I will probably come off looking like a serious dick in this entry. Or at the very least, like some long-suffering xoJane.com participant finally unleashing her tales of trigger-warning First World woe. On the other hand, reviewing this situation on which I am about to blog had forced me to reckon with some life lessons I had to learn, especially since I learned them later in life than I really want to admit, and especially since I had to use these lessons to put the smack down on someone from my familial past who came back to haunt me on Facebook last week.
This is also a long ass confessional of a post. If you’re interested in what this missive entails, check underneath the cut.
I have not always been this secure. In fact, there times that I’m still incredibly insecure. Even borderline unstable. I’ve learned to control those times so that they don’t affect the lives of others. This is especially true right around the time of my period, even though those periods get worse and worse with each passing year. But I digress. What I really want to talk about its this niece of mine that I’ve never met, and some of the personal memories and learning’s the experience chatting with her online triggered.
I had heard about her a few times for my parents, who had reconnected with my half sister and her husband on the East Coast back in the eighties, and would visit them from time to time. The first time this niece and I connected was when she found me on skype last year, and so we had a couple of conversations. Pretty lengthy ones, at that. I found out that she lives somewhere in a state that used to be in the former Soviet Union, and that she was a big Bon Jovi fan, among other things. Eventually , I accepted the expected facebook friend request. She then sent me a really long message asking me to put her up in my apartment outside of Munich for a few weeks while she visits.
Eh, what? 1. Our place is too small to accommodate guests. 2. I just met you. Online. I don’t really know you. And, just because you’re family, or that you say you’re family, does not mean that I can just jump at your every request at a moment’s notice. Hell, I give my own brother plenty of warning, and options to say no, before I show up at his doorstep these days, and even then it’s like a couple of days tops before I move on. He’s a busy guy and his space needs to be respected. Just like mine. Anyway, I didn’t respond to her request, as I wasn’t really quite sure what kind of drama would be caused by me saying no, or by saying yes and having her staying here. After that she disappeared from my friends list on facebook, although she did show up in my Google + lists. Which I was happy with, as I did not spend a lot of time on Google+, anyway.
I forgot all about her until last week, when she sent me a request to friend her on Facebook via facebook Messenger. I really don’t know what I was thinking at that point, other than okay why not? Automatically she want to know everything about our family history, how she really wished she could have seen me last year and that perhaps we could get together sometime later this year. Like 3 or 4 times. Maybe even more. Because oh my god she has an aunt that lives close to her, who can take her to Paris and where the hell ever. On Auntie’s rather thinly stretched dime, presumably.
This time, in texting her via messenger, I found her responses to be a little more off, as if she had the emotional grasp on reality of a two year old. I also found her rather pushy and aggressive in wanting a lot of answers right away. She was also trying to pull some manipulative tactics, which I found rather annoying. I promised her that I would check some dates and let her know if I could meet with her at some point. I was able to get out of chat that way, but the next day or so I was just reeling from the idea of what the hell was I thinking, re engaging with someone like this? In the meantime, every time I turned on the Wi-Fi on my tablet, there she was: “Auntie Helen can you chat? Did you check your dates as when you can come see me? Why are you ignoring me? I hope you’re not ignoring me… ”
WTF are you? 10?
”No, sweetheart, I’m busy, can we talk later?”
Eventually, I sat down and wrote a rather lengthy email detailing the family history, or what I remember of it that hasn’t been tainted by my father’s bitter experiences, and also explained to her, in the nicest way that I possibly could, that just because I’m online does not mean I’m available, and to not harass me so much. She responded by thanking me for the family history but that I really shouldn’t scold her because she’s very sensitive and it makes her feel abandoned and unloved.
She also said that I was the only aunt she with whom could talk now.
God help me, please…
We scheduled a chat for the next morning, which I attended while I made some brine with which to make our Sunday chicken dinner. During this chat, I made it a point to ask her a few more detailed questions about her background, just to get an idea of who she really was and what kind of person I was really dealing with. I even asked her, in the most polite way that I could, if she had ever been diagnosed with anything growing up. Of course she didn’t take that too well and I apologized profusely, but a picture of her was emerging that wasn’t really sitting well with me.
