The Other Brother
“My family never talks about my brother who died. We never ever talk about him. It’s so strange, growing up I knew I had a brother and I knew he was hit and killed by a car walking home, but I don’t know anything about him aside from that.
I’ve seen his pictures, I know what he looked like. I don’t know anything about his personality, his likes or his dislikes, the type of music he listened to… I once found his comics in my mom’s closet when I was younger but that was about it. It is almost like it’s just a story and he wasn’t a real person. It wasn’t until my grandfather died about 11 years ago and my mother and I walked to his grave. She broke down into an inaudible mess, then it really hit me for the first time ever that he was a real person, as crazy as that sounds. I don’t understand that pain of losing a child but it hurt to see my mom mourn like that, almost as if it had just happened.
The only time since then he was ever mentioned was by my dad a few months ago. Out of my mother, father, and sisters, I’m the tallest, and my dad told me how the only one of us who was taller than me was Jimmy and how he always seemed to keep growing, how he probably would have towered over me. I almost cried, I wish I got to know him.”
A “Perfect Family”
“My grandparents have always tried to look like a perfect picture of a put together family. The reality is my mom has never met her real dad, my step-grandfather (who we have never acknowledged out loud is not her father) was a piece of crap human being with a drinking problem who has been on pain pills since he quit drinking. Which are the same pain pills my grandmother steals and uses for herself.
My uncle married a girl after getting her pregnant at 15. Afterward, we found out that her sister was actually her mother. She made the discovery when they were doing genetic testing for separate issues. She grew up thinking her grandmother was her mother, and her mother her sister. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course.
My other uncle has been on a gambling binge for 30 years, wasting away his money. My mother died after getting addicted to the same opiates the family loves and having an aneurysm. I once caught my grandfather jacking off to Baywatch. We never talk about any of this stuff.
For some background, I’m a female from a family of upper middle class, one side Native American mostly, one side Jewish. My family keeps a great image, have held great jobs/careers, and do not talk about their problems in the open. So no, it’s not really as big of a mess as you might assume, more like a rabid pack of dogs behind closed doors and closed curtains.”
Gas Station Blues
“When I was about five years old, my mom, grandma, brother and I were about an hour from home, and we stopped to get gas. We went inside to pay, but we were 13 cents short. My mom told the clerk, ‘Be right back, I’ll go get it from the car.’ So we all go back to the car, and my mom hands me 13 cents and asks me to go pay the clerk.
I go inside and by now a line has formed. I waited in line (not realizing that I probably would’ve been fine to just go up to the front to just hand him the money). When I finally finished, I walk outside and I could see our minivan driving away. My family was nowhere to be found.
They’d left without me, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, 50 miles from home.
I got scared but I can remember feeling like, ‘Surely this isn’t as weird as it feels. They’ll be right back… right?’ So I began to cry, and I walked over and sat on a concrete slab next to the gas station. I’m not sure how long it was, but at least several minutes later I finally saw the van returning. When they pulled up, my mom was bawling and she began hugging and kissing me and apologizing.
Apparently, what happened was my brother closed the heavy sliding door and my mom, hearing that sound, assumed it was after I’d crawled back in, so she started to drive away. After all, how long could it take me to deliver 13 cents?
The story definitely makes my mother look pretty bad, but because I was so young when it happened, and it was so out of character for her, I was never really mad at her. So for the next 15 years or so, we’d tell people that story and kinda laugh about it. My mom would laugh, too.
Turns out, her laughter was forced. It tore her up inside anytime we talked about it. She finally confessed to us how it made her feel, and we all just sort of agreed to never bring it up again.
We weren’t mad at her. We’d totally forgiven her for her mistake (and made sure she knew that), but she was never able to forgive herself. She’s still around and is an amazing mother, we just never tell that story anymore.”
The Unspoken Illness
“We never discuss that my parents died from AIDS in the early ’90s when I was 2.
Growing up I never knew how my mother died, and I was told my father just ‘disappeared.’ I remember throwing a tantrum in middle school for wanting to know what really happened to my parents. My aunt finally told me the truth after I kept asking. She really more yelled it at me. I remember crying alone in my room for hours. I’m pretty sure their death was the starting point for how… strange my family is.
