Of Tigers and Feathers – Day something or the other

My cousin called me, half in tears, thirty minutes from midnight.
She texted me first. “Are you there?”
I found out later that she’d messaged me on Facebook first, then tried Line.
I don’t think I actually ever thought about ignoring her message, but I did nearly ask her, “有事嗎?”, or, “do you need something?”.
It was a gut reaction borne from the fact that we don’t talk. We barely know each other since we didn’t grow up in each other’s orbit and I will admit here that I used to have some resentment towards her for being the outwardly perfect daughter that I never could be.
Never could be. Never would be. Never truly wanted to be despite the sham acceptance it would buy me.
I swallowed that question, the direct question that could be seen as antagonistic, and I am glad for it.
I’d just been talking to Deb and Amaya about memoirs and my grandfather and how his narcissism sent ripples of tragedy through my family and how there were stories there, but they weren’t stories I knew how to string together into a coherent whole that would be of value to someone. They’d patiently spent a long time unraveling things, uncovering thoughts, and then, the message.
I texted back, “yep”. Or rather, “在哦”. Which is “here” and the “oh” tone at the end to convey friendliness.
She typed back, “I’ll call you.”
Okay then. What the everloving fuck?
She opened with a direct salvo: “You know grandfather’s back in Taiwan, right? Why haven’t you shown up to the dinners?”
Taken aback by the mixture of misery and almost-accusation, I blinked.
We went back and forth, me telling her that I was at the dorms, she saying that surely my evenings were free, me coming back with that I wasn’t done until 5:30pm…
Then it sort of oozed out.
Oozed, because pain in our family doesn’t exactly gush. Not unless the wound has festered to the point where lancing it sets off tectonic shifts.
She didn’t want to go either. She didn’t get off work until 5:30pm either, but she still had to schlepp herself across town for dinner. She’d already had dinner with them once yesterday, managed to beg off today, and was expected to show again tomorrow and likely for every dinner after that as long as grandfather was in town. Her husband didn’t want to go, wanted to rest instead, and they were fighting because he didn’t like her pressuring him and she was pressured by her parents to pressure him because they’re seen as a unit and and and…
And tears.
All the above, said in hesitant halting tones, broken by tears and jagged with restraint.
I felt as if I were standing on shifting ground.
What to say? What could I say?
Was she upset that I had just blithely done my own thing, not being summoned, not even giving his arrival a single thought? Did she want to badger me into being as miserable as she was, the way that my family often felt compelled to do? Or did she want advice? Or just to rant? How receptive would she be to my attempts to unravel the issues?
I had just been telling Deb and Amaya that all unhappy families were the same in my opinion, no matter what Tolstoy believed. Unhappiness stemming from people taking out their fear and anger at the world on the ones they were supposed to love and protect and cherish most.
So I started the dance.
There’s always the dance in my family.
Test the ground.
Two steps forward, pause. See if Logic will work here.
One step back and a pirouette to dance around anger if Logic doesn’t work.
Plea for mercy, ask for succor, request leniency.
My cousin is less enmeshed in the crazy than most others are, because my grandfather is a proximity poison and she hasn’t had much chance to get close.
She was willing to do the dance.
Pull Logic close and sway, checking the fit. Look Reality in the eye as you promenade forward. Waltz with Agency. Foxtrot with Courage.
I told her of how I’d dealt with the same issue.
Yes, there would be recriminations. Do you lack all filial piety?
Yes, there would be pressure. Make your husband heel, the way we all do.
Yes, there would be confrontations galore because saying things once, twice, thrice wouldn’t take.
No, Grandfather didn’t actually care if we were there.
No, people wouldn’t give a shit eventually once they realized we weren’t backing down and we were calm about our rebellion.
No, our crazy fucked up family wasn’t worth fighting with her husband for.

The tears stopped. The sniffling ceased. And she said that since she was suffering from not speaking anyway, she might as well try to speak her mind.
Brava, I applauded.
And then something popped up. Something I had to say. Something that I wasn’t sure was a Thing until it slipped out.
I very very softly said, deal with this now, because you know how our mothers have been tainted by grandfather and how they have affected us in turn. Deal with this now, so that we can spare our children the horror. Deal with this now, because if we do not, then eventually we might be the ones chiding our children for not showing up to dinners with their grandparents and passing on the strife.

Hello Fear my old friend. I really wish you’d stop stalking me.
But it’s good to know that you’re behind this too.
Does some secret part of me shy away from children because I don’t want them exposed to my parents?

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