Sunday, December 4, 2011

State of Denial

I found out recently from my aunt that my great-aunt, my late paternal grandmother's sister, had died. Cause of death - a knife in a lung. She'd held on for three weeks before succumbing to the wound. I'd met my great-aunt at family reunions and the like, but these were the few and far between events of my childhood, the most recent being when I was in high school if not sooner. Every one of them had been populated by strangers, as I could never remember the members of my extended family, and I didn't have enough in common with them to form bonds that would bolster my memory. So my great-aunt, like her husband, my father's uncle, were little more than a name that occasionally came up in conversation.

One thing that was never associated with those names was domestic violence. And I, being a bit to old to still be a n00b, know full well that my father's uncle didn't just go from being a mild-mannered guy to a murderer at the drop of a hat. My aunt confirmed my suspicions that this was a story that had been going on for a while. It was the sort of open secret that everyone in my father's generation knew about - it was only those of us in the under-50 set who were in the dark about it. My aunt also confirmed the other simple conclusion that I'd come to - that my great-aunt had gone to her death believing that somehow, she'd be able to change the man she was convinced loved her, despite the abuse. And that her, my father, my other aunts and uncles, any number of family members, they'd close their eyes to the possibility that this could happen, and did so until it finally intruded on them.

But it's easy to see denial in others. Much harder to see it in oneself. And so I find myself asking: when do I see unreality, hear unreality or speak unreality? What part of my life looks over my shoulder and mocks me, because I refuse to acknowledge its presence? And what am I risking in doing so? I find it difficult to credit the idea that I might be going to my grave because I can't bring myself to see the world as it really is, but my great-aunt didn't believe it, either. How does one come to see what you've structured your life around not seeing?

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