Thursday, November 22, 2012

found family

there i was last night at maui’s with zebra, mikiel, and john.  we all sometimes argue like brothers, but we’ve been through a lot together.  i think it’s allowed.  i think it’s expected.  and it usually works out in the end.

my friend mikiel and i sometimes talk about the importance of what he has called "found family," those people who become your family in whatever place you live, no matter how close you are to your biological family.  i’m talking about the people you choose to surround yourself with.  john, mikiel, and zebra constitute my drinking family: our home is any bar.

from what i understand, mikiel finds himself still close to his biological family, though like him, his siblings have flung themselves outward from their parents’ indiana home.  my family still lives back in the south, in alabama and georgia, but i try to keep up.  i call them frequently.  i visit them whenever possible.  i miss them.  but i think the propensity mikiel and i share to integrate others into our familial fabric stems directly from our parents, from the way our families functioned growing up.

mikiel has shared with me stories about his parents’ sociability: a backyard garden his house shared with his neighbors, other families that created a larger tribe, the dinners that his parents regularly prepared and shared with others, the traditions they built with other families.  mikiel in portland has stitched together a wider net just as his parents did.

growing up my relations existed beyond blood.  uncle dave (or super dave my sister and i called him in reference to his compulsion to speed) had befriended my father in years before in birmingham while my father had been in college.  dave still lived a debaucherous life i’m sure; he and my parents young.  as a child, we understood him to be a part of our family.  he eventually came into trouble though.  i found himself strangely reminded of him this past weekend when i received several phone calls from an unidentified number: “this is a collect call from ‘the tallapoosa county jail.’”  dave eventually found himself estranged from our family as his own life fell apart.

i haven’t seen one of my other “uncles” in years either.  my sister and i loved our uncle robert, probably because if dave was a friend of my father’s, our uncle robert actually loved us.  as children he didn’t just dismiss us as children.  he liked seeing us and playing with us and talking to us.  he probably wanted children of his own.  robert always gave us the best christmas gifts: large leather-bound national geographic special editions.  books he thought we should read.  books that made us feel mature and smart.  books that were beautiful.  one year he gave me a political biography of abraham lincoln, a little difficult for a nine or ten year old but a subject matter i found interesting when i finally read the book later in college.  and one year he gave me a copy of look homeward, angel by thomas wolfe for my birthday with a note telling me he thought this should be my coming of age novel.  three generations of steam of consciousness later and a decade of my life, i finally made it through look homeward, angel and it has become one of my favorite novels, something i definitely need to re-read.

eight years ago, i did not share any love for a particular novel with my friend jordan, but i did share art history with her.  as art history majors in a tiny department, we attended almost every art history class in college together, sitting next to each other right by our professor dr. spies with whom we were in love.  we held hands during the lecture and cooed over the smooth beautiful of a caravaggio or ingres, delighted in the painterly texture of john singer sargent or the talent of thomas eakins, laughed at the antics of marcel duchamp or yves klein.

eight years ago i lived in my first apartment, on a hill on sixteenth avenue south in birmingham.  the dorms were closing for the thanksgiving holiday but jordan did not want to go home.  so i suggested she stay with me for the holiday, come with me to my family’s dinner.  and that’s what we did.  jordan and i drove with my mother and sister two hours north to my aunt’s home where we dined with all the extended family: grandmother, aunt, uncle, and all my uncle’s family.  a hungry hodgepodge of people pushing each other of out the way to eat.  jordan and i smoked and bitched and laughed at the peculiarity of the group that had come together.

back in birmingham, the weather had become so cold we refused to go outside so we sat on the couch by the window and smoked through the screen, which really didn’t work at all.

as my parents integrated their friends into our family, so too have i collected and contributed to my wider circle.  we all do.  we come together and take care of one another and share gifts and meals and champagne.  we will share this holiday together.  especially the champagne.  i have two bottles in the fridge and i am ready for a feast.

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