The Family Furnace


Brofenbrenner was completely correct in his ecological systems. The microsystem is the core for each and every one of us. In early development, it is the only system that exists. The people that system is composed of represent an entire world. And as we grow, it is those impressions that we take with us. Every person in our microsystem becomes an archetype for others we encounter in other systems that build as we grow beyond the microsystem.

As we are living beings, there is no end to our growth and development. There is only an early learning window where we build our foundations of understanding about the way the world functions around us, and the social rules and norms of our society. That is why children are prone to generalization. On our way to becoming adults, we sculpt the fine detail from our experience and observation.  Brofenbrenner did not take into consideration that mental development does not cease simply because physical development has come to a close.

Microsystems. Family and caretakers.  The core to each and every one of our worlds.  “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of of all children.”The Crow.  But, what is a mother?  What is a family?  Does a mother represent our ideas of maternal figures who nurture, love, and protect?  Is a family a clan to which we pledge our allegiance, find recognition of ourselves, and find camaraderie within?  Are these people in our primary microsystem truly representative of ourselves and our families?

I have been limiting conversations with my parents to a few times a week.  In truth, there is not much in the way of substance to talk about.  It is more of a touchstone to alleviate the fear of abandonment.  On their side.  I have never been in the business of burning bridges, no matter what troubled places and people they are filled with.

The topic of the house came up in conversation.  Conversations with family members are tricky business, brimming with subtext, doublespeak, and hidden agenda.  Recall the old adage, “Honesty is the best policy”?  A proverb says, “Be careful what you say and protect your life. A careless talker destroys himself.”  My preference leans toward the proverb. I have taken myself down by revealing my hand too soon.

My mother’s overeagerness gave me a glimpse of her hand far before she anticipated. She asked when we’d be completely moved out. Bad choice of words. Rather than asking us when we’d be finished moving, she’s rushing us out the door. Why? She was vague. I asked if a few more weeks would be a problem. Not a problem, because it probably won’t happen until September, if at all.

Confirmed. There are plans. She refuses to tell me, because she knows she is going to backstab me. She wants to retain deniability and spousal blame. Why not? It has been a family custom longer than either of us has even been alive combined.

She slipped in her earlier lament about how my brother has to go on vacation and how it’s such a financial detriment. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay the mortgages.” More than one. Exposing a five year old lie. I offered to take over the mortgage, because I suspected they were misappropriating funds and not actually paying the mortgage. Not possible, the mortgage for the two deeds is singular. Guess not.

Originally, I had a sense of dread that the move would pull the puppet strings around my throat. When it ceased to do so, I felt liberated. I had never felt so free. It was not fleeing, not like when I was younger. It was moving on. No strings. I was a real woman after all.

Until that very moment, when the last nearly three decades came into perfect clarity.

This was the moment. I yanked those strings right back. “I hope you know we’re taking the furnace.”

There was never a tantrum in recorded history, short of a monarch, quite like that. She attempted every angle to envoke something in mem. Guilt. How could you do this to me? Shame. Where would you even put it? Fear. Your father would never let me speak to you again. Pity. What will we do in the winter?

What did I do in the winter of ’06? I was living there. It rose nothing but cold resentment. All questions to which I answered, “I never paid for it. My FIL did. It’s his, not mine.”

The realization of my own subtext hidden between the lines had yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, my husband had stayed up all night, exchanging emails with his aunt, and toning down her grandiose ideas for remodeling. I spent the morning anxious about his lack of sleep, and consumed with dread over the threat of another manic episode. I was actually angry with him for letting her keep him up on a work night, or maybe not being forthcoming with me.

Really, I was upset that we were even entertaining the idea of taking money from her. The anxieties that rose did not have roots surrounding my husband. They bubbled from a deep, dark insecure crevice. It was a place so primal, that it went almost completely unrecognized by my conscious mind.

Family had somehow become synonymous with pain.

I ended my conversation with my mother and plunged into writing. I could detail each wrong. I won’t. The ending comments were these: ” They took every opportunity to hold my head under the water. Out of jealousy. Out of greed. Out of fear that I’d leave them one day, and do better with my life and for myself.”

