I am unhappy, but I know I must find a way to pull myself out of this vortex that is trying to pull me beneath its surface, trying to help me forget this longing for those I care about the most. Yes, I am fully aware that this sounds like a Harlequin Romance or maybe a psycho thriller, and nothing could be further from the way I usually react to difficult moments.
This time my reaction is different. The dark is real and deep. I am determined to survive and will find a way to scrabble back to the top. No, I am not going to use sappy, romantic images, because this isn’t the story of love the type that conjures up images of swooning, bodice-ripping, and groping. You already know that. I am way past that sort of passion and longing. My need is to love people to whom I have grown so close, who have filled every gap in my life until now. Is that such a strange desire?
In order to keep my head above water, I will tell you the true story about my “found family” and what it felt like when all of us were finally able to get together again after a long time apart. Normally, we never went more than six moths without getting together, but this was different.
We had the invisible and lethal barrier of an undetermined global infection, neither virus nor bacteria, that had to be identified and nullified by a cure before people could begin to leave their houses. I don’t want to think about the cause of the infection, which apparently has spores that can disseminate, making everything that comes into contact with them wither. It might be something like the black dust they call corn smut, but I’m just guessing here. I am only qualified to speak of the separation and its effects on me, which have been so severe.
It had been a year and a half since I had seen my constructed, my built-to-order, consciously-chosen, family. I have always needed to be a member of a close-knit family, but my horrible lot in life has been that part of my DNA is shared by people who are just junk. Tattoos up the wazoo, drug addicts, mean, and really, really stupid. That’s my anti-family. I need them not. If they see me, they might kill me. It would not surprise me to learn that they have already killed somebody and gotten away with it.
Out, out, damned spots!
My real family is comprised of people I had to cross an ocean to meet, had to learn another language to communicate with, had to walk huddled under a dripping umbrella with in order to come to understand them.
In both cases regarding ‘family’, I started at zero. However, in the first case, we went from zero to minus seventy in just a few years. The Inferno, distrust, pure evil. Like I just said, I need them not. Plus, they scare me. They are fighters, dirty as they come. In the second case, both the others and I gradually, carefully, sized each other up, shared laughs, politics, and tears, then decided - albeit we never said it out loud - that we were family. We had found a match. We didn’t go online to do it, didn’t do genetic testing, didn’t do anything but drift together, slowly.
After months on end of waiting to see them, we were finally going to be able to get together. The ban on travel had been lifted, and I was on that plane so fast your eyes would have popped. I’d thrown the equivalent of three changes of clothes into a blue hard shell suitcase and was boarding. I had remembered to take a valium to calm my nerves while flying (I can get panic attacks and it isn’t pretty). I only fly now in one direction, over one ocean, because my need to see them is that great.
Family that is constructed, is a family desired much more than the one that comes by birth. But we know I’ve already said that.
Maybe I was afraid nobody would believe me, that I might seem to be overreacting when I told several other passengers the flight felt eternal. I had been counting every minute, every step of the way. No sleeping for me after the meal trays were retrieved and the lights in the cabin dimmed. Without them, the ones I had assembled as family, I was nobody. It felt like I was fading away. I hoped I wouldn’t arrive too late.
Once the overseas flight had landed and I’d stopped feeling foolish, my feet reacted. It felt like I was walking into my family home, walking over rugs I’d seen countless times. It smelled like good food, bad gasoline, and recent rain. In a way, I was walking in familiar rooms, because I had deliberately chosen every blade of grass in two hundred shades of green, every wildflower and weed. I had chosen to meet them, to see them often. We all knew it.
Feeling at home at last, I began to breathe more easily. Invisible droplets invaded my thoughts.
It had been over a year and a half since I’d seen them. I know I pointed that out before, but I really wanted to stress the point. Maybe it had been two years. I confess that I was a bit unclear on that point, but in any event, it had been too long. I had been deflated too long.
From the airport to the center of the city seemed longer than eternal. So long, so many days, weeks. Now I had to endure another thirty five minutes. It had to be that way, but at least now it was almost at an end. Within minutes, we would be together once more. We could talk and laugh and cry or criticize, just like families do. We were going to be so happy, wriggling our toes around in our roots, that went deeply into the land that was the only one where I knew how to grow. I had tried elsewhere, and failed. Elsewhere was all walking on stagnation and ignorant air. Here there was where roots cracked through shale and granite and clung tight. Here memory fertilized every thing and every person.
I hurled myself from the taxi, saying keep the change (fortunately) in the right language, then turning and running toward them, wondering which one of the group I would see first. Which one I would hug first.
My arms were both occupied as I rushed forward, what with my shoulder bag that had been my carry on and the small suitcase on rollers. That is the only reason my arms were not outstretched. My eyes, however, were searching feverishly, trying to cast a net to locate my family, hoping to find them, and hoping that they would find me, exactly the same as before the separation had begun, before the fungus or whatever had infected the world. Before.
When I spotted them, instantly I knew: I had begun to melt into their heads, was about to become their thoughts. I chose to let them drink me in, while for my part I breathed their gaze, and touched their breath, embracing as far as the shadows behind them. My arms had somehow become free and I was able to do that. Embrace them.
