Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reunions, Bathing Suits and Mosquito Repellent

I used to enjoy family reunions.Always looked forward to them. They were great fun when I was younger. There were games, music, dancing. What's not to love about that! And let me not forget the gut-splitting laughter.

I'm not sure when I stopped wanting to attend family reunions. The why related to my father. But this upcoming reunion is suddenly different for me. For some reason I'm compelled to be there. Though I'm not sure I would be going if my father were still alive.

You see, my father abused women. Years before he died I had drawn a line in the sand when I learned my dad was still abusive. Most of his brothers and sisters wouldn't call him on it. They refused to make him even just a little bit responsible for his behaviours. But I sure did.

I wasn't all that keen on a gathering with my extended family after that. I didn't need to hear how difficult my dad had had it as a child. Lots of people have tough childhoods and don't go on to abuse women.

I didn't need to hear more excuses for his inexcusable behaviour. It was inexcusable, pure and simple.

I didn't need to hear how because he was my father that I absolutely must have a relationship with him.I didn't believe that then, I don't believe it now. Even in forgiveness, one is not required to have a relationship with someone who continues their abusive ways.

It's been decades since I saw many of my aunts and uncles. Even longer since seeing most of my cousins. And as I make my way to Winnipeg on this beautiful morning, I'm struck by the fact that it's been close to 40 years since my brothers and sisters and I were all in the same room together. The last time was when my mother celebrated a milestone birthday. Back when she still celebrated birthdays. She too is now gone.

The miles between the five of us siblings has contributed to our distance. But hardening of the heart has probably contributed even more. And I'll bear some responsibility for that.

There was a time when a relationship with my siblings was important to me. Very important. But all that went out the window when my attempts at reaching out were met with either indifference or vicious accusations about who and what I "really" was. After one particularly challenging exchange with one of my siblings, my resolve waned. I decided it was time to live my life. I had made the effort. If they wanted a relationship, they would have to make the next move.

But in reality, I stopped making any effort. I sort of gave up. Not that I didn't welcome them with open arms when they called or came for a visit. I just didn't reach out anymore. I put the responsibility solely on them.

I'm actually pretty excited about staying with my sister and seeing everyone again. But as I wait for my connecting flight, I'm feeling a teensie bit of anxiety. You see, yesterday I got an email from my sister. "Don't forget your bathing suit," she wrote.

My dad was suddenly center stage yet again. All the years of him telling me how fat I was. How my butt should have to wear a license plate to be legal. How my thighs were ENORMOUS. I remember his strong calloused hands squeezing and shaking my thighs like they were a bowl of jello.There were other demeaning, well-intended but misguided comments meant to motivate me to be the perfect body size,weight and shape. It all surfaced in the 10 seconds it took to read my sisters email.

Bathing suit. "Not going to happen," I wrote my sister back. My last healing frontier. My last vulnerability was exposed.I thought these issues were dealt with. I thought that at 55 years old, I was over this stuff. But I'm not. Not really.

I'm comfortable with my body. I know that doesn't sound truthful given what I just shared. But it's true. I've kept my body fit and healthy for a lot of years now. I'm at a healthy weight. But now I realize I'm only really comfortable with my body fully clothed. Just the idea of putting on a bathing suit had my heart palpitating, my hands shaking. Well, the shaking hands might have more to do with the Tim Hortons coffee I'm downing, but you get the picture.

I could not, did not pack a bathing suit. Homemade mosquito repellant, yes. But not a bathing suit. Not this time. Not for this reunion. Maybe for the next one. Yes, I still have healing work to do.

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