I’ve been estranged from my father’s side of the family for almost exactly as long as I’ve been estranged from my father. That’s because in the midst of the turmoil caused by him running off with a chambermaid, evading his taxes and failing to pay our mortgage, his mother (my grandmother) informed us that Dad had prayed for forgiveness—God had forgiven him and so should we. Yes, he closed his eyes and spoke to his imaginary friend and because of that we should over look the money he stole and the fact that he left us homeless. His family couldn’t understand why that was a problem for us.
There’s been very little communication with any of them for almost ten years. In that time I’ve moved, gotten married and even changed my name. Since none of them was invited to any of those events, I don’t expect them to be necessarily aware of them (in fact, one of the ideas behind the name change was that it would prevent them from getting in contact with me—that and it would help prevent my father from committing fraud against me like he has with the rest of my family).
When I was talking to my mom the other day, she informed me that a letter had come to her house intended for my siblings and me. It was an invitation to an upcoming family reunion. Yes, it’s absurd that these people have so little grasp on reality as to think that my brother, sister and I would be interested in such an event (we never even liked that side of the family when we had to spend time with them). And yes, it is absolutely insulting and infuriating that my mother, who was better to that family than my father ever was, was purposely omitted from the invitation (divorce is a sin) which was mailed to her house. That alone would be reason enough for me to boycott the reunion if a myriad of other reasons didn’t already exist.
The most remarkable thing about this invitation, however, trumps those other things. The invitation was addressed to: “E.J., Jane and Daniel” (emphasis mine).
Yes, I’ve changed my name. My last name. I am not now, nor have I ever been a ‘Daniel.’ If you’re sending out invitations to your family and you can’t quite remember someone’s name apparently the thing to do is just guess. Don’t look it up or anything. Don’t call Aunt Alice and say, “What’s the name of Jim and Sandy’s quiet, pudgy son? I know his twin sister is Jane, but what’s his name? . . . Daniel? Are you sure? . . . Well, if you’re not sure I’ll call a few other people to verify so that I don’t end up looking like a complete mutherfucking idiot when I send out the invitation.”
Am I just that forgettable? I’ve been called a lot of things, but I’m not sure that “wallflower” is a label that would stick. Or quiet. Or hell, anything short of loud, obnoxious and intrusive.
It’s funny, too, because the only other place where people constantly struggled with remembering my name was the church where I grew up.
After every service, we’d file out and shake hands with the people assigned to door duty. Invariably, it would go like this: “Good to see you, Julie. That’s a very pretty dress, Jane. How are you Sandy? Jim. Hello . . . uh, Champ. Hey, EJ, how’s school?” Substitute “Sport,” “young man,” or “Tom?” for “Champ” and you have an accurate idea of my exit from church every week for the first 13 years of my life*.
I’m now thinking that the only reason I’m estranged from the family and the church is because neither group could remember my name. My ego, my sick need to be in the spotlight wouldn’t allow me to bother with those who refused to acknowledge my stardom.
Then again, maybe my abandonment of them had something to do with the fact that my dad’s family is a group of cattle ranching bigots and the church is a group of bigoted cattle.
Hard to say, really.
*After that point it stayed pretty much the same for the next seven years, but every few years we lost someone from the line-up. You’d think the novelty of that alone would help make me memorable, but alas, no.