I don’t know what changed, I don’t know when it started to change. But, it all changed. It started slowly, and quietly. I tiny tweak here, a slightly different point of view there, and before you know it, what was, is no more. I grew up in a dream. It was the kind of growing up that people write books and movies about. It was a dream. There is nothing like being related to all your best friends. There is nothing like having so many cousins that all your friends and all your enemies are family. There were enough of us to have both cops and robbers, to have both witches and warlocks. When you have so many people that team hide-and-go-seek means teams of twenty, you have just enough people. When you go camping with your family, and the whole campground is your family, you have just enough family. There were so many of us that to camp at someone’s house for Memorial Day, or the Fourth, meant there were enough for full-scale soccer games (made more interesting by ball hogging exchange students) or kick ball games that lasted until Unkie Davie popped the ball with his iron foot.
There were so many uncles that we fielded our own softball team for years. Softball games Sunday morning turned into a post-game swim at Mom and Dad’s, which more times than not turned into impromptu Sunday picnics. There were so many people that I was never quite sure who was actually related and who just spent so much time around that the line began to blur. There was a silent agreement among all the parties that this was simply how you raised a family. The silent agreement needed no handshakes, you were just expected to be there, wherever “there” was.
It started with nine. Nine kids raised under one roof. Nine very different people raised in one too small house. Raised by a woman who can no longer can remember all that she did. She raised them by herself because the father left entirely too soon. She cannot remember now because a disease has taken her memory. A lifetime of memories, birthdays, picnics, camping trips, babies, children, grand children, great grandchildren. She cannot remember it now, so we must. Her children made a silent agreement. As their families grew, as more and more were added, those picnics, those camping trips, those birthdays, they would all be shared. No one need mention it, they just did. That is the world in which I grew up. My childhood, looking back at 27 feels like one long day, a Sunday, spent in and out of a pool, or a lake, or an ocean. No disease has robbed me of those memories yet, but fuzzy they seem. I don’t know when my life went from childhood to adulthood, I don’t know when I became one of those who forgot the silent agreement. But I am.
As I lie in bed, thinking about the fuzzy memoires. About how May tied this all together for so long, how she can no longer do it. And if she can no longer remember, or when she is no longer here, what happens then? What happens to the nine, and their kids, and their grand kids? If an agreement is silent, can it be broken, silently?
Are we beyond fixing? I feel guilt, and wonder if others do too. I make excuses, about how busy life gets. I talk about school, raising my child, working, and so much more. But I know those words are hollow. So then what, what happens then? We all will look back and say we tried. There was a time when we all tried, a little. I blinked and three years went by. How much did I miss in those three years, how much damage was done to the agreement in those years? You look at us all now, and you would never know what it was, if we didn’t remember. I could easily pretend this is simply how it has always been. It is a trick that I can play with my mind. If I think about things sometimes, at the right time, it is as if my mind is in that fuzzy place just before dawn when dreams are still real, but awake has started to set in. That place where you can start to control what you are dreaming about. When I enter that place I can make myself believe that this is how it always was. But then, after a while, the sun comes up and clears the fog of the pre-dawn dream, and I realize it was simply a dream, this is not how it always was, it was different, and maybe it was better.
But here is where we find ourselves and I lie here wondering what happens now. I am now responsible for my own actions, and beyond that, I am responsible for shaping the world that my child grows up in. There is no silent agreement now, but could there be? Could we all agree, silently that this is no way to raise children, and grand children? Can we turn back the clock on what has happened? Can we push the sun back up into the sky, and share a few more long Sundays? I wish I had answers, but all I have is questions. I question what I am doing and how I am doing it. I question if my whole life I just take the easy way, because water chooses the path of least resistance, and I am of water. Is it too much work to fix what is wrong, will we silently agree to continue doing what we are doing, because the alternative is just too much to ask? I honestly don’t know. I don’t know at what point it changes. At what point do we change? This is what we have chosen, but are we happy about, or do we simply tolerate it because like water, it is comfortable, and requires no work.
You used to have to put together the bikes you taught your children how to ride. Now you just buy them and give them to them. Someone else did the hard work. You hope they figure out how to ride them while they are at the baby sitters, how to swim without swimmies another day, because it is so much work. Is this the parent I am? Of course the answer is no. Of course would put the bike together if I had to, or would hold her by her belly while she splashed around the pool working out how to make her legs and arms work in unison. But as we look to someone else to assemble the bikes, or give the swimming lessons, so too do we look to others to fix what is wrong. Or easier yet, we look to others at whose feet we lay the blame for what has happened. Because so easy it is to look over there and see who did what, when, why and how that broke what we had.
Laying blame, however satisfying, like ice cold water run over a burn, will not stop the pain. When the water turns off, the burnt skin is still there, the water, or the blame, only made it hurt less for a bit. There are no answers to be found in these words, yet writing them down brings them into sharper focus. I am left with more questions than when I started, but have found some level of peace still. We are never quite ready to step off of the ledge. We are never quite prepared for the drop that will follow, but step we must.
We will continue, silently. Until someone speaks up.