Family is like a set of mis-shaped domino pieces standing in a long, generational line, marching through life trying not to fall and hoping that nobody falls behind them. In family, if someone trips, everyone else is pretty much fucked. I learned how to play dominos at my grandmother’s house, on her orange shag carpet. She’d bring me a tray and let me set up fancy shapes just so I could knock them all over. Sometimes, of course, somehow one or even two would remain standing because the piece behind it only brushed it’s edge, but for the most part, when one fell the rest would collapse after it. Sitting on my grandmothers floor I never grasped the symbolic nature of the game: We’ve got alcoholic grandpa here, crashing down into alcoholic grandma, who crashes into mom, who then accidentally stumbles and what the fuck happened?
I’ll never forget the moment that I realized my family was one of those cyclical, sort of malignant families, like that bunny kid from Gummo. I was at a funeral sitting in the car with my aunt staring out of the window watching the rain. “Your mother, as much as I love her, is exactly like my mother,” my aunt said, apologetically. My grandmother and my mother were best friends. My great-grandfather had just passed away, yet instead of getting out of the car to pay our respects, we chatted with the heat on full-blast while the rain flooded the windshield, obscuring our view of the recently deceased. “Poor grandpa,” I said, “Not really, he wasn’t a very nice man,” she contradicted. I was surprised. My aunt is one of those super cheeful people, the fucking annoying ones who are all positive and full of shit. The kind who creep people like me, the cynics, the fuck out. She’s super Mormon, and has lived a simple life in the middle of nowhere Idaho for as long as I can remember. She wears bullet proof underwear as God intended.
“You know,” she continued, “when you were a baby your uncle and I considered adopting you from your mother. She was so young and so naive, we didn’t think that she would know how to raise you. I remember coming over once and watching you two together. You got yourself water, you dressed yourself and would ask to go to the bathroom when you were just over one. Your mother seemed to think you could almost completely take care of yourself and it seemed that you kind of did. I wanted you. Me and your uncle talked about it but in the end we didn’t know how to ask her for you.”
“Uhm, yeah?”. Then I just awkwardly stared at her. “We’re really proud of you,” she continued, “you turned out really well. You’re smart and you’re really, really normal. You remind me of myself in that way.” I stopped looking out at the rain and turned to face my aunt.
She’s a pretty woman, very small stature, huge, high, curly hair, and smiling eyes. “Why do I remind you of yourself?” I asked. She took a deep breath and stared at the steering wheel for a long time before answering.
“Well, I don’t even know where to start. I think we’d have to start at the beginning. I think we’d have to start with your grandma Sally and her mom, your great-grandma Arlene”
“My name is Sally Smith-Williams. I was born March 24th 1937 at Dee Hospital in Ogden at 3:59 A.M. I remember living in a two bedroom house, the kitchen in the front the bedroom in the back. We didn’t have a bathroom, or running water. We had to use the bathroom in an outhouse that was built out of wood and stood about twenty feet from the house. We didn’t have toilet paper, we used newspaper. Those days were difficult, but fun. We ran through the trees and played in sand at that house. My father built a new house and I remember standing in our new kitchen watching my mother cook. I fell on the burners with both hands. It burned, and I still have some scars. Every Saturday we got fifty cents to spend from my parents to go to the movie. The movies back then cost ten cents. We were supposed to take the bus, but my siblings and I would save a nickel by walking instead. I was a loner, and didn’t have any friends really.”
Then at some point Arlene divorced her first husband and married Jakob. From what I recall Jakob was a sweet man in general but nobody else really seemed to think so. In fact, from what I hear he was a real asshole.
“When I was in the fifth grade my mother had a nervous breakdown. We had to all go and live with my dad. Nobody told us what was going on, back then kids weren’t allowed to ask questions. You were told what to do and you just did it. Things were weird with my mother gone. I lived with my father until the ninth grade. We needed school books but my father wouldn’t pay for it so I had to go back and live with my mother. Living with mom again was nice, but my new step father was difficult. They argued all the time, it was hard to deal with his standards and his yelling and I eventually went back to live with my father when I was sixteen.”
When Arlene had her nervous breakdown, my grandmother Sally, had to mostly stop going to school to care for the other children. She was cooking, cleaning, and taking care of her siblings. It made catching up difficult and eventually at sixteen, because she couldn’t afford the books, she had to drop out for good. She married her first husband shortly after and had two children, my aunt Michelle, and my uncle Devin.
“I met my first husband Bob, when I was sixteen dancing in the ballroom. He was very handsome, light brown hair, medium build, and hazel eyes. He asked me to dance and I accepted. We dated for six months and were married. He was the first man I’d ever been with; we lost our virginity to each other on our wedding night. We were married for two years and I had a son Devin, then I had a miscarriage and a still born, and then a daughter Michelle. Bob was an amazing provider and a hard worker. I divorced him after finding out he was having an affair. “
She then divorced him and married my grandfather, Gordon, and had my mother, and and uncle Kory. “I met Gordon Evans my second husband when I was twenty-three through my sister. I got pregnant with a son, Kory, shortly after meeting him and we were soon married. After a year of marriage I had a daughter Korleen. The best thing about Gordon is that he was a great father. He loved my other children that were not his, and he took great care of our children. I divorced Gordon because Gordon refused to get a job. I couldn’t raise all of my children with a husband who wouldn’t work. We were married for five years.”
A woman of beauty, with jet black hair, aqua green eyes and an hourglass body that held up pregnancy after pregnancy, even with four children it was easy for her to find willing suiters. Shortly after she divorced Gordon, she married again, and had her last son, my uncle Derrin, with a man named Dick, a man that would change the lives of the children in the family forever.
“I met my third husband Dean when I was twenty-seven” said my grandma Sally. “Dean and I went together for two years. Got married, and two years later had another son Darren. Dean was amazing in bed. By far his best quality was his love-making skills.” She winked and laughed, an old lady remembering her sexier days. “At first we had a decent marriage. Then I found out he was going to bars and telling his friends he wasn’t married. We used to fight cause he was out all the time and then he started hitting me. He would grab my hair and hit my face into objects and walls, pulling out my hair in huge chunks. I would comb my hair over the bald spots. The cops were around every other week, and at times he would knock me out and I would wake in a pool of blood with my children standing over me. “
She lit a cigarette and shook her head as though she was dismissing a bad memory, trying to forget something, shake it out of her brain. For a moment she was quiet and focused on her cigarette. She took a large drag and exhaled, “I learned a lot from that marriage. I have a lot of regrets from that marriage. But that’s life, you have to live and learn.”…..