"We were raised by wolves."
Every family has favorite lines, those things that someone said at a party, at Thanksgiving dinner, during a drunken wedding toast. These lines get repeated and eventually say so much to (and for) all those who were there the first time they were uttered.
At my sister’s wake people, well meaning I’m sure, kept asking why she had killed herself. I guess to find a way to wrap their minds around it or to simply have something to say. At one point my baby brother told one of the poor well meaning inquisitors …
"We were raised by wolves."
I fucking hate him for having sole credit for one of the best lines ever – in a family of sarcastic bastards no less. How dare he assume my role! I’m the oldest, I took the most crap, I should get all the best lines …
Actually I’m glad that line is his. He keeps it all in and I know that line is often the only thing he needs to hear to keep the top from popping off. Sometimes he’ll call me and simply say “So Di, how were we raised?”
"We were raised by wolves."
And on we go …
I’m not going to go into a lot of family drama anecdotes – you’ll just have to wait for the book. My father was a drunken abusive nut case, my mother was clinically depressed – she slept while her husband abused her children and her oldest child tried to raise them and protect them.
Neighbors would call the police, my aunts and uncles would beg her to throw my father out but in the end nothing happened and we did our best to survive.
As I got older I did what many children from abusive homes do – I drank, I experimented with drugs, I was promiscuous. When the people who are supposed to love you more than life itself clearly don’t you have very little self esteem and you act out.
Let me tell you I was one hell of a ball of rage and crazed bravado. I was very bright, very articulate, and I looked older than I was.
During this time I would hang out in Manhattan a lot. Bensonhurst, Brooklyn didn’t hold anything for me. I was a teenager in the late 60s and “the city” was the place to be. Lucky for me I loved books and art and theater. I would spend all day at museums and the “big library”. My Mom’s brother, Uncle Johnny, worked for a sightseeing company and I’d go by his post in midtown and he’d put me on the tour bus or give me money for a Broadway matinee. Uncle Johnny had his issues, all my aunts and uncles did, they were the elders of a family full of people who didn’t talk about anything. He’d ask me if I was “OK” and I could always tell by the look in his eyes that he really wanted me to say “Yes” and I did. At this point I had given up on the idea that adults were any more powerful than I was, in many ways I knew better than they did.
Uncle Johnny had a roommate, they shared a wonderful apartment full of books and music and art on the Upper West Side. Uncle Lee was the coolest guy I had ever met. He looked like a movie star, he could sing and dance and when he asked you a question he waited for an answer. He looked into your eyes when you spoke.
Uncle Johnny and Uncle Lee didn’t spend much time with the rest of the family. It wasn’t until I sought them out that I got to know them. I didn’t realize at first that they were lovers; I didn’t really understand what gay was. I barely understood straight sex even though I was having it all the time. My understanding of the world was very closed minded Bensonhurst mixed with an episode of ‘Cops’ shot in the worst trailer park you could imagine.
Since Uncle Lee worked nights – he was in the theater! – I spent a lot of time with him during the day. He’d take me to lunch, he’d go with me to see a play, he’d get me books and then ask me about them after I read them. He convinced me to be more careful – he told me I was too smart to treat myself the way I did.
Years later I learned that Uncle Lee tried to get involved in helping me, and my brothers and sister. Since he wasn’t “family” he didn’t get very far and Uncle Johnny couldn’t or wouldn’t back him up. I don’t blame Johnny – there was so much insanity going on at so many levels in the family. And how much can you do when your sister, the mother of the children you’re trying to protect, keeps telling everyone that nothing is wrong.
Uncle Lee is always there in my memories – I’ll read a book and wonder if he’d like it, I’ll hear a Broadway tune and think of him humming along, I’ll take a photo and wonder if he’d see something in it. I loved that most about him – he saw things, he paid attention, he was invested in the world.
Yesterday I thought of Uncle Lee and I was so furious and so frustrated.
In my daily need to know what’s going on in the world I came across this –
An excerpt from John McCain’s NY times interview:
Q: President Bush believes that gay couples should not be permitted to adopt children. Do you agree with that?
Mr. McCain: I think that we’ve proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no I don’t believe in gay adoption.
Q: Even if the alternative is the kid staying in an orphanage, or not having parents.
Mr. McCain: I encourage adoption and I encourage the opportunities for people to adopt children I encourage the process being less complicated so they can adopt as quickly as possible. And Cindy and I are proud of being adoptive parents.
Q: But your concern would be that the couple should be a traditional couple
Mr. McCain: Yes.
Really Mr. McCain? Mom and Dad/male and female/boy and girl – are the only way a child can be raised successfully? Really?
I’ll spare you all the quotes where McCain tried to back peddle. He basically said that when all else wasn’t available then he guessed it would be better for a child to be with gay parents than no parents. What a guy! A humanitarian even!
I don’t know what might have been if Uncle Lee and Uncle Johnny were married. Hell they weren’t even out. Lee was always the roommate. Would Uncle Lee have had more say? I assume so. All the other spouses did. Would Uncle Johnny have been happier if he could have lived out loud with the person he loved? I’m sure he would have been.
What I do know is that Uncle Lee was a huge influence in my young crazy life. He saw things in me that I assumed were of no value and he made them important. I was important. He wanted me to be safe, he wanted me to be happy and he tried his best in an impossible situation to do all he could for me.
And that is a parent.
So Mr. McCain – in honor of Uncle Lee – I respectfully wish to tell you to go fuck yourself and the dinosaur you rode in on.
(the image is from familiesjoinedbylove.com)