Incarceration Quandries

The other day Olinga started up a conversation about one of his favorite topics: he wants a baby sister. Since there are no baby sisters in our future, I steered him back to appreciating the sweet baby brother he has. He started telling me about how Toussaint needs Think Time and he's a "fake baby", "Someone stole the REAL Toussaint!" and all his other allusions to Toussaint's Terrible Two's behavior. Then he asked me, "Mommy, do you have a brother?" I automatically said, "No, I only have a sister."

The moment the words were out of my mouth, I felt really bad because this is actually not true. But it's a convenient lie to mask the fact that I don't know an age appropriate way of explaining to the ridiculously bright Olinga that my brother is a career crimminal and may or may not be incarcerated at the present time. I wouldn't know since I do not speak to him and do not keep in contact with him.

Despite my mother's lectures on forgiveness and her belief that I should just get over the past, I don't think forgiveness equals stupidity. I would not be comfortable and I would not be ok with Olinga and Toussaint being in the same room as my brother. I wouldn't be comfortable with my children spending time with non-family convicts so I don't see why I should extend the courtesy to a relative.

I have no idea where my brother is and whether or not he is locked up or living off his latest girlfriend. I've watched my parents lie over the years when people ask about how he's doing and I don't want to repeat that pattern. Olinga doesn't even know what jail is though and I don't even know how to address it. This is awful though because I grew up with all sorts of secrets in my family and they really do damage. Yet, even though Olinga is nosy, he's not mature enough to understand certain things.

This issue came up yesterday in a way that made me actually empathize with my mom. You know how people start making socially polite small talk and really have no idea what kind of can of worms they are potentially opening when they ask about family? Well, yesterday I met a co-worker's father and he was just being friendly when he asked if I had brothers and sisters. And then he says, "So, what's your brother do?" Over the years I've heard my mom say, "Oh he lives in Michigan and he's in sales." So, guess what I said? Yep, you guessed it! The same damn thing! I've heard that lie a million times and it naturally springs to mind.

If I just said that he lives in Michigan, I've told the truth but I haven't answered the question. If I tell the truth and say that I really don't know, then the person who asks is uncomfortable and it's awkward and weird.

No matter what, the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. No wonder folks back in the day just pretended like the relative did not exist, the whole crossing their name out of the family Bible and all that. I guess I am, in my own way, doing the exact same thing.


Anonymous said…
Interesting and a very philosophical point of view. We came upon your website and was astonished with your deep thoughts and witt. It is great to see that you are doing well. Your children are adorable. Although it has been years, I do miss our conversations on religion and the state of Black America. Rememeber the lunch time days at the B.K. lounge? Confused? How about the Friday night B-Ball games, Go Purple, Go Gold. WE DO MISS YOU!!!!
T.P. and S.A.
Liz Dwyer said…
Hmm...I am SO curious who this is! I have some ideas but I'll refrain from random guesses. If you used to sport the purple-gold-and-white on Friday nights then it's nothin' but love to you!

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