bell hooks said, “grief is most often unrelenting when individuals are not reconciled to the reality of loss.” Growing up, I was insulated from the idea of loss.
Now am I saying that I never lost anything during my childhood? Of course not. I lost tubes of chapstick and gold earrings that were loosened from my ears by recess games. I lost my homework and the matches to many pairs of my socks. But what I’m driving at is permanence. The idea of permanent loss didn’t even enter my periphery as a child.
Everything I owned could be replaced, replicated, or repurchased, sometimes in a matter of hours…or minutes. And in that way, life was good. Being an “army brat” meant having a highly transient lifestyle. I would leave schools and familiar circles of friends, always ushered on by parents to “make new ones.” And I did. We would pack up our entire household and move. I would pick up new friendships where the old ones had left off. And in that way, it was like I had gone to the “Life” store and picked up more.
Now, juxtapose a material reality where everything is duplicatable, with the idea of family—a set of concrete and irreplaceable individuals. There’s an interesting discrepancy there. You can always get another one or make a new one, whatever “one” is in the scenario. But suddenly that mentality was voided. My family seemed to be the only non-renewable resource that I had been taught to recognize. Not unlike my set of adult teeth, I was firmly told that I could not get another one. And this was likely put to me this way to emphasize diligent care.
I tried to be an upstanding member of my family. I was not immune to the general flaws that most children have, such as messiness, an aversion to studying, and bouts of bickering with my siblings. As I grew older, the relationship that I had with my sister grew strained until eventually, it snapped. My sister never actually desired siblings: she saw us as burdens and accused our parents of not treating her fairly, in comparison to the “favoritism” they showed the rest of us. At some point, she threw off the thin veil of civility that she used to mask her contempt for my brother and I.
She broke up with me. She broke it off with our entire family. I think that she went to college with the mentality that, if you’re going to be stuck with a bunch of nutjobs, it is better to handpick them. Of course, she was unaware that you don’t survive in a household full of people that you can hardly tolerate and come out “normal.” In a way, most of her instincts were broken. Her inclinations towards friends, men, and social circles seemed to always steer her towards trouble. My “picker” was similarly programmed and served as a GPS towards hit-or-miss friends and disappointing men. In that way, I saw the family resemblance.
Now, as an adult, I do not have a relationship with my sister. And while we don’t connect on the phone and talk or braid each other’s hair, something remains.
I’m a romantic under all my layers of cynicism. So it was to be expected that I would curl up with some popcorn and watch the sequel of “To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved” on Netflix. The main character, Lara Jean, talked about the Korean concept of jung. In the movie, she said it was “the connection between two people that can’t be severed, even when love turns to hate.”
My sister and I may have jung, some sort of connection despite the absence of any warmth or affection. And it’s worth noting that this reality does not bother me anymore.
I felt very unsettled for a long time because of the circumstances in which my sister departed and how that made me feel. And how it continued to make me feel, for years.
Some things just happen and you have no choice in the matter. You’re biologically a woman. You’re born Black. You’re extremely bipolar. In the case of my sister, having her as family, was not a consensual choice. My parents ordained it, wrote it as law, and signed that shit. I inherited that responsibility, just like I inherited the rules of the house.
And in a moment, she shed the responsibility of siblinghood as if it was something that could be given away. I felt like the unspoken rule of my household, that family was indispensable, was being broken. When you spit on something so ingrained that it seems holy, it supersedes defiance. The act itself was sacrilegious to everything our family stood for, purported, and preached.
So I was left with a sense of abandonment and shock. When it came to our relationship, my sister decided to bite down hard on a cyanide tablet in her teeth versus bearing the weight of having me as family. Ouch is an understatement. I would replay the scenario and each and every time, it would hurt me.
But now, I understand something that I didn’t then. There is always the opportunity to welcome someone back with a sense of redemptive love. And that is the decision that I’ve come to. I am welcoming back myself. I am reclaiming my own power of self-definition.
Somehow that act stripped me of a sense of worthiness. I didn’t feel chosen. I felt rebuked and rejected and confused. When my sister amputated herself from my life, I felt that I had lost something. I looked to other people to affirm the fact that I was worth being kept. It was never enough because that loss was still there. I was angry for a long time until I realized that what I was holding in my heart was grief. I was still an amputee with phantom pain.
But the truth is, I didn’t really lose anything. I have had to stop subconsciously identifying myself as someone who was abandoned. Every person who is in my life wants to be there. Every person I talk to on a regular basis sees my value. And there are zero mind games being played between me and the people I love. I feel seen, I feel heard and I feel cared for.
Do you remember the scene in Dream Girls where Jennifer Hudson’s character tries to convince Jamie Foxx’s character not to leave her? She emotionally belts out lyrics from “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” like it is the last song she will ever sing. And the bone-chilling line that always stuck with me was half-threat and half-plea. And you, and you, and you, you’re gonna love me!
You can’t make anyone love you, especially if they do not have the capacity. You cannot make anyone value you or treat you well. And you can’t keep anyone from reneging or leaving. If someone wants to leave, let them go.
bell hooks said, “grief is most often unrelenting when individuals are not reconciled to the reality of loss.” And I can say that I am no longer one of those individuals, I have gotten in bed with the idea of loss. We’ve shared intimate stories and I’ve humbled myself enough to be an attentive listener.
It sounds odd but if someone wants to be dead to you, welcome it. If someone wants to commit relational suicide, hand them the gun. Search with them for the noose and block of ice. Confront the reality of the loss with astute enough eyes to realize, it’s not a loss at all.