When Family Fails Us
Breaking the Legacy of Silence #39
Kim D. Bailey
“When people show you who they are, believe them.” –Maya Angelou
The last several columns have been about love, live and let live, and light. I wrote at length about LGBTQ NB/GF families, friends, as a mother, and as a bisexual woman.
Love is all you need, man.
That’s true. Most of the time.
Sometimes we need a big set of balls. Brass ones. Or, as Betty White says, a red, hot vagina—cause those things “can take a pounding.”
Because, you know, this world? It can suck sometimes. People suck sometimes.
Well—people suck. A LOT of the time.
Since I turned 50 years old last September, there has been a lot of transformation.
I moved out of my ex-husband’s home on what appeared to be a whim to most because he came into Panera that Friday, January 6, 2017, to scream and curse at me about where the “fucking” money was from my Ford Ranger. The one I sold a couple of months prior, and he did this at lunch time when the place was packed.
Since he had put his hands on me one time in our marriage and threw me down on the floor of our home, February 2016, during a fight over his anger at having to spend money for me to go see my son coach a college basketball finals weekend only eight hours away—I didn’t feel safe going home after the Panera incident. He cut off my debit card, and I had to go change my phone number and get my own plan before I lost it, too.
Seeing my son coach in any other setting would be twice as far to go. I thought I was being rather practical, and since I hadn’t seen my son coach a game in over a year, that I deserved to go. I felt my son deserved for his mother to be there.
After all, I rarely see any of my grown kids. They all live in different parts of the country.
But no, my ex was more concerned with his needs. His medical and dental procedures, things he had put off all the years before we had met, until he had a nursemaid and health care coordinator to care for him and fight the insurance company for the treatments, medications, and devices he needed for his exponentially growing list of health issues—all in a short 3-year period. He also wanted to be sure we had money to go see his grandsons for their birthdays, as we always had, and for his motorcycle. Always for his motorcycle.
So, I had nowhere to go, really. I called a friend, who called a friend, and I ended up there for a couple of weeks. I lived at a Motel 6 on the state line just inside of Chattanooga for a week or so. I barely made it into the place I have now, and being behind on everything since, I’m still trying to catch my breath.
A so-called friend of mine, who made himself readily available during those dark months between January and March, decided I wasn’t worthy of his friendship when he realized he no longer had a chance, in his mind anyway, of getting me in the sack after I posted pics from my and Shan’s first date in early March. Another so-called friend who has known me since I was a little girl propositioned me, saying once I had my place we could “hook up.” Another one, whom I had met through a mutual musician friend, unfriended me and cut me off after Shan and I became an official couple.
He knew, as did everyone else before Shan, I had no intentions but friendship with him. I wasn’t looking, especially at men. I was a latent, self-outed, lesbian-but-really-bisexual-woman, recently separated out of a 4-year relationship, three of those as a wife.
After Shan and I got together, my sister came to visit. We offered her a home, her own room, bought an air mattress, provided food and transportation. I had invited her as she indicated she could use the break. I even asked a mutual friend to loan the money to me for her trip.
When she was here she was ungrateful, critical, and jealous. For the first time in my life, I had a loving person by my side—not one who would ridicule me with my family and laugh at my expense while they joked about my “issues” or “seriousness.” When I refused to play into the dysfunctional cycle, she decided to leave. She told Shan and me at around 10:00 pm the night before she was to catch the bus back to Florida. I asked her how long she knew she was going back the next day, she answered, “Three days.” A family member took her to the bus station.
A couple of weeks later, my mom came to town. I won’t go into detail here, except to say this: Mom lived up to what should have been my expectations. There has never been a point in my life when my mom put me or my kids first. This time was no exception. It’s sad to say, but it’s the truth of it. My truth, so I’ll tell it if I’m so inclined.
A couple of weeks after mom went back home, and I saw her a combined 45 minutes out of the five days she was here, I was fired from a housecleaning job for not having my car for two days out of the five wherein I was supposed to drive my partner and I to our houses. That’s what they said, anyway, in a voicemail. But they only explained it fully when I called them to ask what the hell was going on. Funny thing was, they put that I “quit” on the separation notice they mailed to me, and my partner drove those days I was supposed to have driven—with a different partner.
Smoke and mirrors. I get it.
If all of that wasn’t enough, my step dad passed away on April 28th of this year. You want to know how I found out?
I was at home, getting ready to take a shower, and my sister called. I didn’t answer it because I needed to get going to pick Shan up from work. My plan was to call her back when I was finished getting ready and on the way. She left a voicemail, with a quick, “Call me.”
