Things here are chaos right now, my lovelies. Complete and utter chaos. I’d like to tell you all that I am moving seamlessly and nonchalantly to my new MRU, but that is not the case. I am very confident in the realtor we have chosen and his recommendations about what we need to do to the house in our market for it to sell quickly. Included in his recommendations were new carpet. Not a carpet allowance, but new carpet in some of the rooms. Because of some delays unique to our current city’s economy, we still don’t have new carpet in the house. We allegedly get our new carpet this week and we are home today getting everything ready for the carpet installers. This has made me realize two things. 1) Getting the carpet installers here this week is a testament to the value of woman tears. Sobbing women can occasionally be more effective than angry men at getting things done. 2) For as much as people complain about the difficulty of a life in academia, there’s no other job that I’ve ever had that would have offered me the freedom to get stuff done around here and make the time up elsewhere. I really do come and go as I please and I am thankful for that degree of autonomy.
Today the general chaos of our move has been punctuated by the strange. I’ve written a lot here about my mother and her family, but not much about my father and his family. My father is the oldest of three and I have two aunts on his side – Aunt Ricky and Aunt Sara. They’re all very private and we don’t interact much. Aunt Ricky has always been a free spirit. She has no children and spent most of her life unmarried. I was never entirely sure where she was living or who was in her life, but accepted that I could never be sure what to expect when she eventually turned up again. For example, when I invited her to Little Isis’s baptism, she came with a man in tow. A man I had never met, who she then introduced as my “Uncle Tony” as though it was the most natural and obvious thing in the world that I would have an Uncle Tony and that, of course, this was the most appropriate place to learn of him for the first time. I’m not sure I still have an Uncle Tony, but on that day I did.
In comparison, Aunt Sara was painfully normal and predictable. She married my Uncle John in a predictable wedding. Had four predictable children who, predictably, attended Catholic school and, predictably, went to college. Aunt Ricky would occasionally comment that Aunt Sara and Uncle John weren’t happy or were struggling, but they remained predictable. Christmas card predictable. Posts and pictures from their children on Facebook were predictable, all suggesting a stable family composed of Aunt Sara, Uncle John, and their shared offspring.
Last week, trying to gain some hold on the chaos in my own life, I finally sorted through the month’s worth of mail that had accumulated on my kitchen counter and found an envelope from Aunt Sara. Inside was an invitation that read “John and Sara invite you to celebrate their union…etc, etc, etc.” I smiled to myself thinking that, although it was unlikely I would make it to the East Coast town of my family’s origins to celebrate with them (and I find re-commitment ceremonies to be generally lame), Aunt Sara and Uncle John remained the one pillar of predictability in my family’s overall madness. I also felt hopeful that, despite the comments that Sara and John were struggling, they remained committed to each other 25 years after they were initially wed and wanted to share that joy with others. I went to Target and bought a card with two ridiculous space hamsters on the front.
I was proud of myself for the coolness of my card. I wrote a note to Aunt Sara expressing my regret that I would not be able to make it home for the celebration, but that I was in awe of her commitment to her marriage and family and told her how inspirational she was to me. How much joy and strength it had brought me to watch her support her family and how I aspired to be as much of a blessing to my family as she was to hers. I then carried the card around with me in my bag all week, intending to mail it. Really, seriously, intending to mail it.
Well, thank fuck I didn’t.
This afternoon Aunt Sara called me and left me a voicemail asking if I would be coming to “her wedding” and asking me to call her so we could catch up. I called her back almost immediately and offered my “mea culpa” for not having responded more quickly to her invitation. I told her that we had been busy, how I was trying to sell my house so that I could move to a new university, and that I was happy for her.
Then she said some, frankly, strange fuckery. She said that she could empathize about how hard it is to sell a house because she was trying to sell hers and John was trying to sell his so that they could buy one together. And, John’s kids were grown and out of the house, so surely my house selling was harder because my kids are little. I thought to myself, “But aren’t your kids and John’s kids the same kids? Did my Uncle John have some rogue children?” Then she kept telling me about how happy she was and how much she hoped I was coming to “the wedding” and how I should bring my children because she missed them and wanted to see them.
I hung up the phone, confused, until I began to appreciate the most obvious explanation. She was not celebrating her 25 year marriage to my Uncle John. She was marrying a whole new John. I called my father and caught him completely off guard when I began our conversation with, “WTF, Dad? Am I getting a new Uncle John?” Papa Isis does not care for swearing out of his little girl, but today warranted some swearing. Damn it.
Indeed, that is exactly what is happening. I have been living in my own little sphere and, in the meantime, Aunt Sara divorced old Uncle John and met and fell in love with New Uncle John. I feel no judgment over the end of her marriage. If she was unhappy before and is happier now, I am nothing but happy for her. I only feel strangeness over this invitation and phone call and the sense that I should know there was new Uncle John.
It’s not gaslighting, per se, but it was all treated as though, if we act like everything is normal and that this is how it has always been, then this is how it has always been. That moment of feeling like I might be the crazy one for not knowing there was a New John. Not that everyone else might be off their rockers..
Old John? Old John, who? Of course you knew that Old John was Old John and that now there is New John.
How the fuck was I supposed to know that?
That’s the part that has me a bit out of sorts.