It’s been about six years since I last saw any member of my extended family. The unfortunate consequence of this is how childhood memories of said relations continue well into adulthood. How that characterization you grew up with becomes a taken-for-granted fact, until a collision occurs. A collision between childhood me and adult me; between what I’ve been told and grown-up me.
My immediate family—a four-member entity—is a navy family. I was raised overseas and attended school on the base. As a Happa (half Japanese, half white-American), my early years consisted of very frequent visits to Ji-chan and Cha-chan’s house (my Japanese grandparents*). Visits to my American family were infrequent, almost nil.
Growing up in Japan made regular visits to the U.S. quite difficult. I can count the number of visits on one hand during my entire 18-year existence overseas: Twice with family in the late 1990s, once alone in early 2000. There were one or two additional visits around 2010-2012 while I was attending university on the East Coast. And that’s it.
Everyone has that one crazy family member, and Aunt L was that one crazy aunt in my life—or so I’ve been repeatedly told. The only other aunt I regularly heard about was Aunt B, aka the “Coffee Aunt,” whom was the “normal” one.
I learned very early that Aunt L was the “crazy” one, and different from the rest of the family. I didn’t precisely know how or why she was different, but that’s what I’ve been told growing up. And my shy self coming into infrequent contact with a boisterous and animated woman confirmed, in my child mind, that yes, she was crazy.
This childhood memory of mind was recently challenged, leading me to wonder about how my dad’s two other siblings have been characterized in my impressionable juvenile mind: Aunt K and Uncle B. (Summary: Despite their own quirks, these two are also leading very interesting lives that I wish I knew more about.)
In mid-May, Aunt L contacted me. She was in town for a job-related conference, had one or two days free and wouldn’t I join her?
I won’t lie. My initial reaction: “Oh… crap.”
Not because I did or didn’t want to spend time with her. I was trained, to put it one way, to try and minimize contact with certain family members. But as soon as I had that reaction, I paused.
Why didn’t I want to spend some time with her? I haven’t seen her in years, and she might not actually be crazy.
After getting over the initial avoidance, I made plans to meet with her. We spent two evenings together at two different restaurants in the Chelsea area. And you know what? It was great.
Aunt L is not crazy. Her political and personal beliefs divert from the rest of the family, yes, but in this I found a sort of ally. (My own political and ideological leanings do not align with my own family’s, so the internal struggles have been… something to explore.)
In fact, she is one of the most inspiring people I now know. Her philanthropic experiences would have, no doubt, been a great asset to me growing up, especially in networking and making connections.
After our two evenings together, I became frustrated at the missed opportunities that I would have likely had, had I not been trained to see her as some crazy, liberal person who doesn’t “work.”
But what’s past is past, and the only thing that can change is what comes in the future. Knowing who my aunt is has frustratingly inspired, in me, a renewed sense of motivation and drive to try and get out of my habitual cycle of mediocrity (topic for another post).
Couple that with my increasingly frustrating job hunting for the past 4 months, and the intense desire to get into a Ph.D. program next fall, the burning in my chest is unmistakable. The embers are hot to the touch. The challenge now is to stop undermining myself.
*”Jīi-chan” and “Chāa-chan” are nicknames/shortened and informalized versions of “Ojīisan” and “Obāasan,” which mean grandfather and grandmother in Japanese.
Featured photo by Greg Rakozy via StockSnap.io