Anxiously facing another winter without heat, my FIL put a sizable dent in his credit card to purchase and ship a furnace. When we were almost to the point of starvation, my MIL purchased us food and brought it to our home. After the accident that totalled our completely purchased car, they lent us theirs. When that car died, they helped us get through the down payment. Everytime T.D. (my son) needed clothing, they helped us find a way. When I faced having to drop out of college due to financial constraints, his aunt bailed me out.

It wasn’t centric to money, as it seems. My mother refused the honor of standing at my side when I had T.D. My MIL took her place. When Zen (husband) had a complete breakdown, his mother tried to tend to him and help him get care. My FIL gives my husband career advice and instructions to repair things. My MIL has picked up the phone in the middle of the night, just because I didn’t know who else to call.

I sat outside of Zen’s aunt’s childhood home with a cigarette filled with emotion and confusion. Neither of us carry her blood or her family name. I am a damaged girl, with a limited career, from a bad neighborhood. I have no tangible value. Why would she and the rest of her family be so enthused to have have us here?

I couldn’t believe how simple the answer is. Out of love. Because, it doesn’t matter what lineage you originate from. All that really matters is the familial love that one person can feel for another, and the kind of relationships you want to have with each other. If you want love, all you have to do is open up to receive love. And the rest follows.

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18 thoughts on “The Family Furnace

  1. I understand the situation with your parents so much you wouldn’t believe. Thank God for your husbands mother. She seems like a kind of mother anyone would love to have.

    • I’m grateful for my inlaws. They have their own problems, but don’t we all? The entire point was that I have a whole family set that runs on these principals of the societal idea of family roles. How should another family member treat another? What are the boundaries? Etc. But, it’s so bastardized that it’s not even funny. They wave that family flag of obligation, but take it as a personal wrong with someone else does it to them. They begrudgingly help another person in the family, only to hold it over their head later on. They resent each other for all of these things, and hold indefinite grudges over overt wrongs. It’s all very passive-aggressive and manipulative. If my Pappap were alive, he’d be making it his personal business to address each family member individually for their disgraceful behavior.

      My inlaws owe me nothing. Especially my husband’s stepfamily. And yet, they are giving with both hands. And now that I know there is no motive, I sit here and feel like complete crap for not being open to gestures of love and tokens of affection. Yes, they are renown for throwing money around to show it, but they do send nice cards and long emails. They like to get involved. Like, how Chris’ aunt has been very involved in the move and wants to help “fix up the house” (which is funny, because this one is in better condition just moving in than the one we were fixing up for years). She can’t be here physically, so she sends money from across the US.

      My husband, who also has serious trust issues, made a joke about the “blood money” and being “indebted for life”. And he went on to question motives. I said to him, “Have you ever just thought that your family is excited to have someone who wants to carry on the family legacy?” His stepfamily is huge in this town. To say that I’m related to one of them would be name dropping (which I almost accidentally did when I was calling this place for an interview). But, his stepdad, his aunt, and his uncle (who doesn’t really participate in the family) all never had families of their own. Not for really lack of trying, but they were very focused on their careers, travel, and other matters unrelated to developing their own families.

      I don’t think that his aunt actually believed that we were interested in the family. I think she carried secret hopes for years that we would be, and that we would come around, but I think she really doubted it. I think this is her way of being enthusiastic about it. We’re a surrogate family. But, it doesn’t make us any less family to them than blood. For me, that was mystifying. Why does a family who isn’t even my family treat me better than my own?

      Well, simply because they know the value of a family member. I guess it’s easy to look around when you don’t have much family to speak of, and realize the importance and joy it gives

      • yeah I understand that. My parents (as I have already spoke of so many times) give, they love the fact that they are in a financial place to do so. But it is only for control. They give in ways where they are able to find out exactly where they’re giving goes to. They will stop giving very needed help if they see something they don’t like in us. Which is hard when you are in a place where their help is the only way to survive for that time. That is what they love, us to be desperate so we will give them full control. It is a vicious game they’ve played with me all my life. But yet, they seem to genuinely love us. It is a really insane relationship. I would love to have someone to be there to help with no ulterior motives but to just see the need and help out of love.. period.

        • My parents give, but only just enough to hook someone. They lure people in with a “favor”, and then they make people dance for empty promises that they later deny were ever made. It’s not specific to me. It’s everyone.

