A Life More Complete - By Nikki Young

Family. Everyone knows what is said about families. Blood is thicker than water, love makes a family, we start and end with family; you get my point. Not all families fit this bill, not all families are created equal, yet Chinese proverbs, celebrities, kings and queens, and literary heroes all feel the need to opine us with their wisdom that if you just try a bit harder, love a little more, or give a damn, that it will change everything. It always comes back to family. In my case it always came back to “How can I get away from my family?”

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, upper-middle class, nice cars, well-groomed homes, smiles and sprinklers, green manicured lawns and streetlights that basked the tree-lined streets at dusk. I know what you’re thinking—another rich kid, sob story about not being appreciated or loved. Blah, blah, blah. But to set the record straight, I didn’t grow up wealthy. No private jets, no summers in the Hamptons, no BMW on my sixteenth birthday. My family was just the regular basic money. I got a car at sixteen, yes, but it was a 1979 VW Cabriolet, a hand-me-down bought from my neighbor, who got it from a friend, who got it from a friend, who got it from his grandma. It was old and smelled like a wet dog and when you turned the headlights on the radio turned off. Not that I’m complaining. It was more for the convenience it provided my mother than it was about the prestige of getting a car at sixteen. My mother never struggled financially—emotionally was a whole other story.

Which brings me to my mother. I give her credit. She left her husband, my father, an emotionally and physically abusive alcoholic drug addict when I was eight. She took my two sisters and me in the dead of night and ran. Cowardly, but that was all she knew, and when I ran at age eighteen, I did it because it was the only coping mechanism I had been taught. Run from your problems, from your past, from your life, and maybe you’ll get lucky and it won’t follow you. (Unfortunately, my father had followed like a freaking bloodhound, so instead of running my mother married a cop. That’ll teach him to come around again.) She ran our household like she did everything else in her life after my father. She ran it like a business venture, heartless and with very little emotional attachment, just in case it didn’t work out. My mother, very successful in everything she did (her first and second marriages excepted, of course), failed at being a parent. Miserably I might add. I’ve heard it’s hard to raise girls. My mother wouldn’t know. We raised ourselves, made dinners, packed lunches, taught ourselves how to use tampons using the little insert in the box. She was passive-aggressive, black and white, no gray, a heartless woman with little respect for her children, who in turn had little respect for her. When she wasn’t working she was still working. When she wasn’t out expanding her company she was expanding it from the comfort of her home office. In the days before cell phones, email and the Internet, my mother grew a booming insurance company from word of mouth and numerous phone calls, all to the chagrin of her children.

Of course we reaped the benefits of a financially stable life, but there’s more to it than that. It comes back to the quotes about love and family. There was none of that and to be honest, I’m not sure what I would’ve done with it anyway. So accustomed to being alone I don’t know what I would’ve done if my mother had hugged me or told me she loved me. She had become a broken-down, lifeless robot workaholic and if there was one thing I learned from her it was run. So that’s what I did.

Family—sometimes they’re your biggest enemy, your worst supporter, your biggest killjoy; mine were all those things and more. As a society, we are programmed to believe that all mothers love their children unconditionally, even when they do a poor job parenting, even when they are drug addicts or abandon their babies in dumpsters. Maybe it’s the American dream to believe that people are never innately bad or that inside everyone there is good—whatever it is, it’s a falsehood. It’s just like what is said about family: sometimes it doesn’t apply to everyone.