I love You, But Don’t Invite Me To Anything

There comes a time in one’s life when you’ve got to take stock of those “responsibilities” we put on ourselves in regards to staying in contact with family, friends, and acquaintances. When we’re younger it’s instilled in us by our parents that family is family. There’s a function, you should go. So we go, whether it’s convenient or not. Whether we have anything in common with said family members, other than shared DNA. Same with family friends, old high school buddies, acquaintances we pick up over the years. It’s rude not to take up someone on their invite, right?

Over the last several years I’ve been putting my own mental health and well being above unspoken, unsigned contractual obligations to ghosts of the past. It started around 2014. There was a family function we were invited to and out of that shadowy obligatory guilt we went. My wife bought a bunch of fresh fruit for it and we psyched our kids up for a “fun” afternoon with family(“Grandma and grandpa will be there!”). We headed over at the time the festivities were supposed to take place and were the first there, along with my parents. Nobody else was there. People were milling about that lived at the house like we showed up too soon(umm…I didn’t set the time, you did!), one of the guests called maybe an hour before to say they weren’t going to make it because they were tired and had just got home from their own vacation. That person was supposed to bring all the drinks, so someone had to run out and get drinks.

Eventually more family began to show up. Family I used to look forward to seeing and could hold conversations with, had things in common with, and felt close to but now just felt awkward near them. I’m not sure when this happened, to be honest. At some point you go through enough in your own life that childhood memories and those things that made you laugh and connect just aren’t enough. Funny stories and yucking it up in 92 degree heat doesn’t hold the weight it once did. I was happy being with my family, the family I built, cared for, and kept the closest to my heart within my own four walls. But these folks sitting next to me talking about fishing and Breaking Bad, well I just felt very out of place.

By then in 2014 we’d really gotten a grasp on life in our family unit; both emotionally and financially. My wife and I struggled for awhile. It’s easy to do when you have three young kids all under 7 years old and bills begin to pile up. Throw on top of that health scares, work stress, and a dog you’re forced to put into a diaper because he’s having his own emotional and physical issues and wires get frayed. We worked opposite shifts so the kids always had one of their parents around. It’s great for the kids, but the parents can start to drift. Not out of love, but out of sync. We turned it around and got our finances(and ourselves as a couple) in order.

Where years ago it felt natural to have these big family gatherings, it started to just feel forced to me and my wife. Politics never made its way into family get-togethers, but it started to at some point. We may have voted differently, but I don’t care. I’m hear to enjoy seeing aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousins’ kids. To laugh, eat, maybe strum a guitar,…whatever. But once folks start pretending to be political pundits I’m done.

By 2014 it all just felt kind of forced.

My grandma died in February of 2011. I feel that once she was gone everything changed. True colors were shown that last year she was sick with cancer. There were only two people that were regularly helping her and taking her to doctor visits(my mom one of them.) The rest just sort of checked out. It’s hard for me to forget that, so by 2014 I may have had a chip on my shoulder. The small talk and chit chat sitting on a porch next to a dank river being eaten up by mosquitoes did nothing for that chip, other than maybe make it grow exponentially.

My kids were pretty much ignored by the other cousins that day. I don’t know why, but they were. By the time it was time to “grill” I knew accepting this invitation was a mistake. Instead of using the gas grill that sat on the porch to cook up a bunch of hot dogs, a giant fire pit was created in an open spot in the yard. We were to cook our own hot dogs, stuck into twigs like we were on Naked and Afraid or something. None of this was fun, not to me or my wife and kids. My dad still talks of this to this day, and burning his knuckles over the snapping, licking flames.

I’d always felt like we were a little separated from the rest of my mom’s family. Growing up we were the only ones that weren’t devout Christians on my mom’s side of the family. We didn’t go to church or pray before every meal, so even though nothing was ever said to me I could feel just a slight hint of judgement. I felt love, too. But the religion thing was always there, like a crucified elephant in the room. It didn’t stop me from bonding with my cousins and loving my aunts and uncles, but even at elementary school age I knew what hypocrisy was.

I had a couple wild uncles, and they lived it up in their teens and twenties. So when they finally felt the need to slow it down and they found religion, they found it in a heavy way. My mom and dad were married when my mom was 18 and my dad was 21. They had my older brother about three months after that. My dad had a full-time job at 17-years old and stayed at that job till he was 67. Never sewed his wild oats, never jumped job to job, and never sent 20% of his earnings to the church when he didn’t have pot to piss in. His responsibility to his family came first. Always. But since we didn’t go to church and my parents liked to drink beer there was always this feeling that we were just left of the inner circle or something. I don’t know, maybe it was just me. But I doubt it.

It’s not like my parents were progressive atheists or something. My dad voted Republican till ’84. He was in the Army Reserves. Both my parents were Presbyterians growing up, and never lost their belief for Big G(as my dad likes to call everyone’s favorite deity.) They just lost interest in the church and in the institution and weaponizing of religion. You don’t need to go to a sanctuary to talk with God. He(or She, baby) is always with you. That’s the crazy thing about being a Holy Ghost. They’re there, even when you can’t see ’em.

Me? I’m not an Atheist. But I’m no believer, at least in the Jonah and the Whale, Moses and the Red Sea, and smiting sense. There’s more to the universe than we know. We’re far too complex a creature to merely be cells that grow and die. But that’s for another chat. Maybe over magic mushrooms and a Totino’s Party Pizza.

So what is all this? All this talk of an uncomfortable Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2014? What’s it have to do with anything? Well, I guess what I’m trying to say is that we change; we evolve and move on from things and people. If after half a lifetime you still have those strong bonds with extended family and friends – and enjoy the hot, summer bonding time – then I’m happy for you. You do you. But if after all these years you just don’t feel all that great hanging with certain family and friends anymore, I’m hear to tell you that you don’t have to. You’re an adult now, so if you don’t want to hang out in a rented community building in some public park for a Fourth of July celebration with cousins, second cousins, and great aunts and uncles, don’t. You can kindly decline. Or flat out say leave me the hell alone, depending on the circumstances. For your mental well-being, stay home. Or spend it with people you want to be with. People that get you and let you be you.

We dont’ go to those family functions anymore. I still love all my family – immediate and extended – and I owe them for helping make me who I am. But we’re all older now, and the kids that used to run around those holiday gatherings are now adults themselves with their own children. More responsibilities, with their kids old enough to have their own jobs and plans. It’s too hard to make time for those other functions. I see my parents on the regular, and my handful of lifetime friends are still very close to me. Those are the bonds that won’t break. Those are the people I keep near.

To everyone else…

I’m here for you if you’re ever in a bind. If you’re in trouble and need help call and I’ll be there. Got a move something heavy and need some extra muscle? I’ll put on the back brace and bring some coffee. Feeling down and need to talk, I’ll pick up the phone. I’m here for you when it counts.

I love you, but don’t invite me to anything.

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