I moved out of my parent’s house when I was twenty-two years old, leaving the somewhat secluded area of the Hudson Valley that I spent most of my childhood in. Western Connecticut was where I landed, with my first job and my first apartment. Obviously, I had never lived alone before or really had ever been alone. I grew up in a house of eight, four brothers, two parents, a dog and me. Our house was never quiet, even at night there were sounds of somebody getting up to go the bathroom or the hum of a television turned down low. So when I moved and out on my own and entered my apartment to silence, it alarmed me.
Where was my youngest brother who would burst into my room fifty times a day to tell me something stupid? Or my father’s heavy footsteps on the stairs? Or my mother’s voice not so gently reminding somebody to hang up their coats when they took them off? For me the silence was disconcerting, even a little scary. It made me wonder if I had made the right decision to leave my family.
I did, eventually I came to enjoy the silence even love it. When my job changed from teaching older kids to more rambunctious younger ones, I was grateful to come home to a quiet house even more. My apartment was my sanctuary, the place where I could write without distractions or interruptions. I would go home (to me my parent’s house will always be home) and I would hear all the noise my family made. My brother Jonathan sings loudly and off-key. My brother Jordan tells the dumbest jokes. Even the dog was noisy when playing tug of war with my father. And my mother… well she just says things that all mothers say. After a few hours with them I would retreat, drive an hour home despite my parent’s protest to stay the night.
As I’ve gotten older my trips home became less and less, until I would sometimes go a month without seeing my family. I felt guilty, but isn’t that apart of growing up. I would loath family vacations because I had to be stuck with a bunch of noisy juvenile boys, forced to do family bonding activities. One year, despite my mother’s protests I decided not to spend spring break with them. I wrote instead, a lot. I read. I went out to dinner and to trivia night. I got a pedicure and a massage. I felt like a grown up.
Then the black out came. Stupid snow, knocked down hundreds of trees leaving most of my town without power. Fortunately my parents didn’t lose power and after 24 hours of freezing I left my place. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to leave my quiet, my bed, my space, my things, to go back to my noisy family home where I no longer had a bedroom. But the prospect of spending numerous days without heat, light or internet sent me packing.
But when I got home things were different. Our beloved childhood dog had passed away. No longer did I hear her nails scrapping against the hardwood floors. My father works the evening shift, one brother is in nursing school, the other is a shift manager at a local restaurant and when he’s not there he’s with his girlfriend. My mother works two jobs, takes night classes and goes to the gym religiously. And my youngest brother, now 17, has found the joy of sleeping from the time he gets home from school till his belly wakes him up three or four hours later.
What happened to my family? What happened to the noisy dinners and the lewd teenage boy jokes? Even the dog was gone! It made me a little sad. It also made me realize that while I was so busy being a grownup my family was growing up, changing, maybe even growing apart. It made me nostalgic for the days when we used to sit around the kitchen table playing cards and the arguments that would break out over the obvious cheating. It made me long for the days when I would plead with my mother, “Tell Jonathan to stop talking to me!”
Coming from a big family, I like to write about families. So often I see writers who just don’t get the dynamics right, they don’t make the interactions real enough. If you’re going to write about a family you really need to think about your own family. Every flaw, every good memory, every bad one, even the skeletons you might not want let out. It’s okay to steal from your own life, because if the emotion is real for you it will be real for your readers.
So go on, call that sister that gets on your nerves every time you speak to her. Plan that big Thanksgiving meal, invite those family members who don’t even bother to bring dessert. Hash out all that resentment you feel towards your mother. Call it reasearch! Call it love.
Ps. My youngest brother is still quite annoying when sufficiently feed and rested.
Your turn. What’s your family situation like? Big family? Small family? No family? Love/hate to be alone? Ever avoid your family? Miss them? Any and all comments are welcome.