Creating my map: finding some answers

Hagrid and I arrive downtown early, so we can walk this morning. We walk our normal route, although I take the shorter route because we don’t have as much time as usual. Because we walk the same route 3 days a week, around the same time, we are starting to see some of the same people, and we greet each other. Hagrid has his little routine of certain bushes he has to investigate, or mailboxes he has to check out. I like our walks.

We get back to the parking lot across from Bea’s with 10 minutes to spare. When I stop at the car to grab my bag and cardigan, Hagrid yanks on his leash.

“Hold on, buddy. We’ll go see Bea in a minute. Okay? Just a minute,” I say. I tend to keep up a running stream of chatter at the dog when he is with me. It’s sort of comforting to me, and he seems to like it, too.

Despite my words, he continues to yank and pull with all his might towards he office. Dachshunds can be very stubborn. “Dude. Seriously. I know you know the routine. I am just getting my crap. I need my bag. I have to refill my coffee, get my sweater. It’s okay. I promise.”

As I shut the car door, and begin to walk towards Bea’s, Hagrid practically does a happy dance across the street. I shake my head, laughing to myself. I let myself in, and Hagrid runs up the stairs ahead of me. I hear Bea greet him, and a moment later, she greets me as I walk in, too. Bea already has the small blue table moved in front of the couch.

“Hi, good morning,” I say. I throw my bag down, set my coffee down on the table, and curl up in my corner of the couch.

“I just realized I haven’t gotten our stuff out, today. Let me grab that,” Bea says. She pulls out my map, colored pencils, and extra paper, and moves her chair over next to me.

I unroll the map, and we look at it for a moment. “I think we can finish my Mom’s family.”

“Okay,” Bea says.

I add in my Mom’s siblings, and her parents. My maternal grandmother died before I was born, so I draw a line through her circle. I add her siblings in and their spouses and children.

“I need more room, again.” I look down at the map. I don’t have the space to add all of my mom’s side of the family. “Or I just need to not add them all.”

“Well, I guess it depends on how important they are to your story,” Bea reminds me.

“Not very. I mean, I didn’t really spend time with them until the wine tours started. So, it was after Kat was born.” I drink some coffee, fiddle with the cap of a sharpie marker.

“Then you could just write their names down, instead of giving them all their own circles,” she suggests.

“Okay.” I go back to concentrating on getting everyone where they belong.

Once that’s done, I go back to my mom’s dad. “So, my mom and her dad…well, her dad is estranged from all his kids, except the youngest brother.”

“That’s the brother she didn’t see for a long time?”

I nod. “Yeah. He was a kid when my mom and he dad became estranged.”

“And then they reconnected once he was an adult?”

I nod. “Yes. I was….well…they hired a private detective to find him. They emailed and stuff, and then he came to visit. But..then he didn’t come back until the first, no the second wine tour.”

“So when was the first time he came to visit? You could write that on his circle.” Bea suggests.

“Hmmm…that’s really fuzzy time. But I was older. Not at home. So I was. 18, 19? Maybe 20. It was before Hubby. I don’t know. I know it was summer. I just have this vague memory…I know it’s crazy…” I giggle because I feel stupid and anxious. I hate that even my “normal” memory is fuzzy and weird and full of holes for years at a time.

“So… I remember going to my aunt’s (mom’s sister) house, for bbq and bonfire. And it was warm out because I was wearing my blue sunflower sundress. I can see and feel that dress in my mind. It’s super vivid. Nothing else though.” I shrug, feeling like an idiot.

“So…12, 13 year ago?” Bea asks me.

“Yeah.” I nod. I write on my moyher’s youngest brother’s circle ‘reunited with family 2002’

“So…how should I draw the whole estranged thing?”

“You could draw another circle around her dad, separating him.”

“Well, he’s remarried. So he’s not exactly alone. Actually…it’s kinda…weird.” I start to draw. I add in his wife. Then I draw his wife’s daughter, Brenda. Then, I draw Brenda’s daughter, Amy. “So, Amy and I went to school together. We were friends in high school. We were on the same cheer team. I was not allowed at her house. She was allowed at mine, I was allowed to be friends with her, but my mom made it clear, I was not allowed at her house.”

“Wow. That’s intense.” Bea says. “So she’s your cousin?”

I nod. I draw a purple circle around all of them. I look at the map, and slowly nod. “Yes. Technically, Amy is my cousin.”

“Did you guys ever talk about your families not talking?”

“No…not really. Maybe to say it was weird. I don’t know.” I shrug.

“Did you wonder about it, growing up?”

I nod, slowly. It’s like admitting to doing a very bad thing. “I did. But…it wasn’t…I mean. You just did not ask. Or talk about it. There’s not pictures. My mom cut him out of all the pictures. It’s not talked about. Ever. So…it just. You didn’t ask. I remember a school thing, he was there to give a presentation, and my mom walked me right out the door. It was just…like that. My cousin (mom’s sister’s daughter) and I wondered. We used to ‘investigate’. We would call him and hang up. We would look for pictures. I don’t know. We were curious.”