Anyhow, my family hasn’t mentioned it since then and I’m now 27. As far as I know, we’ve never said the words HIV or AIDS aloud in my family. If it must be talked about it’s ‘that disease’ or something similar.
My friends constantly wonder why I never mention my parents and I still have hangups telling people why and how they passed away. It makes me feel so conflicted inside because I know I should have nothing to feel ashamed of but my family and society makes me feel my parents’ deaths should be swept under the rug.”
Brother And Sister
“We have one pretty devastating suicide attempt in our family that no one acknowledges or even talks about.
So the story goes that my two cousins who are brother and sister got caught having intimate relations. Turned out they were in a full-blown romantic relationship for years. Ben was 19 and Anne was 20 when it all came to light. They were both abused by a family friend when they were children and bonded over that.
My aunt was mortified when she found out and told them that it wouldn’t be tolerated and that she would be sending Ben to live with relatives in Australia.
Ben was so devastated by being found out and the thought of being parted from his sister that he hung himself.
My aunt discovered him midway through the attempt. She grabbed him by the legs and held him up screaming for help until a neighbor heard and called an ambulance.
Ben didn’t die but he suffered a severe brain injury as a result. He is now in his 40s and is basically a vegetable. He cannot speak, he can’t walk, he drools constantly and makes loud unintelligible noises. It breaks my god dang heart.
No one ever speaks of Anne. She has vanished. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone in the family. It’s a pretty sad and messed up situation. When it all happened, the public story was that Ben broke his neck in an accident. I only found out the full story from my dad last year after 20+ years.”
“Rock Climbing Accident”
“I was always told by my family that my biological grandfather on mom’s side died in a rock climbing accident right before my mom was born. I found out last year that what actually happened was, while he was still attending a military college in the South in the ’60s, my grandmother discovered that he liked to wear women’s clothing after finding a box of dresses in his size in his closet. She was shocked and left immediately.
The next day, she came back to find him hanging from the ceiling.
In that time and place, and in the military as well as my religious, conservative family specifically, suicide was beyond stigmatized, and an investigation into why my grandfather killed himself would’ve more than likely uncovered his secret and tarnished his memory in the community’s eyes.
She and two of her brothers had to smuggle his body out of the room and convince a coroner to rule it an accident so no one would find out. I’m honestly not even sure of who all in the family knows the truth, but anyone who does sure as heck doesn’t talk about it.”
The Girlfriend Next Door
“My pawpaw had a secret girlfriend for several decades. We suspect some of her children might be his as well. He had seven children with my mawmaw and I guess to escape he’d leave and live with the girlfriend for a couple of weeks at a time. The woman lived a couple houses down from them so my dad and his siblings never suspected anything because he was still around the house a lot during those times.
My mawmaw didn’t like it, but she was a very prim and proper woman and this was during a time when people didn’t air their dirty laundry and they certainly didn’t divorce. I was told that when the woman died in the early 2000s, my mawmaw sent flowers to the funeral; not sure if it was out of spite or just because that’s the kind of woman she was.
No one talked about it for years and years until my mawmaw started showing signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia in her 70s, so she would revert back to that time a lot. It was hard watching her relive it every day.”
“When I was nine, my aunt invited my family to her wedding. I’ll call the guy she was marrying ‘Phil.’ The wedding weekend was the first time we met him. On the wedding day, Phil convinced my parents and aunt to go take a break and get breakfast together under the pretense that he would watch me in my family’s hotel room.
He violated me. When I told my parents and my aunt, my aunt called me a liar, along with several other choice words. She accused me, at nine years old, of being jealous and for trying to ‘ruin her wedding.’ My parents refused to press charges so as not to upset my aunt. To this day, my entire family refuses to talk about it.”
Peter, Peter Piece Of Work
“In my family, around my grandfather, we don’t talk about his brother Peter.
Peter was a real piece of work; he was likely bipolar and psychotic, but he was never diagnosed. He made my great-grandparents afraid of him, but he calmed down as he aged thankfully, as it let my grandfather leave home as he didn’t need to protect them from Peter anymore.
My great-grandmother died young, just after my little brother was born. A few years before she died, Peter and his wife offered to look after her. There was a small cottage on the property and the deal was if she let them take over the house, she would have the cottage and they would make sure she was all right, clean for her, and take care of her.
