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Saying goodbye to my brother

So, there’s only really one family member that I’m still aching pretty badly over cutting out of my life even though I know deep in my bones that it was the right thing to do, and that’s my cousin Dave (name changed). I said “brother” in the post title because that feels more fitting to what Dave meant to me throughout a large portion of my life.

Here is some of our story, and what ultimately happened to our relationship when I decided to put it on indefinite hiatus three months ago. I am hoping that typing this all out will put my soul at ease a little bit around all of this, because his name came up a lot this past weekend while I spent time with my mom and the one cousin I am currently speaking to, Sam, who is Dave’s stepsister, and it pressed on some still very sore spots.

Dave and I are 18 months apart, he is the younger one. We lived together as small children at our grandparents house, because both of our mothers, who are sisters, lost their husbands/our fathers to early, drug related deaths. We had an aunt named Stephanie who also lived with us at our grandparents’ and took care of us a lot of the time. Stephanie was the middle child between my mom and Dave’s mom and she loved us deeply and cared for us like her own children, partially because she’d never be able to have any, and partially because she knew both of our mothers were unfit to raise us on their own. Stephanie took us to the park as kids, taught us to tie our shoes, taught me to cook and bake at a young age, drove us to school and preschool, and showered us with unconditional love, the likes of which I never knew again after she passed away. She died in 1997 from complications from AIDS, which she had contracted 7 years earlier from a tainted blood transfusion after a bad car accident. She was 30 when she passed away. She knew her time was brief and she tried to use it to love us as much as she could, because she knew that our resources were so limited outside of her and we desperately needed it. That love made such a lasting impact on both Dave and I, and we were both rendered completely grief stricken when she was gone. That whole experience brought my childhood to a screeching halt, and forced me to grow up against my will. Both of our mothers, who had just been widowed less than 7 years earlier, had no idea what to do with us from there.

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I went into a pretty deep depression around that time, when I was 9-10 years old, that reverberated in me for the rest of my adolescence. I got really withdrawn and completely disinterested in anything related to school or my friends or anything else. My mom started to be more involved in my life, but she was still completely gone mentally/checked out and didn’t know how to connect with me on an emotional level at all, which wasn’t helped by the fact that she was more or less absent in my life from age 4-11. My grandparents never recovered from having to bury Stephanie, and while my grandpa tried his best to look after me, I know it was way out of his wheelhouse, and he had a terrible temper that made our relationship difficult a lot of the time.

The thing about me is, and this has always been true- I wear my heart on my sleeve, I feel my emotions deeply, and there’s no turning away from them, I’ve just had to learn to manage them in adulthood. So, as a teenager, my grief poured out of me in every direction whether I wanted it to or not. I had panic attacks, I had crying spells that seemed to come out of no where, I was withdrawn and afraid of people, I was hurting deeply and none of the adults in my life were safe places for me. Luckily, I had some teachers that were at least somewhat clued in to what was going on with me, and I talked to the counselors at my school which helped sometimes. I had a good group of friends that looked after me, and their parents did too, when they were able to.

So, while I was wearing my broken heart publicly, Dave went a different direction. Dave’s mom is mentally unstable. There’s a real possibility that she’s bipolar or borderline, or maybe has compound PTSD. She’s violent, manipulative, and plays the victim like nobody’s business. I know that part of it has to do with her trauma around losing her first husband and her favorite sister when she was so young, and my heart hurts for her in that, but she’s also done a bang up job of injuring everyone else around her and taking no responsibility. Dave’s stepdad is a very stoic, stern, stiff upper lip type who taught his kids to suppress their emotions and that it wasn’t okay to talk about their feelings under any circumstance. Not only was it not okay to be vulnerable, but it was downright physically unsafe, because they couldn’t risk anything that would set Dave’s mom off.