“Of course you were curious. That’s your Grandpa.” Bea says, adamantly.

I have this visceral reaction when she says ‘grandpa’. Everything in me screams that I have one Grandpa, and he is gone, and no one will ever take his place. I look at Bea. “Technically.” My voice sounds flat, dry, cold, to my ears.

“Yes, technically. That’s your Grandpa.” Bea repeats herself.

I don’t know what she wants me to say. I’m lost. He’s nothing to me. I don’t know him. “Technically.” I repeat myself, unsure of what to say.

“It’s normal for you, but for me, that’s a grandpa you never got to know. You had such a great relationship with your other grandpa. It’s what you might have missed out on. Most families don’t remain estranged forever. Have they ever reached out?”

“Nope. I doubt they will.” I shake my head.

“How old is your mom, again?” Bea asks me.

I sigh. “We have to do the math. What’s 19 plus 32?”

“Fifty-one.”

“Okay. Then mom turned 51 in June, dad turned 51 in July.” I shift my weight on the couch, and sit criss cross applesauce. Hagrid climbs into my lap. I scratch his belly.

“And the Smiths were older?” Bea asks.

I nod. We go through the math. Estimating that they were around 10 years older than my parents. “So, my parents were 19 and pregnant with me when they bought into the house. Mrs. Smith was like a mom- mom….you know, very mom-ish. Like 1950’s, TV sitcom mom. So….”

“So. It was like you and the nanny.” Bea concludes, pulling the feelings and thoughts right out of my head and putting them into words.

“Yeah,” I say.

“So. Your mom had lost her mother, she was recently estranged from her dad, it doesn’t sound like she was very close to her side of the family when you were growing up…..and they met their neighbors, who had a child your age, and were kind of like parent figures to your mom. It’s another reason why she might not have been able to see what was happening with Kenny.”

I give Hagrid a hug, press my cheek into his fur. What Bea is saying makes sense on a purely cognitive level. But if I try to feel it, really see it….no. It’s too much. So I bury my face and hide, instead.

“And they had a group of friends they hung out with, all who had kids, right?”

I nod.

“That makes sense, too. They were in their 20’s. That’s college age. It’s the age of hanging out with your friends, and being part of a peer group….this is really all making so much more sense now, knowing their ages.”

“Yeah…I guess so. My mom was almost 10 years younger than I was when I had Kat. That’s so crazy to think about.” I shake my head. It’s hard to wrap my head around. Ten years is a big difference.

“Yes, exactly. It’s amazing you didn’t repeat the pattern. You broke all the patterns. So often, if mom got pregnant young, so will her daughter. But you didn’t get pregnant young.” Bea says.

I shake my head. I think I might vomit. I can’t look at her. Maybe she forgot. I don’t know. Hugging Hagrid to my chest, I whisper, “But I did.” I’m so ashamed of all of it.

Bea is silent for a moment. Maybe she feels the shame and sadness, the pain in my words. I wonder if I should have put the baby on the map. I didn’t; I don’t want to face it. If it’s on the map, then it’s really there, in black and white, and I’ve put it down as a part of my story.

“You didn’t get pregnant on purpose, you didn’t want to get pregnant; not even subconsciously. You weren’t even having consensual sex. That was a very different situation.” She speaks softly, with that same inflection of kindness in her voice I have noticed when she is speaking to Kat about tough stuff. Her tone also suggests that there isn’t an argument, that what she is saying is right and true.

I shake my head. Sometimes, I don’t know what was and wasn’t happening in that relationship. My head is screwy over it, still.

“Did you want to get pregnant?” Bea asks me. She speaks softly, but matter of factly.

“No.” I shake my head. “No. Definitely not.”

“Okay then. So it was different. And you broke the pattern”

“Okay.” I whisper.

We both look at the map for a few minutes. It’s finished, as far as getting everyone onto the map. There’s still plenty to fill in, like mental health, OCD tendency, surface people, perfect world people.

“It’s interesting to me that you know so much more about your Dad’s side, than your Mom’s.”

“That’s because…well…okay.” I pick up the pen. There are two more people to add. I draw a line (with a slash in it to show divorce) from my uncle’s circle, and put his ex-wife, my aunt, onto the map. Then I add their son. “My aunt–” I tap her circle–” told me the history. Or what she knew, anyways.”

“And she and your uncle are divorced now?” Bea asks. I think she realizes this is important, but I have jumped tracks on her, and she is scrambling to keep up.

“Yes. But they were divorced when she told me.”

Bea asks a few more questions. I’m not exactly sure what she asks. I’m fuzzy and floaty, not really here. It’s the nowhere feeling. The feeling that part of me is drowning in ugly stuff, ugly scary too much feeling, and then part of me is gone, numb, floating away to nowhere.

“And that was the last time you saw her?” This question breaks through the fuzzy feeling and I will remember it later.

