An ode to a family I don't really know

Once, my sister ran out into a Spanish thunderstorm and demanded that the hotel security guard let her swim in the pool.
He didn’t, of course. She came back soaked from the rain and I never got to know the truth.

Once, my sister broke into a zoo at night to see if the wolves really howl at the moon.
They didn’t. She came back with a stuffed animal and told me all about the owls. I suspected the wolves had been locked in for the night.

Once, my sister graduated from circus school. She could walk the tightrope better than anyone in her class.
I heard our father say that she should do something else.

Once, my sister moved to a neighbouring country (where they speak funny) and slept on a mattress on the floor. We visited her in the big brick building and had tea with her roomates. They were happy there.
We never went back.

Once, my sister gave me an archeology kit for christmas. We spent the entire night searching for T-rexes in the mud.
We only found worms, like the ones our father used for fishing.
She always stayed in the cabin when we went out with the boat to fish. I always asked my father why and never understood his answer.

Once, my sister grew up and threw away her phone.
I think she lives on a boat in Amsterdam or maybe she’s back in the mountains making art.

Maybe one day she’ll climb back down. Maybe one day I’ll get to know the whole story.


My grandmother would always tell us her tales, how she and a few other teens would sneak out of their barracks up into the loft of the barn house and would dance to a hand crank record player. How one kid was going to tell on them but who they instead let into the group to dance.

My grandmother would always tell us her tales, how when the war came, school was be suspended and the class would sit and knit woolen shirts for the soldiers during winter. And in spring they would be placed to help out on a farm. How, when she returned for the farm, there had been a munitions train that had been attacked, a wide crater in it’s place.

My grandmother would always tell us her tales, how she really wasn’t the child of the man my dad long thought of as his grandfather, but the love-child between her mother and another man. She’d tell us of how her mother and her real father both left for America. But that she was left behind to be raised as the youngest child in a family that held no love for her. The hurt was still fresh in her voice 85 years later and in it you could see the hope of a young child wishing for her real parents to take her away from the hell of her life. From what my father have determined, this is all true.

My grandmother would always tell us her tales, how she “tricked” the salesman of a posh boutique to sell her a expensive leather couch for a lower price, how she outsmarted a dishonest plumber and a number of proud deals she’d made in life.

My grandmother would always tell us her tales and towards the end, they were on repeat. Only occasionally would she break the surface and actually see us there. I learned which words triggered the happy tales and used them without regret when I was with her. I figured that I’d also want to relive the highlights of my life in that situation.

My grandmother would always tell us her tales, but I never really knew her as a person, only once during the 25 years of my life in which she lived did we have a real conversation. That evening, out on her balcony, she laid down her shield of tales and we talked about life.

My grandmother would always tell us her tales, but the last day I saw her, she didn’t say a word. It was me and my father in her room, sitting in the expensive leather sofa now stained by time and the soda that was her main source of sustenance the last years of her life. We sat there and watched as life slowly left her, until she took her final breath.

My grandmother tells no more tales and I will never know the whole story. But my father have filled in many of the blank spaces. And that will have to do.


My wife always had a story for every situation, the stories were generally not directly linked or relevant to the situation. But that was why we loved her. She once told me about how she had an entire conversation with her neighbour across our shared wall that was almost five foot high. Her neighbour called out as my wife stepped out for an illicit post coital fag (despite assuring me she had given up). She was totally naked the whole time but did nothing to reveal this to her neighbour. I had always wondered why it had taken her so long to fetch a glass of water.

My wife always had a story for every situation, the stories were generally not directly linked or relevant to the situation. But that was why we loved her. She told me once how she had peeled a man off the road where he had fallen from their bike after being hit by a car that didn’t stop. She held him until the ambulance, that she called, arrived. His brain was exposed and she just sat, calmly, cradling his head and talking to him. Afterwards she continued on her route to work and simply changed her shirt before her first meeting and mentioned nothing of it to any of her colleagues at the time. She said she had, simply, done what anyone would have done. She was like that. Calm. Collected. Practical. She was funny too.

My wife always had a story for every situation, the stories were generally not directly linked or relevant to the situation. But that was why we loved her. She told me about how she once slipped her hand into that of a stranger on a London street. They had held it out for their girlfriend in between which my wife had inadvertently stepped on the busy street. She had done it with permission from the girlfriend via a smile and a wink. They walked a block before he realised he was holding the hand of a person he didn’t know and they all ended up having a drink in the John Snow together in Soho.

My wife always had a story for every situation, the stories were generally not directly linked or relevant to the situation. But that was why we loved her. She told me once how she had met a person on a train from Montreal and chatted with them for two hours straight about current affairs in America and what could be done to bridge the gaps in education, economic standing and why the rest of the world has the perception of the country that it does. They shared a bar of chocolate. That person went on to become a world leader who she would never name but would always smile at the memory and the thought that a piece of her mind was, for a brief couple of hours, an element of what was orbiting their conscious.