One of the group - there must have been three dozen or so - was a sister, another a cousin, one a brother or uncle. One was another sister, one a niece, one a daughter. Mixed in were friends, so much friends that they too were family. Even the noise that erupted among the members of our grou did not impede communication. We were all babbling, suggesting places to go, telling news tidbits. We knew what we were saying.
Just to clarify: This might all look like a celebration, but it was not in honor of my arrival. True, we were very close, but this family, this real family, not the DNA one, is like that. It’s how they all grew up. They are all magical, and when a group gets together, watch out! What I mean to say is that everybody was feeling great because the group had increased by one. More smiles, stories, jokes to share.
My joy was almost childish, I knew. It was also the stuff of novels and poems. Things we talked about, quoted sometimes. No blood line would ever tie me to them, but we’ve already seen how blood is irrelevant anyway when talking about families. We were more than just people who knew each other and liked to enjoy a good wine in a local bar with perfect decor. We were more than people who went out to supper together, who walked along the paseo marítimo, along the beach of Riazor. We knew more than blood tells. We were the type of family I had dreamed of, except that we were not a dream, we were real.
I trust my feelings about this are clear?
To many of my readers this probably sounds like a Harlequin Romance - there, I’ve said it again - or something written by Louisa May Alcott, but so be it. And while it was divine to be able to touch them, or to feel a hand on my shoulder, grab an arm or just stand close, because in their world personal space does not exist, I had none of what could be considered improper feelings for any of them. Remember, we are talking about family and that alone.
Once received into the midst of the gentle mob, I could not believe I had survived over a year and a half without them, my family by definition and proclamation, not by shared cells or mitochondria or anything like that. To manage, I realized all of a sudden that I had slowly been eating my own mind, my memories of them, my not-family, the one so familiar to me. I had been reheating, re-eating, their images, their faces and voices, their them, all that they were. The DNA family was dead, fortunately. Gone away and died. Killed by something so much better. Yet had traces remained? The desperate need to disown the slobs frightened me, even as I stood in the midst of so many kind, jostling bodies. Maybe some even had tattoos, but I doubted it.
Maybe there is a way to explain this. Maybe it’s the people, but it’s also the place.
The weight of the found ones had been the anchor, if not to my soul, to something more real: to my labyrinth. They have given me the weight of the citied slabs and symbols, the throaty chiming of bells for masses never attended, lime-green hills nearby and spell-casting meigas, fragrance of chestnuts roasting slowly to black in misty old streets.
They had weighed me and saved me, and now were taking me to the fountains of Fonseca and the Acibechería. They now forced me into the water, and afterward bumped my head against the head of Mestre Mateo in the cathedral entrance. They must have been hoping I would figure it out, grow more intelligent. At least that’s the legend: you knock your head against the short statue, and you acquire much wisdom. My family wanted me to be wise, like they were. It was all jumbled up, but that was all right.
They were all I had and a year and a half, almost two, is much too long to be apart. I needed their company and so, as already noted, had begun to cannibalize myself, inside, where I kept them. Now that was all behind me, and living revved up again. I waved to one of my two favorite gargoyles and recited:
Cando eu morrer
Enterrade-me na Fonseca
When I die
Bury me in Fonseca Square
That’s just a snippet from a poem I wrote using one by Lorca for inspiration. It’s a bad poem, but I recite it because I really would like my ashes to end up in Fonseca. If they could be dropped from the little gargoyle there, even better
I wrote this because I have not been able to see them. My found people. The ones I can be with and not fear a knife in the ribs. A pestilence is raging throughout the planet. There are no airplanes, no pilots, and no place to land. I invented the entire trip and my arrival just now. I had to do it, because to know that I am far away and could die before we meet again is a searing pain.
The encounter, now in writing, as can be seen from the previous paragraphs, has been placed in a leaded frame like a stained glass window. It is safe there, and beautiful. I stare at the rippled crystal, divided into sections of yellow, blue, red that then take on human forms. In my writing, the human forms are not those of long-dead, long-martyred saints. They are the forms of my cousins, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, nieces, nephews, sons and daughters.
Do I worship them, like people do when gazing at stained-glass windows in a church or cathedral? No, I don’t worship them. That would ruin everything. I need them, though, and somehow - somehow - we will overcome this pestilence, this plague, this space. If I need to, I will write our meeting over and over and over. I will cross the ocean with or without an aircraft, with or without the railing that in Rosalía’s poem a young woman wished for so she could visit family in Brazil.
Don’t measure distance; measure time. That is how you will know how much you are suffering.
A year and a half, nearly two. Nobody can measure two.
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Love this prompt. The stories are all good, but yours was great. It really takes something to make a found family, because the people involved are often estranged from their born family. Which is sad. There are lines in here that are deep, even taken out of context. Maybe it's the people, but it's also the place. Thanks for sharing. We wrote a story this week, about grief and museums and other things. A Kathleen March opinion would be much appreciated if you have the time. Thanks!
Thank you for the thoughtful remarks. I think it is sad about being estranged only if there is no found family to take the biological one's place. There is a tiny bit of truth in the story, but is is mostly imagined. The truth is that I do know what it's like to have an anti-family and couldn't care less what happens to them.