It’s time for another installment. I don’t know how I know this, I just do. It’s a feeling of need… a need to push out some thought or feeling, a need to tell a story, a need to share something. When you have a mystery splinter, you know that you need to get it out of your fingertip, even when you can’t see the thing. A tiny pin prick of pain reaction flares until you find and remove it. Ouch! And that thing could be an idea, an insult, a little rejection, disappointment, curiosity, a hope. Splinters come in various forms.
I used to draw greeting cards to work out psychological splinters like stress or mild anger or confusion, hopelessness, shame, joy, and love. I wound up with a bunch of weird cards… a broken coffee mug, a grave, a lighthouse, an overturned wheelbarrow… and I thought of these images as symbols of my feelings. A bunch of tiny splinters on the maple dining room table. Once I worked them through with watercolor, I could sigh deeply and leave that feeling cluster on a piece of paper. That two hour process worked well, though obviously I’d have more feelings than I could ever illustrate.
“Splintered” is the feeling that comes over you when you realize as an adult that some of your life was false. Let me demonstrate. Pull a twenty dollar bill out. Set it on this computer screen and examine it carefully. Let’s say it’s counterfeit and you must hand your twenty over to the Secret Service. They give you a receipt but no money. You were duped, my friend. Somewhere along the line, someone slipped a fake in among the real bills– maybe in a dark bar or a race track or an Amish market. And now multiply that scenario by a thousand or ten thousand. Through no fault of your own, you lose.
“Of course your father is your father. He raised you, after all.”
“Grandma was a practical nurse…who delivered babies on the side sometimes without a license…and sold drugs.”
“Oh, Uncle Larry? He had a touching problem when he was young. That’s why he lived with your Grandmother’s people in Huntingdon…at the prison”
“Aunt Dotie is Harold’s second wife, dear. Actually, your cousin Sandra is her neice, not her daughter. Dotie’s twin sister died when Sandy was an infant, and Dotie stepped up. Your cousin Mandy is Dotie’s child. I guess we never told you.”
Or my favorite, “Your Uncle Eddie went on a long vacation and came back as Aunt Sally.”
It doesn’t have to be one singular event or epiphany. Finding out that your parents were victims of abuse who had all control ripped away from them as children can release a trickle of material loose in your mind that foams into a lather as each eccentric moment fits into a pattern of control put in place to extinguish fear. Things that didn’t make sense slowly come into focus when you realize that you had the wrong lens on the specimen. A process of rewriting your own history may take the rest of your life as you watch older family dig deeper into bunker living to defend against invisible enemies.
“So I’m your daughter not your sister? That makes our parents, my…well, yours, my grandparents? And so, then, who’s my dad? Wait, do I want to know this?”
Imagine gravity turning off and stuff that used to be solid and heavy starts floating around like you are at the space station, but you’re in your living room, floating above yourself as you read the letters or will or listen to the phone call that ended gravity. “I always sensed something was hidden. My one uncle treated me like his son, and now I see that was the truth. And everyone else just played along. Fine for them, but what about my sanity?”
“Okay, I’m adopted…thus the lack of any resemblance to anyone in this family in any way, shape or manner. I’m 27. Wasn’t there a time before now that might have worked? And the time I wanted to see my birth certificate, remember, when I wanted to go to England and needed a passport? You lied all the way through that.”
“You can narrow my biological dad down to one of three guys? Awesome!”
I’m tripping, man, splintering what had been a solid piece of an American family tree. The hurt goes deep to the roots and bubbles back thickly as sadness and sap, which I will boil off into angry steam.