A Reflection On Family, For Oyster Magazine
I was 25 when I sat across from my girlfriend in a little café in Mexico and tried to explain what growing up with madness was like. I grasped through a haze of Micheladas for eloquence. “It’s like a bathtub of ink”, I said, failing at pointed language, “jostling around in your dark house. Your whole life you think it’s just a tub filled with water, that you’ll be able to dry off and go on with your life. But then you get out into the daylight of your own existence and you realize that you’re covered in stains.”
At 28, in a meeting designed to support people who had grown up with families like mine, addicted, mentally askew, or prone to rage fits, I used a baking metaphor. “The lunacy is baked into my cake. I can’t separate it out and get rid of it, I have to learn to live with it.”
At 31 now, I’ve settled on something like this; If your family is your bedrock, your foundation, the concrete that provides you with stability, descending from madness and addiction means that your family is a source of chaos, more like bubbling lava, or rolling balls, than any kind of stone. If you try to place a foot, you can never be sure that the floor won’t move, or worse yet, burn you, so you are forced to build something solid somewhere else.
As the monstrosity known as 2016 finally enters it’s twilight and Christma-Hannu-Kwanzaa approaches, I have retreated to my house in the desert outside of Los Angeles, to take a deep breath and find my solid ground. My biological family are all on the other side of the country, but there are 16 stockings hanging above the fireplace. This evening, smiling people will descend on the home that I’ve been building by hand for nearly a year, with bags of groceries, Christmas gifts, and abundant love. Some of them are foreign, some of them are Jews, some of them come from addiction, some have families that don’t provide any sense of safety because my friends are “different”.
When I was 18, I was living with my mother in the East Village of New York City, in the building I was born and raised in. She was struggling with alcohol and prescription speed addictions, and was prone to violent rages. Sick of ruined holidays, I would be damned if I didn’t get to have a tree, celebrate with my loved ones, and get drunk in honor of tradition, so I threw a party. I told my Ma to shove over, I was gathering the troops.
We had nothing. Literally, no silverware or a dining table, so I took the bathroom door off it’s hinges, laid it across some sawhorses in the middle of the kitchen, and strung up some Christmas lights from the 99 cent store. I invited all the Jews and Muslims and foreigners and orphans I knew, and called it iO’s Wayward Kids Christmas Party. 35 people showed up. Every year since, I’ve gathered my huddled masses, and thrown a raucous feast, complete with a tree, presents, games and some form of dance party. Never has it been defined by biological relation, but instead, these wanderers, these orphans came together around a shared desire for love and joyousness, and they became my family.
Today is my happiest day, because today I get to give, unabashedly, to the people that give to me all year, who hold me up when shit goes sideways, who go out searching when my dog is missing, who let me cry on them when I’m heartbroken, and who cook me warm meals when I’m sick. Today, I get to gather my family.