I grew up believing my family was an ordinary one. Nobody was particularly out of ordinary, so I thought. My father was not an alcoholic nor an addict. My mother was not a chain-smoking suicidal woman. My brother didn’t smoke pot nor join a band. I didn’t have an eccentric spinster aunt. It was a quotidian kind of dysfunctional family. Then I saw a play, August, Osage County. After the curtain, I turned to my friend and said, “That’s a terrible family.” And then I added, “That’s my family.”
Every dysfunctional family I saw on stage had a secret everybody knew about. They lock it up in the closet and pretend it is not there. Children born into the family can’t do anything but inherit it. Adults may think kids don’t know about the skeleton in the closet. We know. We see the ghosts lurking in the hallway, hear them whisper, and feel the cold air when they pass through us. We grow up with the ghosts and adults tell us again and again that there is no such thing. Silly child. So we start to believe it’s us. The dark shadows and crazy voices are inside of us. We become the ghost of the family secret.
So I started to drink early, chain-smoked, cut myself, ate and vomited. I started to live by myself when I was 18 and moved further and further from my hometown until I reached to the other side of the globe. I’ve become an eccentric divorcee.
After several decades, funerals started to happen. Older generation was dying out and they wanted to talk about the skeleton.
The irony is that I knew about it. Nobody told me but I just knew it. It’s silly to believe you can keep secrets from a highly sensitive child. They just didn’t know I knew. Once they knew I knew, they talked, and talked, and talked. He said, she said, he said she said, and she said he said. Everybody told a different version of the story.
So I found out that my family was not an ordinary family. It could be the one in Yoknapatawpha County, could be in Tennessee Williams’ play, and definitely August, Osage County worthy.
Nothing was wrong with me. It wasn’t me.
Fortunately, after decades of therapy I was able to be the shaman who could navigate between the worlds of the living and ghosts. I listened to the stories they told, and returned them a story with a new and much gentler narrative, transformed it into a story where there was no skeleton in the closet. Adults could talk about their feelings, how they loved and hated, how they got hurt and survived. The mistake they made and how it affected their lives, lives which are running out ever so quickly.
I am not a ghost anymore.