          I am pretty angry about all of the realizations that I made. But, I made several important discoveries that will help me cope. I’m free. I am truly free of them. In fact, I changed my number and my address. I’m completely free of all of my extended family too. I don’t have a Facebook. I eliminated all of my family members by putting out the passive aggressive language that I don’t want to put the effort into including them into my life. And they’ll talk smack, scapegoat me, and insist that I be completely disincluded. But, guess what? I was never “in”. It used to bother me, but I’ve so far removed myself that their existence doesn’t occur to me regularly anymore. In essence, they can’t touch me.

          As for my parents, I am in a position of power now. They know they have nothing to lord over more anymore. I don’t rely on them, and I have no reason to beg and pander anymore. And not having them in my immediate vicinty enables me to let go of any fantastical notions that they will suddenly become parents.

          They see this, and they know all of these things that I know. So, I noticed my mother is suddenly interested. She wants to “keep up with us”, and sometimes there is this pitch in her voice of distress. I guess when you start to be alone with yourself, it makes you start to think. I was the last person to be close to her. And she just couldn’t help herself. She helped drive me away.

          I did leave with some battle wounds, and my husband has noticed. He made a mention to his family that I’m on five psychiatric meds now, but he hopes that being here, with family rallying around me, I’ll be able to start healing. He listens when I start to kind of let it leak out. And I found that I’m finding times to apologize when I’m mistreating him. Starting unnecessary arguments during a nice time. Things like that. I’m rewiring my brain to recognize my needs, but not put them in a rigidly fulfilled context. Love comes in all shapes and sizes.

        • well it looks like you are on the right track. That makes me so relieved. I think it is wonderful how your husbands parents are with you. It is good you moved closer to them. As for your parents, pulling away and sticking to it will eventually get them to look at themselves. You are such a smart woman. You are so aware (now that you are better) of your needs and even your husbands and child needs. Just don’t take on too much while you are still healing sweety 😉

        • Sustaining those manic and mixed episodes for such a long period of time took a seriously toll and made a visible dent in a lot of aspects of my life. But, curiously enough, since now I find that now the mania and mixed have calmed a little, I’m experiencing this unusual low vibrating mania and mixed. Just enough to figuratively leave me with a limp, but just enough to make me want to take off running. Think Forest Gump and the leg braces, LOL.

          I feel like I’m on the cusp of mania and hypomania. On good days, I’m unusually outgoing, overly confident, creative, and just kind of the character I am when I’m somewhere on the higher spectrum. But, on bad days, (and I’m isolating myself in this morning so that I don’t start a fire here), I’m in a milder version of where I was. Less confusion, less aggression, but still just all of this energetic sadness.

          Here’s the unfortunate part. The energetic sadness is now translating into ambition. That’s my MO. When I’m in a particular mood where I can piece apart the positives and negatives, I am a person who wants to fix. So, I start to brainstorm all of these ideas that will make the negativity go away. Usually, they are action-based. Extreme actions.

          For instance, I get the idea that some of my life will be fixed if I get the career ball rolling again, and stop waiting for the recall back to my other job. And if I happen to get both jobs, then I’ll just start working them both. Fifty-five hours a week (if I get the full-time position in the other job) is a lot to ask of a person who just suffered a major crash. I’m sure to everyone else on the outside, it seems absolutely unreasonable. To me, I see it as a temporary way to distance myself from some issues while starting something new, and potentially really healthy for me.

          Plus, the extra money would more than satisfy the gap in our income. I might actually be able to put some money away.

          I’m only being encouraged to start part time. I guess we’ll just see.

        • please, don’t make any decisions until you are thinking clearly. I know you feel like you can take on the world when you are in this stage. But when it all starts, when the day comes when you have to be at both jobs, can you really handle that mentally yet?

        • After the last couple of days and how they’ve been going, I’m leading toward no. I don’t think I can. I took a tumble, and I actually managed to catch myself this time (of course, with the help of some wonderful friends). But, it’s just too hard and time consuming for me right now to do anything but what I’m doing.

          I guess I thought that if I had a little more structure, and an excuse to get away from my life, then I would be better off. I remembered the second semester of last year, and I remembered that I had to drag myself in there, day after day, for months. I couldn’t do it. But, instead of just saying, “I can’t do it.”, I pressed on, dong as half-assed of a job as I could get away with.

          It wasn’t like I did it on purpose. I just didn’t realize that I was really bringing my D game. I was so far off base, I couldn’t see it at all.

