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This tympanum from the Khmer temple of Banteay Srei depicts Sugriva fighting with his brother Bali.

The holidays always bring family issues to the forefront of our lives. Decisions of how to address those problems have to be made. Do we use this time of year to reconcile with certain family members? Or do we use it to send a message of discontent? Some would say there is no better time make peace with each other, while others argue that it wholly depends on what those issues may be. I think that most of us would agree with the latter.

Let’s face it, some things are hard to let go of and shouldn’t be ignored.

My family has had our share of issues over the years, and like most families out there, we’ve been able to see those through to some form of reconciliation. But for the last few years, my siblings and I have had some things we haven’t been able to overcome. We never even addressed them with each other partly because I have no idea what their problem was. The fact that I couldn’t care less about what they had to say seemingly pissed them off even more. Which is kind of funny to me.

You see, I’m a confrontational person. If you have a problem with me, some weird fucked up perception of me, or formed some negative opinion of me then I am going to address it with you face to face. Essentially, if you talk shit I’m going to confront you about it with the goal of finding some form of resolution. Does it always end that way? Typically, yes. But I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t end with the occasional mutual face-smashing session. That’s just how it is. No one knows this better than my own family members.

I’m not one to let things go unspoken. I just don’t possess that ability. This can be an intimidating personality trait leaving people reluctant to talk things out with me. But how are we to move forward as a family, or as a society, without the willingness to understand one another? Short answer: We cant.

So what exactly is their problem? I may never know. But I will say that it all centers around one particular incident.

The issues we’ve been facing seemingly started after my having a stroke threes years ago. For whatever reason any negative feelings coming from them started right about the time I was faced with this life-changing medical emergency. Here I was, just happy to have survived and taking stock of what’s most important in life, only to be ignored by some of the people that are supposed to matter most. So much for family support.

A stroke is one of the most difficult life-altering events to overcome. Aside from all of the medical issues such as left-side weakness, substantial memory loss, and not being the main bread-winner in my family unit, there’s also the financial ruin, the loss of our family business, and learning to depend on others for the most basic of needs. I have daily physical therapy, tons of medications, and all kinds of mental health issues.

I was so traumatized by my limitations that I contemplated suicide on a nearly daily basis. I struggled to get out of bed for months wishing that the stroke would have killed me. Sometimes not leaving my bedroom for weeks. Yet my siblings don’t know any of this. They have no idea of the tribulations we have had to endure because of what happened to me.

Yet they judged me.

They talked shit.

It’s as if they thought this was some kind of joke, a bullshit story, some kind of excuse. For what? I have no fucking idea. They assumed many things while never taking the time to try and talk to me, check on me, or even see how bad the situation was. I never received so much as a phone call often wondering if they even cared. Deep down inside I like to think they did, telling myself on a daily basis that they just don’t understand. They just don’t know.

But it’s been nearly impossible to reconcile those thoughts when I didn’t receive so much as a text message for birthdays or holidays. It’s extremely difficult not to be angry with them. The isolation, the sense of abandonment, and sense of neglect is a cold, cold feeling that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

My attempts to reach out to them were not only ignored, but seemed to just create a bigger divide. The more I tried to explain my situation to them, the more it seemed to drive their animosity. The only things that ever produced a response from any of them was posting personal essays like this one on social media. My oldest child, who is 20 years-old, once reached out to them about the lack of familial bonding from my side of the family. It was only then that one of my siblings lashed out at him publicly on social media. The wife of my other sibling was even more hateful towards him and myself, also on social media.

When I say hateful, I mean it was pretty fucking bad. It was shocking.

I have always been a positive and a generally happy person. I’ve always worked my ass off to support my family and give them a life I never had. It took me over a year to see the positive side of what happened. What’s so positive you ask? Well, I’m able to live out my dream of being a writer and I’m teaching myself how to code again. Yes, again.

At one point in my life I was a web developer. After having my first stroke I no longer knew how to write any programming language. I had all kinds of software on my computer but couldn’t figure what the hell it was for. I now know what it’s all for and I am re-learning everything I once knew.

I also forgot how to speak Spanish. As a first-generation Cuban-American speaking Spanish is a requirement because so many of my family members don’t speak English, with many of them still living in Cuba. I’m happy to report that speaking Spanish came back in a few months after the stroke.

It’s been a tough journey, but I am slowly getting everything back. I may never be able to work again, but I can take advantage of the many opportunities that are available in this modern era we now live in. Will I be success at it? Only time will tell. But I am a persistent son-of-a-bitch. I am more determined than ever to do great things. The tougher the task the better I do. That’s how it’s always been. If this is a sign of things to come, pay attention. Because for me, adversity has always equaled success.

I see no reason why that would change.

My family knows this. They’ve seen it. I’ve hired them to work for me in past business ventures. I’ve helped them succeed in their own endeavors many times. That won’t change. Despite the fact that it looks and feels like I’ve been tossed aside and used until I no longer held any value to them, yet I will always be here for them. I think it is that mentality that drives them mad. No matter how I feel about their treatment of my family and myself, they can’t faze me.

I can’t let them. I won’t let them.

Last month, my mother asked me about all of us getting together for Christmas. I was a bit skeptical but optimistic about how it might go down. I was all for it. My siblings however were not so openly accepting of the prospect of getting together. It would be the first time in three years that we would all converge on my mother’s house for Christmas dinner.

After some coddling from my mother, a week later they would all agree to get together for Christmas dinner. They had their demands and stipulations of how they wanted it to go down; I made no promises. Regardless, mom was excited about seeing all of us together again, as was I.

Seeing my brothers for the first time in three years prompted me to give them both big hugs. They were not very receptive at first but they both embraced it right away. I whispered in each of their ears: “all bullshit aside, let all the bullshit go and let’s move forward together, as a family.” They agreed.

While it may seem that we have put our differences aside, I know that their baseless animosity still resides somewhere within them. For me, I am reminded of some of the wisest words ever written:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

- Maya Angelou

I am committed to moving forward as a family as I hope they are too, but we will always have our Irreconcilable Christmases. That will never go away.

Written by

Anti-racist activist, essayist, and upcoming author; advocating for equality, justice, and accountability. Support my work at patreon.com/ExtremeArturo

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