Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night.
Darkness fills the room, shrouding everything in shadows and muffling every sound, and in this dark I am alone and afraid. I'm afraid time is running out. I know there is no such thing as the perfect family. Even the ones we think have it better still have problems. I see it in the faces and hear it in the gossip at school. But problems are always bigger and scarier when they are your own. And my family has failed each other so many times.
There have been so many botched attempts at bonding: a camping trip ending in everyone freaking out on hallucinogenic berries, my mother's law firm retreat to Quiet Ivy that nearly tore the family apart, even my father's heart attack only resulted in my grandmother picking on the rest of us while she took care of him. There are so many examples of our family get-togethers ending in disaster. And almost none of where we got it right.
Now, my mother only works longer and harder at the office in her desperate struggle to make partner. Dad, so afraid to be like his own strict father drifts further and further away from us all. My sister and I work harder and harder to keep the identities we were given early on- The Cute One and The Smart One. Several times we tried to change but each time we frightened ourselves and went back to the old and safe. Were we afraid being something new would weaken the fragile bonds we were barely hanging on to as it was? I get the feeling we're all trying to prove we're worthy of each other's love in the most backwards way possible. Maybe mom will make partner and dad will find his confidence again (or maybe for the first time). Even so, my sister and I will be off to college too soon and then out on our own.
And then it will be too late.
The nights when these thoughts wake me into a world of dark have been happening more and more.
Then, unable to sleep, I get out of bed. I walk down the hall and peek through a crack my parent's bedroom door. They are asleep. Down the hall, I check my sister's room and she too, lies quiet in her bed. It is then I realize that, whatever we've done wrong, we are all still here. Still trying. Time may be running out, but there is hope.
I go back to my room and climb under the covers. They are warm and soft, like the beds the rest of my family lie in. I think of my parents, together just down the hall. And my sister and I, still at home for a little while longer. Whatever else, we are together. We are home. We are a family.
And I am happy.
The essay that had been handed back to the wrong sister, then carefully slid into a briefcase full of depositions, then reverently placed amidst a stack of charts and graphs, finally found it's way back to the desk of the daughter who had written it.
Somehow, they each recognized the fragile strength of the bond, like a delicate web of spider silk, understanding if any of them grabbed for it, it would be destroyed. So with unspoken agreement, they held it's tenuous beauty in their minds and hearts. It was enough to know it was there.
A soft blanket of sleep fell over the house where each family member knew the others were together, home and safe.
And they were happy.