Family Thoughts

I lay on my green and purple plaid blanket on a lazy Saturday afternoon in western Ethiopia.

I am feeling nostalgic.

I flip through the 27 photos my mom sent me. All within the past 2 years. My dog, Hammling, college graduation, a vacation in Alaska.

I think about my emotions in each picture.

Adulation as I took a selfie in a tree as Madison rioted after beating undefeated Kentucky in the Final Four, that fake family photo smile perfected from years of “candid” moments, exhaustion as I sit on Abe Lincoln’s lap the day of graduation.

I catch a glance of another photo across the room. I had forgotten I brought a photo of my family at Lake Junaluska, in North Carolina. I am about 10. My father is wearing a jean jacket and black cowboy hat, my mother sporting a haircut circa Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, my sister, a brace face, in the midst of puberty, and me, buck teeth protruding, wearing a “No Fear” t-shirt and looking off in the wrong direction.

Clearly I haven’t perfected the family photo smile yet.

I look back at a family photo of my mother, sister and I on vacation last year in Alaska and juxtapose it next to the photo from when I was 10.

A tear starts to form. Soon it and its friends are winding down my face like the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon.

I look at this family, at this boy, girl, father and mother. And everything in between starts rushing in.

In the first photo the boy had, in his eyes, a perfect father. He owned his own company selling tennis ball machines. John Jr. would play little games with JK III, on Sundays while watching football, throwing a little nerf ball and seeing if he could dive across the hideous Garfield orange carpet and catch it.

Then I look back at the new family photo, no John Jr. gone, another casualty of the failed war on drugs. I think about going into the backyard and throwing out the tall boys of Ice House beer in the overgrown grass behind the air conditioner, don’t want mom and dad to get in a fight.

An old lump, swells in my throat. As my sister pleaded with my grandfather at John Jr’s funeral, why weren’t we enough?

I see a mother who despite being embroiled in debt by no fault of her own, a husband lost and a roof torn off from hurricane Wilma (or Jean?), who took life by the fucking horns. Working extra jobs to give her son the latest and best baseball equipment or her daughter private viola lessons. Loading the entire house into a POD on the driveway while the roof was fixed, the entire family living in the garage for 6 months. Plus handling two teenage children, who often didn’t get along, each going to separate high school’s 30 minutes away. And, separate colleges 3,000 miles away.

A sister, blindsided by tragedy at the most formative years. Driven, intelligent and bossy. A combination leading to many a quarrels with a stubborn brother. “No Christina! You can’t be on the computer and have the TV remote.”

I look at that boy, staring off blissfully ignorant into the distance.

He is a sum of all these relationships. We all are a sum of our relationships.

This man (that’s at least what society tells me I am) in the picture on vacation 12 years later is everything between those pictures. The people, experiences, journeys, quarrels, love, hate, ignorance, passion is who I am right now.

And, you know what, I’m lucky to say I’m happy with how it’s turned out.

Life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, and that’s okay.

I wonder who I’ll be in a picture another 12 years from now?


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