Tuesday, January 09, 2007
In the last couple weeks filled with holidays that focused on family gatherings, there's always this small bit of sorrow in me that I didn't have those joyful memories. I come from the original dysfunctional family. It was dysfunctional in so many ways that I can't even begin to describe it here. I tried to write a book about it once. I even finished it. It's in a drawer along with other memories that are worth hanging on to for the educational value: love letters from old and dead relationships, long expired student identifications and driver's licenses and other bits and pieces of officialdom that have been replaced by the digital age, photographs of a youthful me that I'm always surprised looked kind of cute. I always saw myself as painfully ugly then. How perception changes!
What isn't there are many family pictures. We never took many. Most of the time we were too poor to afford a camera for more than a few weeks at a time. It lived mostly in the local pawn shops of whatever town we were in at the time. And film cost money to buy and develop. And who wants a record of domestic violence, alcoholism and poverty as mementos anyway?
Yes, my childhood sucked and I've had to spend a lifetime climbing out of it. But then as now there was something that kept me from taking one of my father's weapons and blowing my head off with it or one of my mom's happy pills that would let me sleep forever without waking up to them screaming at each other, and that was my friends.
There is an old saying that you can't buy friendship. This is probably because you can't put a price on it. Friendship is truly priceless. When I think of my childhood, it is filled with memories of friends who sheltered me, helped me talk through my anger, fear, and tears, who held me instead of hit me, who accepted me no matter how bad a person I thought I was and who saw me as beautiful no matter how ugly I thought I was. They kept me alive.
As I grew older I moved a lot and finally found a place to stop. I chose the place because of the people who came into my life in this place. They were the people of my childhood, the open and accepting arms, hearts, and minds. From the beginning they sheltered me from the other elements in the community who saw my vulnerable neediness and looked for ways to exploit it.
Some did and they live in the memory drawer with my family pictures. But the ones who are outside that drawer taught me that love is stronger than hate, tolerance is more powerful than bigotry, and love means being there when you are needed. That is why for this holiday like many of the others, I spent it with my friends. It's going on a couple decades now and it's because of them that the wounds are finally starting to heal.
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