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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