The Cruel Irony from the Family Called "Brown"

Three years ago, my grandparents — the Browns – removed me from the family. My younger sister, who was 16 at the time, hit a rough patch in her life and, dreading embarassment for the entire family because of her, my grandparents acted. They understood the drugs and they understood the alcohol (teenagers will be teenagers, after all). But when Gail gave birth at the young age of 16 to a black baby (my niece, Keira), that was the final straw. Instead of supporting my sister and showing a little heart, they chastised her and shunned her (a cruel irony from the family named Brown, if you ask me). They continued speaking to my mother (their daughter), but only out of spite — they ridiculed her, manipulated her, and insulted her parenting. Mom wouldn’t stand for it, so she shunned them in return.

That left me.

When I first moved to DeKalb for university, I still had a relationship with my grandparents. In fact, during that Spring semester, I received a D in a class because my professor refused to allow me to retake the final that I missed, so my beligerent grandmother called the department chair and demanded an explanation (turns out, my professor never asked if allowing me to take the final was okay)! A few months later, when the worst of my sister’s problems was coming into fruition, Grandma emailed me, saying, “Whenever you have time, Deda and I would like to come visit your new apartment and have you take us on a campus tour!” I wrote her back: “If you don’t have time for my mom, my sister, or my new niece, then I don’t have time for you.” And that was the last I’ve heard from them since.

About a week ago, I was talking with my cousin, Katy. Her family’s going through some rough times (as is mine, coincidentally), but is trying to save face and act like everything is normal and hunky dory. She told me that both her mom and her dad are going to our grandparents house for Christmas, even though they are in the midst of a separation. “It’s going to be really awkward,” she said. “You should come over just to experience that!”

“Oh, yes, because my presence there will calm everything down!” I replied.

My cousin is a really great kid. She’s four years my minor (the same as my sister — they were born three months apart) and one of the most mature 19 year olds I’ve met in quite some time. She and I truly represent the future of our family. When our grandparents inevitably pass on, there will be a generational void to assemble all of us together for holidays and birthdays and other sorts of familial gatherings. My mother and her mother have a sordid past and, even though my aunt has reached out to our family in our time of need, ignoring the wishes of her parents, her offers of help have fallen on deaf ears with her sister. They don’t talk anymore — at all. So when the Browns are no longer with us, it truly will be up to Katy and I to “assemble the troops,” as it were.

“Well, it’ll still be awkward, but at least they’d be happy to see you,” said Katy.

“I’ll tell you what — call up the Browns and ask them if they’d mind if I came over,” I said. “Because I do kind of want to see everyone again — especially you and your family. But I have a feeling they’re still upset with me.”

After Katy called and spoke with them, it turns out they do want me to come. They also said they’d enjoy it if my mom, youngest sister and stepdad came. However, Gail and Keira were not invited. They are still unhappy with her and, though they claim their reasoning is that they just don’t want Gail’s drug culture and gang lifestyle around the other kids who will be there, I still believe they see Gail as an embarrassment. That will be a deal-breaker for my mom — I know it will. That was what made her turn her back on her parents all those years ago — their incapacity to empathize, their heartlessness, and their inability to offer any sort of help.

And so it seems as though nothing has really changed. I hoped that my grandparents were building a bridge to reconciliation, but as it turns out, they’re still burning it down.

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