The matriarch walks in the dining room, hair coiffed, her apron reads “I Like Pig Butts and I Cannot Lie.” She sets the 20-pound roasted bird on a well-dressed table that’s encircled by humans sparkling with merriment.
The patriarch raises from his chair, says something droll, the room erupts into laughter. He recites a blessing — diatribe, rather — then carves the bird and unloads hunks of avian flesh onto raised plates.
Blessed be the happy family. Blasted be the faux utopia.
That was once a familiar scene for me, but then the nest broke and the eggs shattered. Things went to shit with my parents’ recent divorce after 40-plus years of marriage. It thrust siblings on opposite sides and gave birth to new memories I always feared. Blood is thicker than water, they say. But blood also permanently stains.
We were a tight-knit clan for a solid 30 years. Summer-long road trips were on every year’s calendar. Shoving all seven of us in small spaces was never chaos, it was communal.
Yet we were ingrained to avoid controversial discussions, which were curbed at the dinner table. We were comfortable speaking our minds — if it fell in line with church doctrine.
Then we grew up and became self-aware, carving adult paths. Many of us shifted our opinions from the church, not just because of the wrath of irreparable Catholic guilt and forced farcical authority from some dude in the sky we never met, but for being cast aside like stones when we’d seek diversity beyond church walls — like atheism and gay marriage.
Then the utopia was tainted with infidels defiling the blessed sacraments. That’s when gathering became harder to stomach and rifts were lodged. When we didn’t crawl back for forgiveness, we’d become products of hearsay and gossip across extended family and church laity. “Pray for their salvation.”
I don’t want salvation.
This betrayal comes in waves of guilt, anxiety and loneliness. Vapid self-hatred and deep hurt lurk at times. That could be attributed to the Catholic church itself, but regardless, it’s real.
Renowned author Pat Conroy (“Prince of Tides”) famously used his fiction to shed light on his disturbing family life. In his 2013 memoir, he details the damage of his past, his parents’ “dangerous love” and growing up in a torturous environment with a family dubbed “exemplary” Catholics.
“Our parents lit us up like brandy in a skillet.”
“Their damaged children are past middle age now, but the residues of their fury still torture each of us … They tormented us in their own flawed, wanton love of each other.”
Conroy said he and his siblings were casualties of war — “conscripts in a battle we didn’t sign up for on the bloodied envelope of our birth certificates.”
There was never physical abuse in my home, and I grew up in a very privileged environment. What wreaks inner havoc is the constant aspiration for acceptance, self-love and the denial of feelings if they weren’t on par.
It was the threat of damnation for mortal sins. The denial of sanctifying grace that makes for a promise to live eternity in an underground wildfire.
Conroy said that the liberation from his childhood by putting pen to paper was healing.
I definitely took a deep breath after unloading here. And deep breaths are hard to come by these days.