          The job never called me back. I mean, I haven’t even interviewed yet, so this is probably more of a matter of time constraints on their part. But, I don’t even know if it’s something I want to pursue anymore. It’s still to easy for me to get knocked off of my feet.

          I am taking xanax and lamictal throughout the day now, and I’m sleeping in the day. And I’m still not sleeping too well at night, regardless of whether I’m sleeping in the day or not. So, the sleep cycle has nothing to do with it. My anxiety is through the roof again. And I’m still aggressive. I’m going to start my Abilify on Saturday. Long story as to why I haven’t started it yet. It has to do with money and some other stuff.

        • a lot of people speak highly of Abilify. I should have probably given it a better shot but it was giving me night mares, worse than I was already having and more lucid. But those I have talked to or read have had only good things to say.

        • Strangely enough, I’ll let you in on this one secret. I would take horrific nightmares over not dreaming at all. I know, scientists say that you dream, even if you can’t remember. I don’t believe that entirely. I know when I have dreams, because I know when I don’t. When I don’t, my mind begins this free fall of mental decline. Every function and regulation of my brain starts to take a nose dive. And if it goes on too long, I will go into complete dysfunction entirely. Think Fight Club (if you haven’t seen that move, I recommend it).

          I have had some horrific nightmares in my day. To this date, I have had three nightmares about my son dying, and all three were the most graphic, awful dreams I’ve ever had. I mean, ones that brought me to full on screaming tears in my sleep. It only took me a few days to shake. I’d take that over the weeks of hell and then weeks more of rebound over insomnia.

        • yeah, I don’t remember dreams, or I will right when I wake and in seconds it’s gone. Or if I do remember a bit of it im lucky cause my memory is so bad. I remember the ones I have had in the past of my children dying or getting ready to fall off a cliff ect.

        • I have never actually witnessed my son dying. One was actually at his wake, apparently held at my old house. I could only remember screaming and crying about his passing. It was enough.

        • I dreamed once that my son came running into the kitchen and the dishwasher was open and he slipped and fell into it and got stabbed by a knife. You wanna bet I made sure I pointed all things sharp down in the dishwasher from then on. I often wondered if I dreamed it for a reason. Like so I would start making it safer because if I didn’t maybe it might would’ve really happened. I always dreamed about my daughter walking toward that cliff though

        • That might be more metaphorical than a warning of potential danger.

        • well it was way back when he was a little boy, if it was, I guess it worked itself out. I hope you are doing well. xx

  2. Hi Lulu,
    I’m not sure where to start… I think where your inlaws are coming from, you are your husbands wife, you make him happy ( most of the time 🙂 ) and if he’s happy they are happy.

    When my wife and I ( sorry that sounds so.. grandiose) got together my mum became almost my wifes best friend, and certainly toward the end of her life she WAS Mum’s best friend, and almost another daughter, but that’s another story for another time.
    My wife was suspicious of Mum’s motives, ( sometimes my mum and I had a really fractious relationship ) and wouldn’t let her buy anything for us or the house even though we could have done with it right at the start of living together, becasue she thought that Mum would hold it against us like some kind of damoclean sword hanging over our heads to repay it.

    In the end, when we got married, Mum paid for the wedding, the reception afterwards, would have paid for the photos, and helped towards our honeymoon, and lots more besides.. just because she wanted to.
    It was around about that time that I realised that mum acually did give a shit about me and that this monetary help wasn’t for blackmail purposes
    There was never any threats or dropped hints, no demand for repayment.
    She gave it freely and gave it because she cared, about both of us.

    Have you spoken to Zen about how you feel, how anxious you are and how you feel?

    I’m not sure what to say as encouragement or support Lulu, just that I hope you are feeling better soon, and that if /when the crash comes, it’s not too bad an episode for you.
    Maybe this Abilify will help / have helped ?
    Keep safe, keep well and keep away from anything sharp please!!
    love n hugs
    xxx

    • I did talk to him. He shared a similar concern, but I just have doubts. I’ve never really had anyone offer. I’ve pretty much had to beg, borrow, and steal things I needed. I have a feeling that this is genuine.

      My family are serious bastards. I guess they’ve damaged my trust, you know?

  3. Pingback: Forget Family : 30 Days of Truth | Sunny With a Chance Of Armageddon

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