Flickering clusters



The last Thanksgiving my Aunt Mildred was alive, she was surrounded by my dad (with whom she lived), her ex-son-in-law and his wife (not Mildred's daughter; that was his first wife), and several other relatives.  I think my cousin Callie was there.  I wasn't there, so I forget who all else, but what I remember --because my dad pointed it out in relating this story to me-- was that everyone present that day was one of Aunt Mildred's in-laws.

My aunt's daughter was estranged due to her own mental illness, but her ex-husband kept in touch with his ex-mother-in-law all those years.  Callie was married to Aunt Mildred's nephew before his death.  Even my dad was an in-law.  My mom had passed away by this time, and yet my dad was happy to have her living with him.  And so on.  She had people come and visit her from half the country away (and even from South America) who were related to her only through marriages that had disolved through death or divorce many years earlier.

Point is, what is family, really?  I think we aren't born into a family so much as we find ours in the form of "flickering clusters."  If you've never heard that term, it's how chemists describe the hydrogen bonding of water molecules in a liquid state.  They sort of "hold hands" for a bit with other nearby molecules.  Any one water molecule might be connected into a giant cluster of other like molecules moving among other clusters in the medium, all bonding with and trading off molecules along the way.

We all make similar connections as we travel through life.  My roommate in college had a dysfunctional family, and so I was his anchor for several years when he was just starting to come to terms with being gay back in the early '90s when even Ellen was still in the closet.  He started calling us brothers, and he's still the closest thing I've had to one.  He and I were bonded for a time in college, then turbulence shifted us around, but we made connections again even though we'd moved to completely different clusters of friends in the years since.

The same thing happened to me with my ex-girlfriend Katherine, although the dynamics were different.  Entropy allowed us to drift away from one another before we reconnected through MySpace.  Over the past few years I have also talked to a few one-time friends from my past, but those interactions were more transient and the bonds didn't hold for very long.

I've had countless other interactions in my life, but most don't stick in the first place, let alone stick again somewhere down the line.  However, some of those people who make it into my "cluster" have become like siblings in a way.  Shanna is like a sister to me.  We can be arguing back and forth by text and, literally in the middle of things, exchange invites to our respective plans for the next week before resuming the argument.  I give relationship advice to Katie.  She never takes it, then we all cringe through the trainwreck that unfolds with the guy-of-the-moment.  That's how sisters are, even if you adopt them in your 30s.  She was one of my groomsmaids at my wedding.  They are all aunts and uncles to my child.

Family doesn't rely on blood, else adoptions and even marriages would be meaningless.  It is delusion to fall back to traditional definitions of what a family is when they were never honest or complete to begin with.  The truth is we bond together and make families throughout our lives.  I don't think there's such thing as a "single mother" so long as she has friends who are there for her.  You can be estranged from all your blood relatives and yet be connected to others more deeply than genetics alone.  You and I and everyone else have a family already if we acknowledge them as such.


Copyright 2009 Alexplorer.
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