Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stranger to My Kin

Last weekend I went with my sister F and niece E to a family reunion in my home town. I agreed to go because F is close to a couple of second cousins who were visiting from out of state and I agreed to stick pretty close to my mom, in case she became disoriented.

TIDM is prevalent in my extended family. My g’ma had 11 siblings and my dad had 78 cousins. It was the generation of the children of the 78 cousins that developed db - no cases outside of that (yes, I still get anxious if my nephews ask for a refill on their pop).

So, there have been 34 of us diagnosed - the first in 1949 and the last in 1995. 19 are dead, with the rest of us in various states of health. Many of them live on the west coast so only myself and another man represented the db contingent of the family at the gathering. I have never spoken with any of these people about living with db. I don’t care to.

We were also celebrating my M’s 82nd birthday and had brought a big cake to share. F was cutting it and E and I passing out pieces.

My great-aunt L was there with her identical twin sister, B. B is obnoxious and outspoken and rude. She has never been a favorite of mine.

L has a grandson with T1, now 35 years old, in a nursing home. He had some major strokes a few years. ago and is essentially unresponsive.

So, I line the little paper plates up my forearm and head over to where L and B are sitting. The conversation went like this:

L: Now, who are you?
K: I’m H’s daughter, Kathy.
L whispers to B: She takes those shots too.
B: How awful. I can’t think of anything worse to have.
L: Neither can I. Terrible. Just terrible.
B: Why are you carrying that cake? You can’t have cake.
K: It’s my mom’s birthday cake.
B: But you can’t have any.
K: (smiles and contemplates smashing the cake in B’s face)
L: No, she can’t have any.
L: Did you know that they had to cut off part of G’s foot before he died? It was from the sugar.
B: Why, most people who have it are just skin and bones. You don’t look like you’ve missed many meals.
K: Yes, I am thankful that I have enough to eat when so many are starving across the globe.
B: Do you get those terrible pains in your legs like W’s kid?
K: No, I don’t.
B: It’s horrible. Just horrible. And to think you can’t have your mother’s b’day cake. Why are they making you serve cake you can’t have?

By then the conversation was starting to pierce my armor, like a knife twisting its way around my heart. I was feeling vulnerable.I I was close to tears and wanted to yell, “yes, I have diabetes but I’m not a freak”. Then it seemed to me that everyone in the room was staring at me, commenting to themselves that over there is one of “the diabetics in the family.”

No, I did not feel like sitting down and calmly talking about my treatment routine. B just wouldn’t get it. It would have been wasted effort. And I also didn’t want L to start talking about her grandson - do you think I need to be reminded about what db can do to a person?

But I wasn’t seeing the entire picture. B is a bitter lady, being very envious that her twin had a relatively comfortable life and B hadn’t enough to make ends meet. That sort of history can make your attitude spiteful and distorted. Maybe it validates one’s misery to focus on all the hardship in the world.

B: (pointing to my niece) Who is that girl? How did she get invited when she’s not one of the relatives?
K: That’s F’s daughter, E. She became a member of our family 5 years ago when F brought her home from China.
B: Well, I’ve heard those Korean orphans are all the daughters of prostitutes.
K. Maybe so, but she is very precious to us and we love her a lot.
B: Did they check her for worms when she got here?
K: (you’ve got to be kidding).

Well, by that time I sure didn’t want any cake, nor the variety of casseroles (made with condensed soup and attractively garnished with pimento) that were served later.

I said to F, “I need to get out of here”. and she agreed. So we took M back to the residence and I got in the backseat with E to work on old Beatle songs, which we practice in the car. She has tired of “Good Day Sunshine” and moved on to “Yellow Submarine”. Then she reminded me how much she dislikes the White Album.

F suggested we stop at Red Lobster, since we both were famished. We split a big platter of shrimp and crab, and the events of the day were blamed on small town living, old age, and the cake that “I couldn’t have”.