But instead, Peter used it to get the house signed over to his names. They then packed up a bag with her clothes and dropped her at a state nursing home. She died there. My grandfather tried to organize to move her but by the time he found out, she was too feeble to be safe to move. She died in the nursing home.
Almost all of her property had been taken by Peter. Her bank account was drained, belongings were taken, etc. Only a few pieces of her jewelry survived when she had realized what was going to happen. After signing the contract with Peter, she collected what she could and secretly mailed them across the ocean to our family. It is for that reason at least that our family has a garnet watch that the men passed down, the family rings, and a few other pieces. All the rest would be taken by Peter.
So we don’t talk about Peter. And I think if my grandfather ever saw him again he would kill him. Peter didn’t show up at his mother’s funeral for a reason.”
“I was always told that my aunt was never married, but I learned recently that she was married to a man and actually had a son. Her husband was INSANELY conservative, and when their son came out as gay, he completely shunned him. He treated their son like total garbage, told him how wrong and messed up he was, kicked him out multiple times, etc. One night, my aunt and her husband came home to their son standing in the living room with his father’s weapon to his own head. He said something along the lines of, ‘this is your fault, dad’ and shot himself in front of them. My aunt left the next day and never said another word to her husband or saw him again.
I remember once at a family reunion my little cousin asked why my aunt didn’t have kids since all of my mom’s other siblings did. She didn’t say anything and left the room, and the whole place fell silent. I never understood why until my mom told me the story recently. I looked up the obituary of his death and it said that his death was an accident or something.”
“We have many things we don’t talk about.
My dad never talks about his sister. She stole thousands from her father, fled to New Mexico, and is now hosting my great uncle and waiting for him to die so she can claim his belongings. I don’t know if he’s actually going to will anything to her but she seems certain. I haven’t seen my aunt in over a decade but she’s a real piece of work.
My mom complains about it a lot, but the rest of her family doesn’t really like to admit that they don’t talk to her much. There was some big drama years ago where they fought over my mom’s parenting and since then my mom’s sister and parents rarely speak to her.
My parents’ disciplinary methods included taking one of us unruly children, throwing us in a tub of cold water and dunking our heads under it repeatedly while yelling at us. They did this for years anytime one of us got ‘seriously out of line.’ I have a very clear memory of the first time they did this, which included not only the water dunking but also me being forced to watch my dad burn all of my pokemon cards. This was during the height of the Pokemon craze so imagine how much it hurt to see them all gone like that. Yet my parents not only disagree with my recollection of events they straight up blamed me for it if I ever brought it up.
They also once force fed my sister mustard because she hates it.
Maybe you can see why my relatives disagreed with mom’s parenting.”
Leaving Out The Details
“My uncle died of asphyxiation while pleasuring himself when he was in high school. As a kid, we were just told he died and that we’d talk about it when we were older. When I was a preteen I, selfishly and stupidly, pushed my mom on it and she told me that ‘he died by hanging himself’ but she left it open, saying that they didn’t know exactly what had happened.
So, for a few years, my teenage imagination kept open the possibility that he’d actually been murdered by hanging. Then one day, I happened upon Oprah doing an episode about AES and it really stuck in my mind for some reason. Probably because I was at that age where I was just starting to jack off and didn’t want to die.
The next time I was at my mom’s house, she mentioned that Oprah had done an episode about the way that my uncle had died and she had taped it. She said it would be easier for her for me to watch it to understand what happened. It clicked immediately what she was talking about and I never watched it and I’m pretty sure it’s never been mentioned again in the last 30 years.”
“My dad bought a Christmas ornament in the ’70s—a little man made out of a black pipe cleaner, with a bit of decoration. It was maybe a quarter of an inch long and you could barely see it on the tree. It wasn’t even supposed to be an ornament, really. Just a tiny pipe cleaner man, whose arms could be wrapped around a thin branch.
