My great-grandmother, Nana, died when I was 11 years old. I remember her boiling hot dogs, putting actual butter into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and her hoping that everyone on Wheel of Fortune each wins something. I don’t have many other memories of her, but I think of her when I think of death, since she is the only family member of mine who has died.
Sometimes she gets brought up by my grandmother, who loves to fill me with life lessons. My grandmother would say, “You know, I loved Nana, but I would never choose her as a friend. But, blood is blood, and you have to love your family, no matter what.”
I think my grandma almost had it right. Love for my family has been instilled in me since childhood. However, it hurts. Love lends itself into forgiveness, which means that their identity-driven transgressions against me never stick. In my brain they are always there, but my heart chooses to forgive them without my brain. When my mom said she would never attend my wedding if it was with another man, or when my brother was afraid to bend over near me (because I would molest him?), or when my grandma told me never to bring a black man home, I forgave them. I never forgot, though.
And in these instances, I keep a tally in my head for my family. The tally is pointless, but my brain keeps it there as a symbol to my heart that family ties bind and gag. Familial love can, sometimes, be strangling.
So every grievance, every transgression, every hurtful comment is kept in my mind. I don’t think that love should be mixed with so much hurt. But, like a anguished dog, I return to those that I love.
One day, I will be strong enough to listen to myself, and choose my own family. You might be related by womb or blood, but if they hurt you enough, you leave, and you make your own family. Your own family of people you would choose to be friends with.