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  • Writer's pictureJacob Nakia

Family Reunions

Updated: Jun 17

We had never been close to my mothers side of the family, growing up this had caused a flurry of questions leading to arguments and more often than not a family wide break down. On the rare occasions that we did see them a similar pattern would appear in the span of several hours, leading to prolonged periods of time in between any interaction, the longest being over 5 years. So when we were told that we would not only be traveling to see my uncle and his partner, perceived by us to be the only sane one of the group. But that we would also be staying for several days in his home, glee and excitement were the least of our emotions. That week we arrived at his apartment complex, a maroon bricked building that had a historic aura to it, with ivy of the most lively green embroidering nearly the entirety of the walls. 

As we ascended the staircase towards our uncle's abode, every inch of the building was awe-inspiring. I realize now that while the building was impressive, what was truly touching was the fact that we would experience family, true family, not forced get-togethers and family reunions marked with chaos. This would be the first time that we let our guards down and unpacked our luggage in its entirety, rather than just one set of clothes at a time, in case the need to get in the car fast arose. The home itself was a modest space, a loft, with unexpectedly more vegetation inside than the exterior of the building. A futon lay in the corner on a raised section of floor, and other than a small couch situated on the other side of the room strategically placed to perfectly catch the sunrise all the while facing the tv, it was barren. The occupants explained that by maintaining a minimalistic mindset, not only did it encourage them to seek out entertainment in the outside world, but they could have many more people over without feeling cramped. 

Coffee Shop

The trip itself was amazing, not because we went in limos and had expensive food at the most sought after five star restaurants in town. We enjoyed the interaction and experience with family that was missing from our lives until that point. Sitting down at a cafe near our uncle's home where he knew every employee's name, and seeing the parts of town that had cheered him up and chased away the blues when life had been heart-breaking, showed us a side to familial love we had not seen before. I will never forget the look on my mother's face that trip. Sitting outside of a small pizzeria all five of us crammed into a two person table, I saw relaxation wash over her. It was the first time that I saw her unguarded around those I had been exclaiming to be “my” family for years. Even as young as I was, I knew that the words and remarks I had made towards her in regard to keeping us away from them were childish and impulsive. All the stress and literal screaming that were present around them, seemingly hidden behind a veil of naivety became apparent. And a distinct change took place within me at that moment.

The remainder of the trip seemed to pass in a matter of minutes, and soon we were packed and ready to head home. Leaving was once again filled with tears, only this time there was a solemn tone in the air, we were leaving on a happy note. We had been given a glimpse into James' life in its fullness, and for once we were wishing to have more time to experience all the little things we had not yet seen. Plans were made, phone numbers exchanged(due to the entirety of planning for the trip happening on facebook) and a genuine desire to see family again was born. Which made it all the more difficult attending James' funeral 4 months later. We later learned that while the trip had been amazing for everyone involved, it had also been the first positive interaction that James had had with any blood relatives in over a year. His partner Asher and him had been all but banished from the family due to their “lifestyle choice”, to which James neglected to share out of fear that his eldest sister(my mother) would abandon him as well. 

I wish that this story had a different ending, that this was just the first of many trips that our family experienced together, that James had gotten to meet his three nephews, one of whom shares his name. But he didn't, and I can’t see more of the amazing person he was today. But seeing the inspiring man James was and the peace that he chose to share with others in life was one of the greatest reality checks I have ever received. It showed me the uncomfortable truth that I had been kept from for my own safety, and allowed me to see what I wanted for myself, who I needed in my life, and that a truly beautiful life doesn't need to be big and shiny. Soon after the funeral I severed all contact with my extended “family”, and put my energy towards my future relationships. And while I am still sorting through all the mess within me, I am glad that the part of my journey spent seeking out my family's approval has found closure. Thank you James, I owe more to you than you ever knew.

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