My dad called this ornament ‘Zulu Man’ and he freaking loved that thing. My whole childhood, every year when we unpacked the box of ornaments, my dad would joke/not-a-joke grow more and more agitated, frequently declaring: ‘If Zulu Man isn’t there, Christmas is canceled!’ until Zulu Man was finally found. Throughout the season, my sister and I would periodically inspect the tree and feign horror, asking dad if he’d moved Zulu Man for some reason, and we’d hyperventilate with laughter while he ran to the tree to double-check it was only a prank. Christmas was canceled (and subsequently reinstated) a lot in our house.
One year, when I came back from college, we unpacked the ornament box, and Zulu Man wasn’t in his usual twist of tissue paper. My dad must have canceled Christmas three dozen times while we unpacked the box, and my sister and I were in fits of giggles—until we reached the bottom of the box and he was still nowhere to be found. None of us said anything about it, even then. But the look on my dad’s face broke my heart. I’ll remember it as long as I remember my own name.
I brought up Zulu Man once, some ten years later, and my mom and sister immediately shushed me. That’s the last time I’ve said his name. But I still nurse this wild hope, every time I open an old box of books from my childhood home or dig up a purse from college, that I’ll find Zulu Man clinging inside, staring up at me waiting to hug his next tree branch and heal my father’s heart.”
We Just Don’t Talk About It
“In my family, we don’t talk about mental health. My dad suffers severely from depression and often will try to self-medicate with Svedka and other substances like that. He doesn’t abuse it by any means, but he is using for the wrong reasons and it isn’t very healthy.
I struggle with depression, being suicidal, loneliness, anxiety disorder— my brain is messed up. But I didn’t know about my dad’s issues until I was an adult. I had been struggling with these feelings since I was a kid and didn’t want to say anything because I felt it would make me seem weak, or messed up.
I remember being around 13, and I posted a Facebook status saying ‘I’m is mad at the world, but don’t know why :(‘ When people started getting in touch with my mom asking if something happened to me, she got angry and told me to take down the status. That was it. There was no conversation about how I was feeling, she didn’t ask for any information about why I was feeling that way. That’s how it was throughout my entire childhood.
It really messed me up, so I want to make sure that in my future home, mental health is acknowledged and taken care of just like physical health.”
An Erased Period Of His Life
“My brother’s few years of living the gay life.
My entire family is very open-minded and pretty much live by the motto, ‘It’s not my life, make your own choices’ about a person’s personal decisions. You get your happiness and get it good and often, you know?
My parents would have my brother and his partner over very often for dinners and events and even my grandmother who was born at the beginning of the century adored his boyfriend. He was a good guy in every aspect and pretty much seemed like one of our clan while he was around.
But then my brother just changed…again. He broke up with his boyfriend and went straight. He doesn’t say he’s bi and he’s not flirtatious with other men, just flat out straight. From pride parade to measuring ruler straight. He has gone through two wives and has five children and one grandchild.
It is like those four years of he and his male partner never happened. No mention of the boyfriend’s name, no family photos or videos with them together, and for the life of me I am fairly sure his children don’t have a clue about it. The family isn’t embarrassed by it, we weren’t then, and we aren’t now. He isn’t the type of brother who lives in shame either. So, l don’t understand.
At times I catch myself blinking, wondering if I had imagined it all. Maybe once in a blue moon my mother and I, and only us will ever speak of it and we shake our heads and chuckle, ‘That did happen right mom?’ and she’ll say, ‘ I… I think it did, I seem to have gifts from him still.’ And then that conversation is done and isn’t brought up again for a couple years.
What makes it even more confusing is that our most loved cousin is gay, a recently passed uncle was down low bi, and my niece is unabashedly lesbian who seems deadset on scoring an entire Pokedex of girlfriends. And the family is cool and dandy about it but apparently, my brother was never gay or something.”
Something He’ll Never Forget
“My dad’s friend committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in front of my dad and some other friends when he was 15 years old.
I first heard this story from my mom when I was 18, which explained some of my dad’s behavior towards toy weapons when I was a kid. I never brought it up to him, hoping that one day he would open up to me about it and he eventually did, but since then we haven’t talked about it since. It’s not a topic he wants to discuss often, and I respect that.
I’m amazed how my dad turned out to be such a great man having to experience something awful like that at such a young age, but according to him, it’s something that never left him either. He still has nightmares about it and gets really uneasy in movies and TV shows when they show someone getting shot in the head.”
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