My big sister and I lay in bed, trying to get to sleep. It was late, and we had an early day, but for some reason, she began talking about our family.
She asked me what I thought about the fact that we were all split up-- my sister in one city, my parents in another. Me in another country, each of my parents in a different house. I told her I was used to it, that it's been years since we'd all been together. For a while we lay together, and she was telling me about feeling like she didn't have a family sometimes-- maybe not not having a family, she said, but not having what a family should be. What a family is supposed to be. Together. Supportive. Sundays spent with grandparents and trips of family bliss. It's been almost ten years, but here was my sister, asking me what I felt. We talked til morning, sharing facts of lack of support and feelings of not being enough, stories of disappointment and always being compared to the other-- who's prettier, who's smarter, who's more successful, who screwed up less. Who's which parent's favorite.
Three days later, something extraordinary happened.
One of my best friends took me to meet her family. I soon learned that her family's directly linked to one of my favorite artists of all time, and being there, in the midst of gifts from the artist, and portraits of unimaginable worth, books with personal dedications and photographs that served as proof of such a personal and obvious connection with someone who has gone down in art history, I was in awe. I walked through rooms that told the story of their family and their past, in disbelief that I had kept such a close friendship with someone from such an incredible origin and had never known...
But then I thought, how silly. Maybe she doesn't realize how amazing this is, or maybe this never directly affected her. Because, standing there, she was still just my friend, surrounded by her family. Her grandparents and her uncle, her aunt and pictures of the great and great-greats. They were just branches of her, extensions of her, people who have somehow, made her who she is, yet she isn't surprised at their participation of her person. Because they're what she was born into.
And then I felt even sillier. Because it was there, staring in fascination at their memories, that I realized everything reminded me of my family. Of my father, who always taught me of books and art and the power of creation. Of my mother, whose kindness was always so particular in the way she spoke and the smell of her hair when she hugged me. And of my sister, who, standing there with me, knows I know her as well as I know myself. We, too, are linked even when apart, not just by photographs and written memories and the paintings hung as proof of our fascination with color and expression, but by the knowledge that where we come from is also where we can go back to when we wish to. It was at that moment that I realized that it wasn't that I was used to our separation, but that even in separate cities and houses and countries I knew they were there--extensions of myself. I'll make sure to make my sister feel safe tonight, as we lay in bed, and tell her that there's no such thing as what a family is supposed to be. Families just are.