I grew up in a broken home. It started when I was 5 and my brother was 2 years old. I remember the day, the light, playing with blocks, an argument, my father taking my brother and I and leaving. My parents, my brother and I lived on welfare and poverty broke us. Despite three jobs, my dad couldn’t bring home enough money, and the bitterness overwhelmed my patents. Doubt moved in and burned everything down.
Two years later my dad remarried, and a couple years after that, so did my mom. Incidentally, my parents both married Jewish people, which was weird and fascinating to me. I saw the syncretisms in the faiths. I had to learn to adjust to “weekends with mom”. Eventually my brother left me and my dad and moved into my mom’s house when he was 11, while I rode it out with my dad.
I hated my home. I had a stepsister. When she was born, my brother and I found ourselves utterly negated. No outings, no gifts, no praise, no pictures. If you walked around our house you wouldn’t know there were two boys there until you entered our shared bedroom. After we moved out and went to college, the remnants of us were removed save for one small picture of us hanging on the wall behind the closet door in my dad’s bedroom. I wonder if he fought to keep it, or they just forgot it was there. All over the house, nothing but portraiture of the family unit intact, excluding the two step brothers.
Yet I didn’t consider myself a step-son or a step-anything. My grandparents were the same, uncles and aunts the same. So was I. My dad kicked me out a day after my 18th birthday. I was sent to work on my grandparents’ property on my mom’s side. When I prepared to leave for college a couple of months later, my mom and dad sat down to discuss my plans and my dad financially abandoned me, refused to accept any financial burden. I found myself unable to attend a college I chose for its advanced architectural program.
I wanted to build things that could keep a people together in one place, and my vo-tech course in drafting was now going to waste. The college I ended up going to instate had nothing like it. No CAD or anything. I fulfilled the statistic of freshmen who entered university with no clear idea what to do, I failed out, though it took a night in jail before finals to fully render my disposition and force me to fail. I had enrolled in English and completed the program in two years, but that was purely by chance after an accident. I had slipped a short story under the door of a professor with the wrong heading on it. The professor read the story and accepted me into the final writing workshop for Fiction ||. I received a certificate despite failing out after bombing finals because I didn’t study. I used to cram the night before finals and do well with my good memory.
I drifted further from my dad. I resented him for taking away my dream of becoming an architect, but I could write about it, right? No. I drank. I spent a decade in shit jobs writing about anything else if very little, gradually coming full-circle in 2000 in another writing program where I tried to bury details of wild subatomic particle research and geomantric design into seemingly innocuous stories about boot salesmen, monkeys and other stories about my family. I was reading adult fiction in third grade, so I don’t think I missed out by switching to science books in the library. By the time I finished my BA I no longer wrote. My paper diploma meant nothing. I lost it and didn’t care. I felt deaf inside. I couldn’t hear the world.
When my stepsister married, my brother and I went to her beautiful wedding. My son was the ring bearer, but at the last minute, my step-mother cancelled it. At the wedding after making us rent expensive name-brand tuxs and then lying about reimbursing us, she pushed us out of the ceremony. At the reception, my brother and I found out names at a table and sat down with my wife and son, and the groom’s childhood babysitter. I was devastated. That was our place, then, somewhere between phantom and oblivion. I chose the former and my brother the latter that night. I hid away and read Harry Potter ( I still can’t figure out why, and I never read it again after that night) and my brother got shit drunk and had a good time playing with my son. I actually did a painting of him telling my son a joke and getting a good laugh. I haven’t finished it.
Everything is unfinished. O keep trying to heal but I can’t get over the fact that I was abandoned by my family to a degree I will never fully appreciate nor be able to endure. I worry about my own kids. I don’t want them to share my fate.
I am a son, but I am my dad’s wife’s step-child. I am my dad’s son in my own mind and I guess I keep that. I am my mom’s son, but also the child of a man she could not stand. When I see my aunts and uncles, the distance grows.
I am in a micro-Diaspora, trying to find my identity within a larger group, the group of step-people struggling in broken homes, in the aftermath, in their own way. I live in a town where I don’t have any friends. I’m weird. I study robotics and physics and I’m treated like an oddity. Nothing new. My brother lives in the emptiness of North Dakota. We rarely anything. Sad. Brotherhood was the first casualty in the death of my family, despite what my heart fairly burns to express. There is an innocent part of me that will always be the person before the divorce, that survived it intact, that still loves and misses his own kind. And not knowing that is probably merciful to those trying to forget me.
So, I have a step-family. I am a step-man. I grow apart within the larger group and hold fiercely to memories of childhood when, in my innocence, I didn’t see everything was astray and accelerating.
Step-people unite…in absentia. In hypertext. Indefinitely doubting their own positions, and approximated by others. Moving through family settings with little or no gravitas. Free or something exactly opposite of it, in a grey purgatory of memory’s trace.