My wife always had a story for every situation, the stories were generally not directly linked or relevant to the situation. But that was why we loved her. But, towards the end, I’m sure the medication started to ebb into and adle her mind like milk curdles. Coagulating and confusing. Liquid lumps obscuring the view of her own neural pathways in the ever-increasing cruelty of the disease that was taking hold of her and the drugs that attempted to lessen its blow. Her stories continued but became punctuated by a level of disbelief that made them become unbelievable. But still I listened. The story telling was written into her DNA and to deny her that pleasure would be to take away what defined her. By the end I never knew what was truth and what was vivid, passionate, never ending imagination. But then she told me about you and everything shifted. I didn’t want to believe it at first. It was too much to take in. A explosion of such magnitude that I could not talk to her for almost three days. She was desperate and so was I. What passed during those three days and what has passed since has grown into an obsession. To find you. To share everything of her with you.

My wife always had a story for every situation, the stories were generally not directly linked or relevant to the situation. But that was why we loved her. But by the end it didn’t matter.

All that matters is you. But i have no idea where to begin to look for you.

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Every Thursday, my brother would call me and tell me a story. I had to guess if the story was true or not, and if I got it right he sent me a present. He is a photographer sometimes, a car mechanic sometimes, and a surfer sometimes. He travels around the world, taking photos, fixing cars, and surfing. I know all of these are true.

Every Thursday, my brother would call me and tell me a story. I had to guess if the story was true or not, and if I got it right he sent me a present. He called me from Denmark and said he had met a Swedish family on the top of a hill. Or not quite the top, their car had broken down on the incline and they had no idea how to fix it. Luckily my brother the sometime car mechanic came along on his bike and could fix it for them. I said this is a true story, and it was. He sent me a small troll made of stones from a beach in Denmark.

Every Thursday, my brother would call me and tell me a story. I had to guess if the story was true or not, and if I got it right he sent me a present. He called me from Norway and said he had met two old fishermen in a bar. My brother was there to take pictures of the fjords, and the fishermen offered to take him out in their boat. It was an old wooden boat and had one of those dragon thingies at the bow, just like old viking boats. I said this is not a true story, and it wasn’t. It was winter in Norway and the fjords were frozen. He sent me a small Viking ship.

Every Thursday, my brother would call me and tell me a story. I had to guess if the story was true or not, and if I got it right he sent me a present. He called me from Egypt and said he had met the love of his life. She was a goddess, he said, like something out of a fairy-tale, and it was love at first sight. He had never believed in love at first sight, not even when he was a teenager, but there it was, in a Moroccan girl on a beach in Egypt. I said this is a true story, and it was. He sent me a small stone idol of Bast.

Every Thursday, my brother would call me and tell me a story. I had to guess if the story was true or not, and if I got it right he sent me a present. He called me from Greece, and said he and Amira were island jumping there. They had seen many temples and ruins, and had participated in an all night long celebration to Bacchus. I said this is not a true story, and it wasn’t. The Greek god of fertility and wine is called Dionysus. He sent me a small olive tree.

Every Thursday, my brother would call me and tell me a story. I had to guess if the story was true or not, and if I got it right he sent me a present. He called from Morocco, where he was visiting Amira’s family. They were all very kind to him and welcomed him like family, except her cousin who was a bit of an asshole. Amira and him rode camels into the desert and watched the stars. They ate a lot and danced a lot and laughed a lot. It was the best trip he had ever taken. I said this is a true story, and it was. He sent a small lamp.

Every Thursday, my brother would call me and tell me a story. I had to guess if the story was true or not, and if I got it right he sent me a present. He called me from Bali and said Amira had died. There was a bombing in a marketplace where she had gone to buy them breakfast, while he was still sleeping in the hotel. Dozens of people died. I said this is not a true story, it can’t be. But it was. He wept and asked my why. I had no answers. He didn’t send me anything from Bali.

Every Thursday, my brother would call me and tell me a story. I had to guess if the story was true or not, and if I got it right he sent me a present. He hasn’t called me since Bali. I got a postcard from India from him once, to say how sorry he was we didn’t talk anymore. He could have fixed it, if he only picked up the phone again.

The olive tree he gave me sits in my backyard now. The Moroccan lamp hangs from it and the troll and Bast keep watch on the ground. Many of the other trinkets my brother sent me over the years are spread out around the yard and in the house. My daughter likes to play with them and have me tell her the stories her uncle told me.

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I am trying to unravel the family I married into. I do this through my brother in law, always with wine and his wife and our exchanges have always spread out over the years. I have now learned that my own husband had seriously considered a path into a spiritual calling before changing his mind at the last. This is something he has never mentioned to me and I have been forbidden from asking about. Although I have the capability in my mental make up to leg go of this unexplored thread I sometimes, and always alone, allow myself to indulge in how the conversation might go. What side of himself my husband would reveal to me if I did actually ask. In those moments of indulgence I am eaten up with curiosity.