I nod. I’m curled back up, in a ball hugging Hagrid. My head is down, face hidden. It’s the little girl posture. Sometimes the grown up sits like this, but usually it is the little girl who needs to hide. “Yes. No. Um. I think so.” That’s still fuzzy time, so it’s hard to say, for sure. But I think so. “So she told me. That’s why I know more than my mom’s side.”

I’m not sure of Bea’s response. I’m in that weird place of feeling and thought where it’s hard to put into words so others can understand. But one idea strikes me as maybe important. “Should we….” I falter, as soon as I start, unsure if Bea will find me silly or stupid.

“Yes? Should we what?” She prompts me to continue in a way that says she is genuinely curious about what I was going to say.

“Should we add the smiths on there? Off to the side, on a separate sheet of paper, but somehow showing my mom’s connection and attachment?”

“Why don’t we do that later? The smiths, the Kenny stuff, that’s the scary stuff, the trauma piece. This–” Bea waves her hand over the map– “is family. It’s up and down and messy and complicated, and it might hurt, and be sad in places, but it’s family stuff. It’s not scary stuff.”

I nod. I think she’s right, and she has said we will add the smiths later, but somehow I feel like she has rejected my idea.

“You’ve kept yourself right where you need to be, for now. Skimming just below the surface. You have done a good job of this. You’ll know when it’s time to go deeper.” Bea says.

I shake my head. I think she is trying to sneak a compliment in, because I have a hard time accepting compliments. (The exception being things I have baked, or being organized when it comes to Kat, or the ideas/supports we have in place for Kat– many of which I came up with.)

As I go to put away my story map and materials, my eyes are drawn to my Grandpa’s circle. “I was really missing my Grandpa the other day,” I tell Bea. My voice cracks, and even though I try to stop it, a tear escapes.

“I’m not surprised. It’s that time of year, birthdays, and holidays. Fall.” She tells me. It’s validating and normalizing to hear that she isn’t surprised.

“This was….this was the time of year when he was diagnosed.” I sniffle. It was September, to be exact. Maybe the Tuesday after Labor Day. Or the weekend after that. Several of the girls in my family were in Chicago while my Grandpa was going through tests. But the doctors had thought is wasn’t anything major. And then it was. Pancreatic cancer. Inoperable. And he passed away in November, not even a month after our birthday.

“It really hasn’t been been long,” Bea says.

I want to tell her that I was so emotionally numbed out, that even though I was sad, heartbroken, lost; I feel like I’m actually grieving now. 2 years later. I don’t say a word though. I’m afraid. There’s this fear that my hurt, my pain, will be shut down, belittled, by another person because it has been 2 years, or because I am just being a drama queen, or because of whatever. I know enough to realize it’s old messages, but I not brave enough to confront these old messages yet.

Bea talks for a few more minutes about loss and grief and how it takes time to really work through. I can’t listen. Maybe I just don’t want to be feeling this. I work on rolling up the map so Bea can store it and gathering the supplies back together to be put away.

We end the last few minutes talking about our Dogs. It’s calming, grounding conversation, and I’m okay by the time Hagrid and I head out the door.

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4 thoughts on “Creating my map: finding some answers

  1. A lot of ground was covered here. And that tender moment, of you talking about the baby, and her acknowledging that you broke the pattern (you did break the pattern), brought tears to my eyes. Such a tender moment of her seeing you. Really great work, Alice. And I am proud of you for allowing yourself to be where you are in the grief process. Those voices in our minds really want us to be other places, but we feel what we feel, and that is okay. xx

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    • Thank you Rachel. It was probably the hardest session I’ve had in a while. The deepest we have gone. Thankfully, Bea acknowledged it and saw me, but didn’t let me stay in that place and didn’t talk about it all right then. I’m not in a headspace to be talking about that mess and the baby. Not really. Thank you for reminding me what I feel is okay. Xx

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  2. I like the ‘okay’ part as you walk out the door. Sometimes we don’t or can’t begin the grieving process because of other stuff going on at the time. So it can be delayed. But even if not, each person takes as long it takes. It’s been 6 years since my Mom died and sometimes I still miss her sharply.

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  3. I’m so sorry you still miss your mom. I just want to send you the biggest hug, to try to ease that sharp pain. It doesn’t seem right or fair for you to have more hurt.

    Thank you for explaining that grief can be delayed– that that can be normal. I think I’ll always miss my grandpa. I think that fall will always be a very hard time of year for me. My grandpa and my grandpa were always so active in school stuff with my brother and I– school shopping, back to school nights, grandparents visiting day, whatever play the school,was putting on, ext. And as we got older, they helped with homework, came to to games to watch me cheer, came to gymnastics meets, and helped me study colleges to choose the right one. They were so involved in our lives, so present, fall and school starting, and Kat starting school….it all just bring up memories. And of course, October is hard because of our birthdays. But, I digress. I’ve gone off on another tangent and started a mini post. 😉 I hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend. Xx

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