For me to write of family strikes me as vaguely pretentious if not outright hypocritical. Possibly we all feel like failures in this area, at least to some degree. Those who do not I tend to dismiss, even distrust. That’s just me: a walking encyclopedia of neuroses to rival the characters Woody Allen would often portray.
I was born into what would become a relatively large family. With parents, it would grow to ten of us. I was second kid, first son, usurping my older sister’s royalty in the eyes of my father. This is something for which she has yet to forgive me, even as we approach or have entered our 60s. It seems absurd; I doubt either of us could identify the origins of our estrangement.
Having lived in close quarters for many years, it is hardly surprising that we, each of us, moved to the far quarters of the country: Maine, California, Chicago, Texas, New York, and Connecticut.
Contact among us is sporadic at best. No real resentments of any significance, just, I think, too many years in too close quarters. Ironically, in 1968 (the year my father died), I joined a rock band and would join many more over the years. Always, it seemed, there was someone at my elbow — in shared houses, cars, or vans, in rehearsals or, of course, performances. A further irony, when communes became popular, I ended up in more than one.
This may go some distance in explaining my value for privacy. This comes in handy in my work as well. I tell myself this.
I recently wrote about my fear of homelessness (I have had the experience) and was taken in by a man I have also written about recently: Christian Cullen. Cullen’s is a sober household of five people, one of whom works full time, six counting me, and six cats. The only real contract involved was my continued sobriety. This went well for some time, but possibly the proximity to those in the house, again a brand of neurotic claustrophobia, sent me drinking. More likely it is just the nature of the disease itself, but I suspect the closeness as well, at least to some degree.
This understandably exasperated my hosts and elicited a promise from me to return to a detox rehab program. No doubt necessary but damned inconvenient, as I will not be permitted to work for a time. What I hope will only be a temporary absence of columns will ensue.
I hope this will serve in some small way for the frustration and embarrassment I undoubtedly caused here. I don’t believe I did anything excessively outrageous (except for the amount of alcohol I consumed), but I am very poor company, to say the least, when I drink to that extent.
My own immediate family: relationships with my grown son and ex-spouse were somewhat successful for several years, and though I didn’t see my son often for many years (until recently), I believe we still maintain a good relationship. The same applies with my ex, but the fact remains that the marriage ended in divorce. I simply no longer wanted to be what I perceived at the time to be Ozzie in Ozzie and Harriet. I was 34 years old and had met a woman at work. My sense of loyalty to family is probably suspect.
I imagine this will appear sometime around Thanksgiving, which usually involved large, mostly Italian family gatherings in my youth. I dreaded these occasions. No amount of turkey or pumpkin pie could ameliorate the sense of discomfort I would experience at the noise, arguments, subliminal disapproval of other family members. At times, hardly subliminal.
Like most people roughly my age, I sometimes wonder who would attend my memorial service and what would be said. If there was little turnout and what was said was along the lines of damning with faint praise, I could hardly blame anyone. I sometimes wonder if I have a retarded or inefficient genetic propensity for family matters. I also have a habit of being a harsh critic of myself (when I’m not being arrogantly egotistical), so maybe I’m a great guy and the ideal sibling, spouse, nephew, etc.
As pathetic as it sounds, I have a real sense of books as a kind of family. I no longer need to be surrounded with thousands of them; a few hundred are fine. And I have never knowingly abused any of them, except for two: I once threw a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged across a room and once a science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein, Farnham’s Freehold, in which, in a postapocalyptic America, a father holds a gun on his son to encourage him to say the Pledge of Allegiance.