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Celebrations and Regrets

June 18, 2008

My great-aunt saw them on T.V., just like George Takei and Brad Altman, or those eighty-year-old lesbians.  My uncle Steven and his partner Ciro just got married thanks to the California Supreme Court.

I’m very happy for them, but the news is somewhat tainted by the fact that we’re no longer on speaking terms.  

Arguments always seem silly when you can’t remember how they started, but are worse when you can remember exactly how they stared, and now they seem pointless.  Does it really matter who stole whose Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michelangelo action figure (with Kung-Fu Grip™) in the mid-eighties?  Sure, it felt like the end of the world back then, but ending a friendship over a toy is actually embarrassing when you look back on it twenty years later.

Shortly after my grandfather died, a year after my grandmother passed, my uncle got into an argument with my mother about money.  Not even his money, but the amount of money his brother would be receiving from the estate.  My mother, as executor, had done her best to calculate the extent of that uncle’s debt, and subtracted it from his portion.  For Uncle Steven, her work wasn’t exact enough. 

Recognizing that the source of the bad blood is now meaningless isn’t enough.  The difficulty comes from realizing that someone is going to have to apologize first.   I’ve been the ‘bigger man’ plenty of times, and I always deeply resent the fact that the other person broke me, even if it does solve the problem.  

I’m Jewish, so I was born with an over-abundance of guilt, and also happened to be cursed with a need to be universally liked.  I hate fighting.  When people are mad at me, I get nauseous.  I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I’m haunted by the idea that the list of people to notify in the event of my death could shrink by even one.   Every argument is a step closer to complete invisibility. 

Usually unable to live with myself, I take that step and apologize.  I don’t always want to, or even think I’m wrong, but I’ll do anything to make sure whomever I offended speaks to me again.

In this feud, I’ve stood my ground because the silence wasn’t just for me.  My uncle hired a lawyer who hounded my mother for information, and then he threatened to sue – all because he resented his brother.  When he made my mother cry, that was it.  Make my mother cry and you forfeit the right to speak to me.  

At first, in public, he tried to pretend everything was normal, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.  Then stilted acknowledgments faded into total silence, and now we haven’t spoken in two years.

I miss my uncle, a drama queen with a wicked sense of humor who took me to see the musical Hairspray, and charged me with the responsibility of caring for him in his old age when I was only a child.  He’s always been selfish, but it used to be part of his charm.

The original argument seems petty now – what lingers is the way he so easily tossed his family aside, like we didn’t matter, like we were expendable.  I don’t want to be the first to say sorry.  I don’t want him to think that how he treated me and my mother is something that can be overlooked, or just forgotten.  As much as I want to put my family back together again, this is one wound that runs too deep to ignore.

I would love to celebrate his marriage to Ciro, a wonderful chef and actor.  They’ve been together most of my life, they’re a collective unit in my mind.  That they’re finally able to do what they would have done years ago is huge, and I’m proud.  

What’s awful is that celebration isn’t enough to mend the fence.  We’ve already had several family birthdays, weddings, and even a Bat Mitzvah, which became increasingly like a game of hide and seek in the effort to avoid so much as eye contact.  Were a tragedy to occur, I’m sure that would be it.  Someone dies and old fights are forgotten.  Petty disagreements seem so immaterial when faced with the ephemerality of life.  

Why can’t happiness have that same healing effect?  Perhaps it’s because with a tragedy, you know the other person has suffered, and being the one to cross the bridge isn’t so hard.  But when they’re celebrating, then it isn’t as if they’ve learned a lesson.  If anything they’re flaunting that they’re better off without you.  Not exactly the sort of feeling that inspires the proffering of an olive branch.

When my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, a small part of me hoped it might be just enough of a tragedy to bring the prodigal sons back into the fold.  I don’t want to wait until someone dies to reconcile, but I just can’t bring myself to take the first step.  I think my mother and I are still trying to teach him a lesson, but the fact is, he’s over forty years old – if he hasn’t learned it by now, he probably never will.  And maybe someday, as my family shrinks year by year, I won’t care so much.  Maybe I’ll be able to pick up the phone and say, ‘Congratulations, I knew you two kids would make it.’

 

Quote of the Day:

“The California Supreme Court has ruled that all Californians have a fundamental right to marry the person he or she loves. Brad and I have shared our lives together for over 21 years. We’ve worked in partnership; he manages the business side of my career and I do the performing. We’ve traveled the world together from Europe to Asia to Australia. We’ve shared the good times as well as struggled through the bad. He helped me care for my ailing mother who lived with us for the last years of her life. He is my love and I can’t imagine life without him. Now, we can have the dignity, as well as all the responsibilities, of marriage. We embrace it all heartily.” – George Takei, actor Star Trek

Link of the Day: California Court Overturns Ban on Gay Marriage

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