I've had a really bad day, which I would define as a combination of a bad cold, a major relationship mistake (the kind that makes you doubt your capacity ever to be of any good to anyone), and being left out of something in which I would have liked to have been included.
And overshadowing it all, a telephone call last night.
I have had four families of origin. Two years after my mother and youngest brother were killed in a car accident, my father remarried. Our new stepmother and her two youngest children moved 1200 miles and into our house. Eight years later, when she died, her children moved back into the orbit of their father and older siblings in the south and a year later, when my father married again, the process of Total Disconnect began. That was 35 years ago. I have been in very intermittent contact with those siblings over the years, but virtually none at all in the most recent decade.
And so I did not, for instance, know that my older stepbrother, the one with whom I had the most tenuous relationship even when we were officially members of the same family, died of cancer a couple of years ago, or that the stepbrother who is exactly my age, and to whom I was at one time extremely close, has also had cancer. I did not know that the youngest had lost his partner to death some time ago.
People sometimes think, I know, that I write about loss rather too much. But my youngest stepbrother was pulled out of his home and into a new one when he was four, was the first to find his mother after her death when he was twelve, has since lost two stepmothers and his father and a brother, and now most recently his partner. Loss tends to permeate our family.
There was a time, very long ago, when we were all children in Florida. Our parents were all alive and were friends, and played cards together while we kids were left to our own devices in the early evenings. I know now that there were difficulties among some of the adults, portents of the realignments that would occur after my mother died. In fact, sometimes I think we were characters in a John Cheever story. But I did not know then.
We were not entirely innocent. When I was in first grade in Florida, the ambulances raced past our house one evening during dinner, and the subsequent phone calls among the mothers revealed that a boy in my class had died during a family picnic on the beach, a couple of blocks away. He had suffocated on a balloon. (I never forgot that night, and there were never any balloons at any of my children's birthday parties.) So yes, we knew that things happened.
But we did not know quite how many.