I finished the first draft of my memoir just in time for my 5th wedding anniversary last week. To celebrate the latter occasion, my spouse and I headed out to Newport, RI, to get our Coastal New England on.
Rhode Island happens to be where my memoir opens. My father moved to Providence not long after I was born to go to Bible college and to work at Brown University. My mother moved me and my half-sister Kimi there in the summer of 1988, and my parents were married there. Since I was only about 3 years old at the time, I don’t remember *that* much about Rhode Island, just a few details about the house we lived in, and my parents’ wedding. We only lived there for about a year before moving back to Camden, NJ, then to North Carolina.
While we were in Newport, I called my aunt Rose (my father’s sister). She was delighted to hear that my marriage had lasted 5 years so far and was happy that I was on vacation near my father’s old stomping grounds. She said that the Young family was having reunion soon, but she wasn’t planning to go. I asked why.
She said, “I always feel a little weird going to Young events since we’re not really Youngs.”
“Yeah, we’re not really Youngs. My mother was adopted. She was a Townsley and a Mathis. Her mother married a Young, so she became Young.”
Dear readers, I will be 32 years old in October, and I had no idea that my father’s last name wasn’t actually connected to a blood relative.
I felt two things: (1) I decided that I should probably go sit down with my Aunt Rose and write all this stuff down since Lord knows what else I don’t know, and (2) I realized that people would think it utter nonsense that I kept my last name after I got married when I’m not actually related to the family whose name I possess.
On point 1, I will definitely have to do that because it’s surely a bunch of interesting stories. On point 2, I didn’t keep my name because I felt some great affinity for my father’s family; I kept my name because I like my name and it’s who I am. The fact that my name isn’t really connected to anything but me is empowering. It makes me feel like I’m an island, creating my own family from scratch the way I want it to be, not tied down to meaningless traditions.
Aunt Rose continued that she’d spoken a while back with her brother/my uncle, who has requested that she not tell anyone where he lives or to give them his contact information.
“That’s too much,” Aunt Rose said. “Sometimes you have to let people be and love them just by praying for them.”
I agreed. I also realized that I’m not the only island. Apparently, I belong to a family of islands, a bunch of folks floating around out there on their own, creating their own destinies. We are an archipelago.
When I told my mom about it, she said, “I don’t know what anyone did to him to make him not want to be a part of the family.”
“Me, either,” I said, but I could definitely understand.
Sometimes, when you don’t feel understood, it hurts. And it’s best to keep your distance. Blood or a name is what keeps you in common, but that doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to keep the bonds, especially if they wear you down.
For now, I am happy to know that I’m a little floater, doing my own thing, out here on my own. Because I’m not actually alone. I belong to an unbreakable archipelago.