There are so many hokey movies and books and aphorisms about family being what you have to keep whole because they’re the only ones who’ll stick by you etc. etc. that I think any kernel of truth that might have been at the center of all that has been lampooned out of existence for most people. And maybe the realities of there being many horribly abusive and damage-inducing families out there also damages this truth. But no one else would have dutifully skyped me day after day as I sat there and cried and raged about how lonely and miserable I was. No one else would have hopped a plane for $2000 and come to stay with me for a week and made me forget, for a little while, what a ridiculous and stupid situation I’d landed myself in. No one else, after years of what could arguably be called neglect on my part—making no effort to see the other side of things, ever, and pretty much doing my best to drop off the familial radar—would pick up the phone at 3:45 in the morning and be on the road by four, driving 500 miles to be at my house by the afternoon.
And while I am in no way saying my way of coming to respect these truths is the only or the best way, I am grateful to have come to that point pre-marriage. Because I think a lot of people enter into relations with their in-laws with claws outstretched, ready and willing to find every way in which their backgrounds differ and to focus on this point as one of contention. When what really interests me is the fierce love we share for the same person, and the knowledge that maintaining everyone’s knowledge of that affection is really goddamn conducive to everyone feeling okay. And I am very much concerned with everyone feeling okay. There are too many people who don’t. While I am helpless in the face of the girl on the back of the bus who is folding in on herself and crying into her coat collar, I am capable of offering a needed ear when my mother-in-law needs to tell someone about the health problems she’s watching her own mother go through. I’ve seen them. More so than some people twice my age. If my being able to relate to her on that level makes her feel remotely better, I am glad to do so. If my dad was willing to drive 500 miles at the drop of a hat, and my mother fly 3000, the least I can do is listen when, even for just a day or so, my MIL feels as stranded as I was for over a year.