Dave then turned to religion for comfort. None of my family is very religious, but he got into this very conservative baptist church when he was 13-14 years old, and there he met a girl, Sasha, which basically sealed the deal and made him commit himself to it totally. The girl he met was very beautiful but very hurt/traumatized too. Both of her parents had died of cancer before she turned 15, and she lived with her incredibly strict aunt and uncle. Dave and Sasha continued to have a very tumultuous relationship for 8-9 years, breaking up, getting back together, hiding their relationship from Sasha’s family who thought Dave was trash because they found them secretly in her room late one night (Dave had snuck out and ridden his bike for miles to see her when they were like, 14 or so). I know they triggered each others’ “stuff” around loss and family, etc, which bonded them, but their relationship was SO consistently drama filled. This is probably my judgment, but Sasha hurt Dave a lot and jerked him around. He had to jump through a lot of hoops to get her awful family to acknowledge him or accept him in any way, and they still treat him like shit to this day. Also, the two of them have always refused to date anybody else. They are each other’s first, last, and only, which, if you ask me, has a lot to do with their religious convictions, because Sasha told me they’d had premarital sex which is the mother of all no-no’s in their eyes.

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Sasha and I were friends for awhile, but I eventually backed off because I figured out quickly that she was unstable. I had gone into therapy at different times starting around age 18, but I made enormous strides starting around 2010, and one of the things I learned in counseling was that I had to do my best to have healthier people around me if I wanted to be successful in recovery, which meant that I trimmed a lot of fat in my relationships, so to speak. Sasha broke up with Dave one day in 2010 or 2011 under pressure from her family (there was money tied up in it somehow, they were going to deny her trust fund/inheritance/something like that if she didn’t) and she called me immediately after to try to drill me for information or get my approval, or something, which I found to be bizarre and inappropriate. I told her gently that I cared for her, but that if she and my cousin had ended their relationship, I didn’t feel it was healthy or mature for she and I to continue to be in contact right now. I think they got back together again a year later but that conversation was obviously a thorn in her side. When I looked at Sasha, I saw pieces of myself before I’d gotten help for my depression, which worried me for Dave, but he continued to show up and choose to be with her.

Dave and Sasha got married about 2 years ago, under intense scrutiny and lack of acceptance from her family, and secret unhappiness within mine and Dave’s family too. My mom can’t stand Sasha and has always thought that Dave was too driven and that her total dependence on him for even the most basic things would hold him back. Dave finished his Master’s degree while Sasha continued to fail out of college, because in her words, her only desire was to be Dave’s wife and bear his children. I remember sitting with my great aunt and uncle at the reception and all three of us looking at each other with sincere heartache, but still trying to be optimistic.

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Anyway. I guess it’s worth saying that throughout this time, I was getting better, healthier, and stronger by going back to college, seeing my therapist who was EXCELLENT for me, and doing volunteer work at a mental health nonprofit here in my city. I had formed a great group of healthy, motivated, supportive friends, I was dating some, and doing the things I’d always wanted to do with my life. Incidentally, it was becoming harder and harder to identify with Dave. He got more and more conservative as time went on in his new marriage. I couldn’t laugh with him about the same things. He got disinterested in current events. He stopped calling me just to talk or check in. He just straight up stopped having FUN, period. The silly, funny, optimistic, adventurous guy I’d known was gone and replaced by some stodgy, stern 25 year old going on 50. The last time I saw him even have a tiny amount of fun was when he and I went to a wedding last year for a distant cousin of ours and Sasha was out of town. He even told me that night that Sasha told him not to drink much anymore because it “makes you more like Natface.” It upset him to hear me talk about my personal life or whatever was going on with me, because he made it implicitly clear that he thought Jesus was the only way to truly be healed- the excuse that Sasha made for not seeking help for her problems- and he couldn’t understand why I didn’t just find a upstanding church going guy and get married, and why I continued carrying on/going on all these dates/seeing men that weren’t Christians by his definition. I believe in God but I will NEVER share Dave’s current beliefs, and his burgeoning ideas on gender roles now that he’s married to a woman who has no ambition outside of serving him sicken me.

It upsets me because I thought he was smarter than that.

Anyway. I will admit to the fact that I did something that wasn’t smart, but it did not justify the hellish treatment I got afterwards.

