I guess mostly my ideas of family are loose. My first experiences with family was my great-aunt, her friends and my sister. In some ways my mother became a part of my idea of family later. I don’t think I had the concept of family at the time. But retrospectively the image I have of family now, projected backwards.
This means of course people who weren’t blood related felt like family. As I grew up and met relatives I started to understand their was a difference. But I never really felt the difference. I know I met people in my own expanded family living with my great-aunt. But also members of her friends’ extended family.
Through the middle years, I lived more with my mother. And the number of blood family members outside our immediate family shrank. Mother had reasons based on her father. But truth is they just lived far away, and she never made much effort. So of course I knew my sister and brother, mother were my family. But I don’t know I ever experienced the family bond others seem to have known.
Which is why once I left the house at 18, I lost contact with my family. At school I had friends, but I didn’t feel close to anyone. And the idea of family was mostly an empty one.
I remember living on the street. I met a girl named Sarah. I told her, “that’s my sister’s name.” She said I could be her brother. Then I met her again a couple weeks later, and she said the same thing. She was younger, and I don’t know why she was on the street. It makes me sad thinking about it now. I developed a real concern for her, and helped her out a couple times. Later she met a girl, who became her street sister. And she became my sister.
Once I met two girls, both 15. They were on the street like I was at the time. They decided I would be their street father. Which was an odd idea to me, but I accepted the idea. They camped with me for a while and I took care of them. At one point they took some acid, and I had to hunt them down. And then try and keep them safe until they came down.
And then they found a new street father and left. Thinking about why they were on the street also makes me sad.
But at the same time I wasn’t in contact with my own family. I know one Thanksgiving I had planned to go to see my family. But when I called my mother before the trip, I changed my mind. All she could do is complain about my sister. Instead I took the bus for 24 hours to Washington to see my girlfriend. I think the relationship problems between my sister and mother make it hard for me to feel a family connection with either.
When I started to travel I met Shaylyn, Pam and Laura. They weren’t real sisters, but still sisters. And I adopted them at the time. I sometimes think my sister is still upset at me for leaving California while my niece was being born. And I went to New York to live with Laura and Shaylyn for a while. I have been in touch with all of them on Facebook. And off and on closer contact through the years.
When I was in college I met a fellow student. A man older than myself. Through the years we have remained in contact. At times he has been somewhat of a father figure to me. My real father, I didn’t know until I was 12. And I didn’t develop much of a relationship with until I was an adult. At this point, they are in many ways equal. I trust them both, and feel equally comfortable talking to them and getting advice. But still not compellingly close to either.
In the last couple years I have started to get to know my dad’s family. When I first met my dad’s sister, I called her “my dad’s sister,” all the time. And people would ask, “isn’t that your aunt?” But I never used the word because it implied a relationship which didn’t exist for me at the time. We are closer now, in a Facebook generation sort of way at least. And her kids too, my cousins.
So I guess I have a lot of family out there now. Both blood and non-blood. But my closest family is my cat.