I am trying to unravel the family I married into. I do this through my brother in law, always with wine and his wife and our exchanges have always spread out over the years. I know that my inlaws are pious. Their daily prayers, their prayer ceremonies and all the associated side dishes that come with it are a clear message without my brother in law having to tell me. But I always want to know what drives these things. He told me about a “divine intervention” that happened to them shortly after they were married. This intervention turned a death-situation into a near-death-situation. An important distinction that allows our current conversations to exist and drove them to a life of servitude even if a sense of genuine belief may not actually be present. I cannot help but marvel at the ability of human nature to guilt people into bullshit.

I am trying to unravel the family I married into. I do this through my brother in law, always with wine and his wife and our exchanges have always spread out over the years. They have been explaining to me what it was like to grow up in conservative India and expectations upon them. I find it fascinating and not all that different to my own conservative upbringing albeit with more chili and even more frightening restrictions on contact with the opposite sex. In these moments I find it incredible that my husband and I met and managed to jump all the hurdles needed to become husband and wife. It makes me proud of us.

I am trying to unravel the family I married into. I do this through my brother in law, always with wine and his wife and our exchanges have always spread out over the years. Oftentimes I find that they are just like any other family I am close enough to know. Filled with insecurities, abnormality and chaos. Frequently concerns about money and social standing. At once I wanted to blurt out how money can be the root of all evil. But when a family starts out with nothing but a cow-shit hut in the deep countryside of India and has grafted hard enough to own comfortable flats in big cities, their own cars and travel the world you realise that you would sound like a dick and that perhaps my understanding of money and life is a little off.

I am trying to unravel the family I married into. I do this through my brother in law, always with wine and his wife and our exchanges have always spread out over the years. Our final exchange was about the challenge of acceptance for my marriage to his brother. It was a considerable stretch for such a conservative family (conservative and yet expecting their children to study at top institutions across the globe without ever expanding their mindset beyond the small village they all hail from, yeah, it constantly flummoxes me too). Acceptance always felt surface level to me and, so, it was a relief (of sorts) to hear that what my instincts told me was true.

I no longer try to unravel the family I married into. I used to do this through my brother in law, always with wine and his wife and our exchanges have always spread over the years. They both understand why I stopped asking. But we still have wonderful exchanges over wine. However I always feel sad for the loss of a reflection that could have been so beautiful and so rich.

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Do you remember swimming in that same pool while we were playing cards? We were in the middle of a very stressful card game and I look up and suddenly you are upside down with your little feet sticking up from that rubber ring. They did a weird dance and I remembered thinking to myself how funny it looked for that split second before I panicked and jumped into the water. The cards got all wet. You were okay but a little bit shocked and coughing. Later that day you were already back in the water again. But I didn’t stop watching you after that, every second you were in that pool. I wanted to hold you and protect you from the world.

I cant believe you remember that I wanted to swim in the pouring rain, I had forgotten about it but it sure sounds like me.

Did we go up to the roof when you visited me that time when we drank tea? I hope I showed you the roof because it was beautiful.

I remember your round sweet cheeks. I remember your braces for your feet and carrying you around. I remember your smile and goofy laughter, and picking berries and rolling down all of the hills we could get a hold of.

And suddenly you are all grown up. And I see you for an hour in that mall, in between the things, last year. And you are a superhero, smart and bright and funny and beautiful. And in so many ways I see myself in you. Want to hold you and protect you from the world. You are a caretaker of your mother like I once were, did i tell you that? You have an older lover like I once had in your age. But guessing from your writing you broke up now? Guessing from your writing you have a broken heart, like I once had. I want to hold you and tell you that you will grow stronger and fall in love again and life will take you by storm again. Or at least thats what happened to me.

I am down from the mountain now, the boat has sailed back to the shore. I am back in the country now, I will soon let you know.

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I don’t keep tabs on you, but I know you are 8 years old by now.
You came from me in part and you know my name and have the letter the clinic urged me to write for you.

I wrote that while I am your progenitor, your biological father although I’ve never met your mother, I am not your dad, that the people who have raised you are your true parents.

I wrote that while the above is true, as my genetic offspring you are eligible for a scholarship if ever you want to study at the university. You can give thanks to a lonely old 19th century great aunt of ours for that. It may feel like dirty money but they are desperate for candidates so go right ahead.

I wrote that I donated my sperm because I wanted people like your parents, who wanted children but couldn’t conceive together, to have another chance should they want it. I think that those parents will love a child the right way.

I wrote that I really hope you have a good upbringing and so long as I live I will be a phone call away if you want to talk with me.

I wrote that if your eyes are a pale yellowish green then you got them from my mother through me and don’t worry about the brown spots that will appear when you are 20. It’s just freckles.

I wrote that if you ever feel like an odd energetic duckling, then that is probably from me too, I’ve never been good at being what people expect me to be and my default state is restless. Remember to exercise and if you want, there is medication that takes down the hyper some.

I wrote about my family, about how we were and where we come from and tried to give you a picture of the odd and diverse heritage you have though me.

I wrote that I am glad you exist. I want you to know that a random stranger you are related to cheers you on even in your darkest hours.

I hope you are well.