My Life as a Martian

I wonder sometimes if I’m the only person who struggles with feeling like an alien within her own family. Most of my mother’s side of the family, who believed strongly in the value of keeping up appearances, despised my father because of our religious beliefs and his social inabilities (Asperger’s Syndrome was not as easily diagnosed or understood during his childhood and young adult years as it is today, and he wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my twenties), and both sides of the family kept my mother at arm’s length both because of her ballooning weight and the bad habit she had of throwing very public fits whenever something didn’t go her way (the exception being my favorite Aunt Toots who I like to think loved everyone she ever met). Growing up, alienI could always sense the tension at family dinners with my mother’s parents as they berated her for her eating choices, her poor housekeeping skills, her clothing, her weight. On my father’s side, he struggled to know how to interact with people normally, so instead, once he knew what irritated them, he would use that as a social device, leading to one painfully awkward interaction after another. The only child of both, I learned at an early age that my parents were not like other kids’ parents. I grew up in dread of my mother’s tantrums, and my persistent wish was for people to understand my father the way I did as he made bad jokes while his body ticked away nervously. Mostly, I grew up knowing I didn’t belong. I didn’t belong on either side of my family, I didn’t belong at school, and I was desperately unhappy at home, and in my own body as I ate to try to fill the hole that awareness created. I was an alien.

As the years have gone by, I’ve made my own family. Some friends, like my best friend Tam, the sister of my heart, or my step-mom, Heloise, the mom I always wished I’d had as a child, the true mom of my heart, have stuck like glue, become family in ways my own never was able to become. Some served a purpose in helping me get through a certain phase of my life, and then, as these things go sometimes, we both moved on. And finally, here in my little rural town in the middle of nowhere, I’ve finally made myself a forever-family of close friends that I feel safe enough with to be myself. I watch my kids now with them and realize the gift I’ve given them in feeling completely confident in themselves, not aliens at all, but part of this network of family we hand-picked, who, thankfully, chose us right back.

And yet…

I still have this other family – the one I was born into. And it’s the oddest thing – knowing they love you, knowing I love them…but never being able to please them. And okay, even as I write “them” I know who I’m really writing about – my maternal grandmother. I watched my mother work herself into a frenzy trying to please her own mother, and though I’ve long ago learned that it’s impossible to do so, I find myself trying to do the same thing. And the failure of that endeavor, the knowledge that nothing I hold valuable – my relationship with God, my relationship with my children, the happy, mostly peaceful life they’ve had – is valuable to her, haunts me. I can look at her, and see her as a generous woman who has a good heart…but I also know that she is incapable of being pleased with me, even when I’m at my best (i.e. “thinnest” in her case). When I’ve let her down in some way, major or minor, that implacability is impossible to face. And somehow, as I’ve been at this crossroads of trying to decide my next step – to pursue my dream of writing, or not, I’ve let her disapproving, doubting voice get in the way.

I don’t even really know where I’m going with this…except that figuring all this out is part of my own road to Wellville. I’ve always felt like the only alien out there, but maybe there are a lot more of us out there. And I know I’ve been mentally resenting that feeling of being the only alien for too long, when really I should be working hard to appreciate the family and the life I’ve made for myself. So this week, I’m focused on doing just that – letting the family I’ve made know how much I love them, how much richer they’ve made my lives, my kids’ lives.

I don’t know if I’ll ever really stop feeling a bit like an alien…but this week, I’m thankful for the friends that never make me feel like one.

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Categories: Honesty is Healthy:

Author:Dory Diaz Photography

Dory is a professional wedding and portrait photographer, writer, and social media addict.

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