Strange Bonds

The idea of family as portrayed in films, in superficial ways, mirrors my own experiences. In other ways, nothing could be less accurate. People I knew when I was younger, who knew me as I was, are now separated by long distances, as is often the case. Rare occasions, most often funerals or weddings, bring us together again for an afternoon or evening of light conversation. Yet, they’re people that I recieve reports about from closer relatives, such as parents, who display photographs of people I remember clearly posed with people I have never met but have only heard about. Friends I’ve talked with recently have been telling me about being estranged from their families, separated by the usual barriers: divorce, geography, resentments, lack of communication. It would seem that the image of the ideal family is to blame, if there is a culprit. The image of an ideal family is just as it seems: a sham, often just a more or less managed public image. The true story behind the smiling surface is known only by those close enough to be admitted beyond the portrait. So, it was strange to find myself sharing a meal with my brother today, which allowed me to realize the ways we are alike. As infuriating or difficult it may be at times for me to admit, I can’t deny the similarities. My brother talked about his idea for painting or drawing in “all natural inks” on some collected bark from birch trees. I wondered where the new interest in painting came from, other than from our DNA. I have long since abandoned making much if any artwork, once my main preoccupation. My sister, I’ve heard from the grapevine, has nevertheless been painting abstractions on linen in her basement. She may have been influenced by her son, my nephew, who displayed his artwork last year in a local café but this year has branched out to filming dance videos in his teenage bedroom to post to instagram and youtube. For the sake of sounding like an annual holiday card update letter, I’ll stop. Most families have similar traits which are darker as well, as does my own, which I won’t elaborate upon here. Beyond the common interests, there is the familiar manner of speaking, the undeniable posture of a long dead relative, the familiar chin. Being known has always felt strange to me, the way some people possess hidden knowledge and hold subtle expectations. One night, years ago, I met a couple, strangers, who had a family tree that dated “way back.” It turned out that we shared a common ancestor, scattered over centuries to the point that we couldn’t recognize each other. In the broadest sense, everyone is family, everyone shares an undiscovered bond. There’s always a hidden narrative contained in our bloodstreams, our DNA, that perhaps will be revealed, maybe after this life is over. I shared stories about grabdfathers and other relatives with a friend this past week at a café over lunch. One grandfather was a bootlegger who was murdered in a saloon, a real life murder ballad. Another grandfather found a profession after an influenza epidemic. A great grandfather his his landscape paintings from his wife, who burned all of his other paintings and brushes. One relative was related to a certain crime family, one member found dead in a motel, surrounded by legal papers. Another cousin was a student who met a man while studying abroad, married him, later changing her religion and citizenship. After an uncle died, the second home he shared with his wife was revealed. The stories are endless: dark, confusing, odd, fascinating. Reality is stranger than fiction and is contained within us. There seems to be no real escape after all.

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