While I was trying to finish getting dressed, she called again.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
I knew something was wrong. There often has been something wrong since my brother-in-law passed away in 2010.
All she said was, “Well, John’s not doing so well, his health is bad again.”
“Where is he, in the hospital or home?”
“He’s at home.”
“Okay. What’s going on? I’m about to go get Shan from work.”
“Well, call me back when you pick Shan up.”
“Karen, just tell me what the hell is wrong.”
Yep. That’s how I found out.
I couldn’t travel to Florida to help my mom out, be there for her, or anything else. My sister, who lives about 100 miles from our mom, went down there that day. I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful my oldest child and son, Zach, made the trip from the west coast to his Grandmother’s to offer some love and emotional support and help her around the house a little bit.
Wanna know the ironic twist to all of this, and most of the people mentioned here? Most of them didn’t give two shits about me being out on my ass without a place to live, money to live on, or a job to pay the bills. Those who could help, did help, and for that I give eternal thanks. Most of those who helped, though? They weren’t family. At least, not “blood” family.
And it was “blood” family that came between myself and my ex, “blood” family that never reciprocated when I needed them, and if they did, only grudgingly. Another irony, see?
The most recent betrayal and knife-twist-in-the-gut I experienced was when I learned both of my estranged kids, my daughter and youngest son, no longer live where I thought they lived. As a matter of fact, I learned just last week that my daughter is separated from her husband of nearly four years, and lives in Tulsa. My youngest lives in Florida, and works for Disney World.
When I asked my sister if she knew that my youngest was in Florida, two weeks ago when he called my Mom’s about Grandpa John passing away, she said, “Yes.”
It felt like a punch in the face. A gut punch, really, with a well-heeled and booted foot.
I said, “Wow. Okay.”
“Okay?” she said.
“No, not okay, but what can I do or say at this point? I had no idea where my child was and you did, and you knew I didn’t know, and you didn’t tell me. That’s your choice.”
“Get a grip. How do I know what you know and don’t know about your kids?”
That’s how my sister responded to my pain and feelings of betrayal.
I said, “Because I told you.”
She’s known about the estrangement, and how much I hurt because I haven’t talked to two of my children in nearly three years, except at their brother’s wedding. She’s known my frustration at not knowing exactly where the youngest one is when I’ve confided in her. Still, I was told, “Get a grip.”
Well, I have some things to say to the people who think I should “Get a grip” and not expect anything from them—the same people I helped when I had nothing to give but myself, time, and care. The very same people who betrayed me, time and again, when it suited them. From my mom and sister, to my so-called friends, and to those who said they would love me and put me first, before all others, in wedding vows—people who have said over and over they love me, but when the rubber meets the road, they show me anything but love—I say, “Fuck off.”
What? Are you shocked I would say such a thing? To my own family and friends? Well, with family and friends like them, I don’t need enemies, and since I was left to my own devices anyway, why should I be delicate about it? To protect them? I’ve protected these people all my life. They don’t deserve my protection anymore.
I’ve learned a lot this year, and one thing that stands out for me is that we have the power to choose who we allow in our lives and who we give ourselves to. We have the power to choose our family, just as we can choose our friends. Those who repeatedly throw us under the bus, aren’t there for us when we need them, expect us to play their sick little mind games and act as though it’s all “normal” and who expect us to be there for them regardless of their loyalty or actions of love, can all go pound sand.
Love is a verb. You don’t just say it.
You do it. You embody it. You show it. You give it.
Some of the ways we show love are protection, loyalty, empathy, knowledge, understanding, compassion, honesty, and kindness. Basically, we are there during the good, but also there to help with the dirty work. This is love. Unconditional, as my uncle likes to say.
My unconditional love, my time, resources, energy, and protection, and loyalty are now reserved only for those who are willing to offer reciprocity for all the above. There are no more compromises in this area for me. I won’t give unless it’s something I also get in return. If this is selfish, then so be it. Maybe it’s about time I practiced a little selfishness. I’m “selfish” because I finally learned to love myself.
As for those who seem to have limits when it comes to loving another person, I do hope and pray for their hearts to open, to give and to receive.
Since meeting some of my friends, old and new, and having Shan in my life, I have experienced a bounty of love I didn’t realize existed. The bounty began within, and it’s grown outside of me.
Shan said this today: “We are often only one person away from greatness.”
You know, he’s right. Sometimes, all we need is that one person in our lives who loves us for who we are, who won’t leave or become passive when it gets hard, who builds us up rather than tears us down.
Loving myself allowed Shan to come in, and others who care for me so much, and to begin a transformative journey of realizing my authenticity and purpose.
It’s a gift.
Go claim your gift. Love yourself, and learn what loving others really means.