“No, I have no idea where they are.”
My sister and I laugh over the phone about how dysfunctional our immediate family is, how in each precarious moment any one of its members is liable to disappear without notice and re-emerge weeks later, miraculously alive and righteously angry that no one remembered/was listening to them when they told EVERYBODY that they were going to dance class/their boyfriend’s house/their best friend’s house/out all night don’t wait up/school/rehearsal/lindy-hopping/university in Ottawa. I miss them. I miss this part of dysfunctional, the part where we all end up in the same place at the same time and we’ve all survived our various forays into the wide world and we’re all a little grumpy at each other but we get over it quickly because we’re also all so incredibly hilarious to each other. But this doesn’t sound like dysfunctionality at all, does it? Dissonance, maybe, a little noisy, a little chaotic, and fit into the rest of the world a little awkwardly, at a wrong angle, but in the end, not a seriously bad thing.
The most dysfunctional families are the ones that have to function most effectively. They have to work as united fronts, in silent but agreed-upon strategy, to protect the true things hidden in the dark rooms of their houses. They have to defend, against all rationality, each other, themselves, the explosive, unhealthy project in human love that they are calling a family. In this tireless, mutual effort, they become a well-oiled machine of disrepair.
I miss ridiculous communal eccentricity, the weirdness that has grown into and around us like those little baby trees that they weave together so that they end up as a single adult bush with a braided trunk. My father’s intellectual ramblings and self-pleased sense of humour, the way he tells a good joke and then repeats it four hundred times, the originally really popular ones sometimes surviving years. My mother’s goofy enthusiasm for everything – we know she exaggerates it to embarrass us, to make up for our own lack of vigor when it comes to things like identifying wild mushrooms and joining conga lines – and then her paradoxical sharpness, and how they are really the same thing. My little sister’s out-of-place poise, the bewildering skill she has acquired, not from any of us, in presenting a carefully crafted image of herself, and how naturally this falls away when she is placed in extreme ranges of emotion – her hysterical, genuinely uncontrollable laughter, her hysterical, genuinely uncontrollable hysterics. I do not miss the functioning of dysfunction, the painstaking measures you did not realize you were taking until you can turn around and look back on them, but I miss the moments in which it slackened, when the missing family member was located, not through the efforts of anyone in particular, when the potential for cataclysmic argument over absence of said family member had arbitrarily, but thankfully, been bypassed, and everyone was back in the nest, sort of bouncy and gleeful in some exclusive family moment. I miss the times when we were not functioning at all and just being. I miss belonging messily, sometimes uncomfortably but always completely, to that unit.
“Tell them I called when you find them, okay?”
Cackling and half-grown-up male voices float into the phone, and now I can’t tell whether she’s laughing at me or at something being said on the other end of the line. I recognize the egotism of it, but it’s strange to me that my house and my family and my neighbourhood haven’t folded up neatly like a pop-up book illustration in my absence.
“Okay, love you.”
“Love you,” she answers through giggles, now definitely for whoever’s there with her, in our living room. She hangs up and I sigh.
After all the years of tight-knit chaos, you end up out in the world feeling like a naked bird hatched early, because where else are you going to find that kind of love?