This is a photograph of me, “you’re so selfish” Sister, “you’re too sensitive” Brother and Mother’s adopted daughter obediently smiling for posterity. It’s one of a cache of similar nostalgia Mother stuffed into a Happy Birthday card that she appears to have begun mailing directly with a stamp and return address sticker before tearing off the return address, marking a black “X” over the tear where it was and, I assume, instead sent it through Father who dutifully left it on my doorstep to find. Pretty standard procedure as these things go.
Mother’s been hacking up photo albums and sending us the pieces for years. I once received a packet just containing pictures of herself. The last time I received any sort of birthday salutations from her, it was all photos of her adopted daughter. At least I appear in these photos, I suppose.
And she tends to triangulate her messages through other people which tends to destroy my relationships with those people who’d rather believe the bullshit she feeds them about me rather than face the ugly truth that they’re being used. Father’s the last of her occasional mouthpieces I listen to. Though he’s unlikely to accept that the woman who drove him to the bottle could or would – I dunno – be bad for her adult children too.
The people smiling in these photographs belie the personal struggles masked by their pleasing expressions frozen in these moments in time. They are illusions. A picture may be worth a thousand words but we ourselves fabricate the story to make sense of a single frame taken out of context. Should we lose perspective, embrace these delusions as truth and begin to behave as though they are real then there’s no bottom to that rabbit hole.
These images are, I think, an invitation to believe that the happy family they appear to capture is actually that way rather than any sort of effort to make a happy family. Nothing’s written in the card. Denying anything that threatens that perfect family image at any cost is implicit in accepting this invitation. I remember what it felt like to be constantly ignored and invalidated by these people that I once counted myself amongst and there’s no going back to that — turns out I don’t need the sick illusion of a perfect family to feel alright after all.
A healthy family of origin would be preferable, of course, but I can’t make them acknowledge me as a person and not prop in this fucked up stage play of theirs. Until they – and by they, I mean Mother in particular – fundamentally change their attitude towards me to treat me with some mutual dignity, compassion and respect, I’m not smiling in any more of their photographs. And given the broken nature of narcissism, I quite reasonably don’t expect to.