Because once upon a time, in fact not too far off from her age, I was kind of this person myself.
Someone who couldn’t cope with life, someone who’s been taken care of by someone or another, usually my parents, sometimes my brother, someone who whenever she asked for something she got it, usually money, and if she couldn’t get it immediately she threw down manipulative tactics until things went her way. It was like, why grow up when I have people who have the means for me not to, and really don’t want me to? Or at least they acted like they didn’t at the time.
Of course, what I didn’t know at the time, until it was revealed to me later, was that every time I ask my parents for cash, my parents went to my brother, who, at the time, was also dealing with a sick wife and a large mortgage.
But he was my brother! He’s family! He’s supposed to help me. Why get my shit together when there’s always someone to provide support?
It wasn’t until I lost my job, my apartment and nearly everything I owned because I couldn’t take care of my own responsibilities, had been abandoned by most of my friends because they were sick and tired of me leeching off of them for cash and emotional support, and when my mother, after she had her stroke, finally said, “ Helen, there is no more money”…
Before my sister in law at the time died in 1998, she instructed my brother to not have my mom or myself come near her on her deathbed. She wanted to die in peace, and having us there would have made things difficult for her. Painful as it was to discover that after all these years, I really do see her point. My family, to her, were seen as clueless blood suckers and vampires. In a way she was right. There’s some dynamic in some Eastern European and Russian families that compel people to take care of their children, especially their daughters, in absolutely every way possible, until their dying day. With anything they want. And you damn well better give it to them. This dynamic run counter to every other family I experienced growing up in the United States. Here even. And it’s frankly horrible.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with supporting relatives when they truly need help. But helping them past the point of maturity into a situation of complete and utter dependence as said relatives pass the age of 30 borders on complete and total insanity. Sure, there are always health issues to consider. But I look at this person – she sent me a picture-and it doesn’t even look like she tried. This person appears to have always been coddled, and the times that she wasn’t coddled, was called out for some bullshit behavior, and told to handle herself, she said with the worst times in her entire life. Because those people were mean and they made her feel unloved.
Sure if you try to upend the lives of other people because no one in your family will put up with your crap anymore, of course people are going to be mean and make you feel unloved. This is what happens when you try to play the family card to your own selfish ends. I’m lucky that I was able to save myself just in time, by understanding the concept of budgeting, getting roommates, and ultimately the love of a good man who helped show me the error of my ways. I regret the broken relationships that came as a result of my behavior, but I’m lucky that the people who really cared then are still here.
This tendency in my extended family to look after folks who have long should have started looking after themselves has to stop and now that I’ve learned my lesson way too late in life, it’s going to stop with me.
So, my niece kept kept trying to pin down optional two , three or four times we could meet. I told her that meeting her, at all, would probably not be possible until next June. She kept insisting on concrete arrangements. I kept saying I can’t make any right now, because things can happen. Truth was I did not want to meet her. At least not until I had a few more chats with her, in order to get to really know her. In hindsight, I probably should have been a little more honest with her in the chat, but as she was becoming more pushy and unstable in the progress of the conversation, I held back as much as I could. At some point, she started whining and accusing me of really not wanting to meet with her after all. I responded, in as calm a manner as I could via text, that I did not appreciate attempts at manipulation like that, and to not talk to me in that fashion anymore. * 🙂 *
She all the sudden went silent. Which I was glad about because I was pretty much done with this conversation anyway. About 10 to 15 minutes later, I went looking for her profile on Facebook, & I discovered that I was blocked. Presumably, so that she could tell whoever would bother to read her status updates what a horrible person her auntie Helen was, because auntie Helen would not take any of her shit, even though auntie Helen tried to be nice about it.
Been there, done that sweetheart. Don’t blame the doctor if you don’t like the taste of medicine.
Sometime later I told my husband about what happened. He said she did me a favor. It wasn’t as if I dodged a bullet, but, more likely, the bullet dodged me. Like it always has. For now.