message, (in a tone very similar to Dana’s from a few years earlier),
“please don’t email me another one of your long-winded explanations or apologies over this…I’m in no mood.”
Funny how you were in the mood to start the argument in the first place. Funny how you were in the mood to take umbrage over a comment that did not and never had applied to you anyway. Funny how I am the one you often accused of being negative and taking things too seriously, yet you were the one who chose to inject a dark cloud into something that strictly speaking wasn’t even a concern of yours.
It’s also funny how attempts to explain, or reconcile or just bring about peace between two “family” members was so often viewed as a negative to both you and your mother.
What is not so funny yet not so hard to believe is that within two days, you were no longer following me on Facebook, and had indeed erased all pictures and references to me on your page. Years worth. (To be fair, I then did the same, because why keep all that up?) I get the sense it was truly about more than mispronouncing my name, but of course I was never given a chance to find out, or to work to improve the situation, because I was deemed “long winded”.
(I would rather be long-winded in an attempt to apologize, than silent in the face of trouble I’d caused, as has been your means of operation, it would appear.)
By then, to tell you all the truth, I was more annoyed than hurt by what you did and said.
And by “you” I mean all Morses. I know I shouldn’t judge a whole family by how one treated me, and indeed Alicia and Dana continued to follow me on Facebook, technically. But with a family as tight knit and defensive as yours, it becomes difficult after so many years to see you all as separate people. This isn’t unique to you, but it is just as silly with you as any other family; a riff with one of you means a riff with all of you, and I just got tired of fighting an army who claimed one too many times that they loved me.
Not that you individual contributions to the pain weren’t significant. They were.
Almost a year after Samantha gave up on me, Alicia, after one or two more messages, you stopped following me on Facebook as well. Naturally no reason why was given. There never is. I acknowledge you held out a bit longer, but I assume you couldn’t find it in yourself to be friends with someone your sister suddenly despised. Your turning your back was more of a disappointment though, even all the years later, I will admit. That is because I think on some level I always related to, understood, and appreciated you the most out of your entire family. But of course for a time, I thought I loved you all.
Dana, you never stopped following me on Facebook, it’s true. I stopped following you, at last, a few years later. You had only sent me a message once in about two years, and I just felt that in the end you probably were not far behind in unfollowing me, given that all the other Morses had done so. I suppose dropping you from my timeline gave me a small sense of control for a change. For once, in the repeating and (by me) poorly understood clashing between myself and the souls that make up your clan, I was able to decide for myself that something was over, officially.
Even after all of this pain and confusion, I don’t consider you bad people, per se. I do think you’re quite quick on the draw sometimes, and aren’t as honest about you feeling as you should be, with either yourselves or others. Dana and Samantha, you can both be highly defensive, rude, and cutting with your responses to people’s foibles when they affect you, and unwilling to talk things out. Alicia, you can sometimes be too passive in the face of things you probably could stand up against a bit when your family is involved. These traits probably in the end contributed to our split, (albeit it not a split I would have required.)
I would have liked to have had more chances to laugh with all of you. To get to know you all as you entered different stages in your lives. To explain my oddities as opposed to having to defend myself against them so often. I would have liked to have seen where our relationship could have gone without so many short fuses and snap judgements. I think about what could have been sometimes.
But in the end, I’ve accepted your choice to write me off. I frankly think it makes you smaller people than you need to be, but people are going to do what people are going to do, and you’ve decided what you want to be.
Yes, I may be more sensitive than some people, and I have acknowledged, or at least tried to acknowledge the times when that may have gotten the better of me. But I respect myself too much to take total responsibility for our problems. In the end, in spirit, it was you who chose to be rid of me and not the other way around.
I don’t mourn your absence, I have to say. I regret and apologize for whatever pain or offense I may have unintentionally caused any and all of you, but I don’t lose sleep over it anymore. And though I can’t say I love any of you now, and part of me will always be hurt by some of the ways you treated me, I don’t wish any of you ill. I suppose, for a brief moment, I can even thank you for the laughs. A very brief moment.
I’m sure I will sometimes still think of you, albeit casually. Will any of you think of me with anything other than contempt in years to come?
Enjoy your journey, whatever it is you want it to be.
sincerely, Ty Unglebower
This post is part of the Open Letter Continuum.