They look like everyone else. They try to watch and learn the careful etiquette of words and phrases, learning how to style their hair, host a dinner. It’s an acquired habit, one necessary for surviving in a world that they don’t fully understand, at least not in the ways others do. They learn the dance. It becomes a routine, trying their very best to learn how to blend in. They don’t try to even fit in anymore. They know that’s not an option. They are not naive enough to believe that anymore.
Something is missing. Something is different. They can’t quite figure out when it happened or pin point with clarity when it all changed. Don’t let on. Say the right things. Go through the right motions. Ask the polite questions. Never say more than the answer. Wear the right clothes. Learn how to apply the right makeup. Watch. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t let on that something is missing. It’s easier to just blend in.
Because you don’t really know what it is that’s missing. All you know is that it’s heavy and hits you hard. This broken family stuff. No one needs to know. They don’t understand, not really. Not in ways that matter. How can anyone else understand what you don’t understand? You can’t figure it out… was it the divorce of your parents, the loss of them at a young age, abuse, memories that won’t leave you no matter how hard you try to work them out or move past them? It’s the weight that holds your heart in your stomach, constantly tugging and tearing, wearily bearing and enduring through the days. You don’t know when it all turned for you. You just know it hurts and it hits you hard every day.
Not everyone from a broken family experiences the same struggles, the same stories, the same kind of pain, but in the deep places there’s something familiar, something hollow, something missing.
You may ask them about their life, about their relatives and their upbringing. They may seem cool and give short answers at first, trying their best not to allude to what it is they have to hide, but trying to be honest as well. They may gloss over the ugly details, and you probably think that’s the whole story. But it’s not. It can’t be. Who wants to hear about the way she stayed up late countless times observing her mom after an over dose, or when she had to sleep in the waiting room wondering if her dad would live, or her addict sibling? How she called 911 and hid the phone in the cushion of a torn up couch while she tried to save the very parents who were hurting her or that her siblings grew up to hate her because she told the “family secret” when she was 13 and that’s why she ex-communicated, familyless. These aren’t dinner conversations. They aren’t things that can come up naturally. No one wants to hear about these things.
They always have felt strange, with no way to communicate these deeper things in ways that don’t make you run from them. They hope you don’t run, but they also know you probably will. It’s just another part of the burden, knowing it’s too much for others. But really, it’s too much for you too. It’s a reality that crushes idealism.
They don’t mean to play a game, letting you in a little, but not too much. It’s nervous caution. They’ve learned how to stifle the turning of their stomach when you talk about your family and your traditions that you’ve had for years and years. They’ve mastered the art of stepping into the bathroom to cry alone. They don’t know what it’s like, being able to expect anything from anyone. What it’s like to go to back to the only home you’ve ever known year after year and re-connect with people who have known you your whole life. The stability. Stability has always had a high cost for them. Their jaw is tight, doing it’s best work to remain clenched so they don’t cry as you talk about your life.
They know they could not call this place home, even though they’ve thought about it. They know it’s for you, not for them. These are not the things that bad people get, home and belonging don’t happen to broken people, to people who come from unconventional families. The recognize what you get and what they get and they have long stifled the hope of more, others before you have stifled that hope.
There are days when they know they don’t deserve you, your love and kindness and tenderness. They know it’s only a matter of time before you see them the way they’ve always known they were, different, screwed up, bad. They’ve seen it in your eyes, when you look at them sometimes, the difference between you and them. They see it. They sense that you see it too. They know you’re realizing you aren’t like them and you can’t handle this, them. Brokenness costs.
But they just need a little space to grow, to thrive. A little space to temper fun with heaviness. A place to bridge new memories, as they struggle to make sense of the deep heaviness inside. Because they are excellent learners and observers. They’ve had to be their whole life and they could probably teach you a thing or two about learning and observing, but what they really need is a little small space in your heart that let’s them just be who they are, broken and healing, without needing to be fixed or have everything about them understood.
They know they are complicated, not easy. That they won’t ever be enough for you. They know you could let them go at any moment and find easier, less complicated relationships. They fear you probably will. But they wish you would hold tight and not leave. Because deep down, they still believe they matter. Still believe they’re worth it, even as people come and go and remind them of all their brokenness. Brokenness they didn’t choose.
Broken families aren’t easy. Why would broken people be?