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I was friends with one of Dave’s old high school buddies. Friend and I had a flirtation going for several years, and kept up via Facebook and texting, etc. He was very smart and a dead ringer for Chris Hemsworth, and although he and Dave had gone to the same church, he became a hardcore liberal and would argue with Dave nonstop, which maybe made me like him more. Four months ago, Chris (as I’ll now refer to him) lived in Germany, and he and I had plans to meet up there as I was vacationing in the area. Turned out that his visa didn’t get renewed, so he came back to Texas and was crashing on Sasha and Dave’s couch. Chris and Dave invited me over for dinner one night, and I brought a bottle of wine.

Sasha was weird as usual and made some awkward comment about how she was very nervous to cook for me, because she knows i have a discerning palate (Sasha can’t cook and by her own admission would fuck up a pot of boiling water, I can cook quite well, it pisses her off because blah blah gender norms and because it’s me and how dare I yadda yadda.) I knew dinner was going to be awkward but I was trying to enjoy Chris and Dave’s company. What happened was, the boys and I got a little tipsy (they’d been pregaming before I even got there) and Sasha and Dave let me crash on the couch while Chris slept on the floor. Once the lights went out and Dave and Sasha were in their room, Chris invited me onto the floor to cuddle with him. I have NEVER leapt off a couch so quickly in my life, and he kissed me. At that point, Dave came out to get some water and caught us. Nothing else was going on and we were clothed, but Dave yelled at Chris “NOT IN MY HOUSE” or something like that and stomped off to his room.

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I was mortified and I put the kibosh on anything else happening with Chris there. I woke up early the next morning and talked to Dave before he left for work. I apologized and said I hadn’t meant to upset him, and that Chris and I had been talking for awhile and so one thing just led to another. Dave, surprisingly, laughed it off, hugged me, told me he loved me and then left for work. I was relieved thinking that things were going to be ok, and shocked by his easy going reaction.

But, I then went back inside, and hugged Chris one more time and told him what had happened, that I’d apologized to Dave, etc. I’ll save any more extraneous details, but basically, Sasha got up, was acting like a passive aggressive prick and would not let me talk to her about the previous night at all. Yet, she also cooked the two of us breakfast and sat and talked with us for an hour or so, so yet again, I figured she was ticked about it deep down, but I’d tried to do my part in making amends, and she seemed alright.

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That all ended when she called Dave up at work the second I left and told him that she’d found Chris and I fucking on the living room floor when she got up.

Dave texted me while I was in class a few hours later, saying it was urgent that I call him as soon as I was done. What ensued was a solid 10 minutes of him screaming at me, calling me a whore, and refusing to listen to my side of the story. I was pretty much in shock, but I finally cut him off once he got to “You have no respect for yourself and I’ll never let you around any of my male friends again, and Chris basically raped you because you were drunk” At that point, I screamed back at him and told him he had no right to talk to me like that and then hung up.

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Four hours later he called me to apologize. He had to have Chris corroborate the story I told him before he’d even begin to believe me. I’d spent the rest of that afternoon crying hysterically and feeling like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. When I talked to him that second time, I ripped right back into him and told him exactly how cold and heartless he’d been and how much it broke what was left of my trust in him for him to speak to me in such a way. He still wouldn’t even come close to acknowledging that his wife was in the wrong, at all. I told him that as of that moment, our relationship was on indefinite hiatus, and that I might go to his wife about what had gone down, but I had no idea when I would be calm enough to even consider it.

So that was in February. We haven’t spoken since. Honestly, it hurts still, and a part of me longs for reconciliation with Dave, but I don’t know that I will ever trust Sasha ever again for any reason. They’re in Europe right now and they’re trying to get pregnant while they’re over there. They come back to the states in July, and will live with Dave’s mom and stepdad while Dave job searches (he quit his job before they left the country.) I’m sure that will go really smoothly. :/

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It sucks, because I thought Dave and I would always be close, and my mother seems to think that he will come to his senses, but deep down I feel like he’s pretty far gone. And, he’s made it clear that he doesn’t accept me or support me in the way that I deserve, which is very sad for him, because he is missing out.

Anyway, thanks for reading my short novel. I’m glad I got to get that out of my system. Thank you if you took the time to read the whole thing.

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