How to reconnect with family if running away has been your lifelong pattern
When I turned 18, there was nothing I wanted more than to run away and “escape” to college. High school had been particularly unhappy and I was ready to bolt. I was supposed to have gone to the 45,000-strong University of Washington, like the other and much older siblings, but by the grace of God, an old friend’s comment, and some really really good grades in high school, I applied elsewhere and got a full ride. The old friend’s comment was, “Why don’t you apply to where I’m going? It’s really small, it’s in Southern California, and there are other kids from the neighborhood there so you can get rides home.” Bam.
At the time, there were no aggressive counselors at my Catholic girls’ high school in Seattle working to make my dreams come true – or even asking what my dreams were. There was my dad, fully expecting me to become a doctor, lawyer or chief engineer. And there was me, hell-bent towards something else, I knew not what. He could not argue with a full ride, so off I went.
Years later, in the 80s when I arrived in southwestern Colorado, it felt as though I was still running. The outer clothing of running away had been altered to look more like arriving in a new place, but essentially, I was still running. Because as we all know or are destined to find out, you’re always running if it’s yourself you are trying to avoid.
Most of the people here in the 70s and 80s did not bring family with them because we were all runaways. The 70s people will tell you they were a purer breed of runaway because they were the original hippie-boomers of Telluride — that they’d started things there, gotten things going in the Utopia of a hippie ski resort. But, in the greater scheme, it was also just another wave in the box canyon, a wake up and contrast to the mining town that had been put to bed. Now of course, we’re all getting older unilaterally, and it seems like the older we are, the less distinctions can be made about anything. We’re all looking down at ourselves going, “Wow, what human suit am I wearing now, with its crinkly skin and gray hair and hurting parts? What IS the past? What IS the present?”
A while back, there was a big reunion of 70s folks, some 400 strong, and I happened to be working at one of the reunion locations, the Telluride Gallery; and I went around with the iPad asking questions. Mainly I wanted to know what they missed most about the old days in Telluride. “The drugs” was a popular answer (“the Quaaludes,” one woman actually replied). “The community feeling” was the other refrain.
Fiercely opposed to nostalgia as a younger person — because of the implied interference with the present moment — in that moment, in that room, what I saw was lot of older people who had not embraced the now but were embracing long gone moments more. I’m now recognizing the very rich irony of being a lifelong runaway and then judging others on their own brand of escapist nostalgia, and doing so without recognizing the silver lining of holding sweeter times close to the heart.
Many years later, with our families still wherever they were in the first place, some us who’d planted ourselves in the box canyon started comprehending our family histories, specifically what the dysfunctions were. In my case, I started to see how it had become the Curry family diaspora of scattered non-communicative siblings and their scattered non-communicative offspring. Nothing truly dark but a lack of joyous connection and commitment to family regardless of whatever beliefs, whatever mistakes, whatever challenges, imperfections, or roads not taken might have occurred. No support structure, no bottom-line “we’re blood.”
Coming up on eight years after the death of my first husband, and seven years of transition and remarriage, I finally am able to look at the photos of my earlier days with tenderness, hoping for reintegration with everything that has been my past, one photo and memento at a time. I am slowly releasing the compartmentalizing, allowing all the boxes to bleed into each other, to find beauty in all that has happened to drop me right here and into right now.
In my studio a few weeks ago, after speaking to my sister about lack of connection in the family, I made what felt like a bold an inspired move: I connected all the first cousins on WhatsApp and posted a bunch of pictures of their childhoods, their parents (my sibs) at earlier phases of their life. I did this to open a dialog between them — something that is eminently achievable in the age of technology — to put them in the same cyber room with the door open.
After uploading all the photos, using our family coat of arms as an image for the group icon, and just putting it out there, I felt so happy I could hardly speak or function. The happiness was out of proportion to the reality of adult children who had not really been in touch, who might get on board but might not, who might post comments and photos, but might not.
Mainly what made me so uncorkingly, buoyantly, bobbingly happy was reconnecting myself to them, to these seven beautiful snowflake humans and breathing them back into my own heart. It’s something I therefore highly recommend to anyone in search of the healing waters of reconnection.