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The Secrets That We Keep

Born and raised in Chicagoland, Jennifer Branton still loves her hometown even as more of the places she spent her childhood change or close

The Plan

My brother is two years younger than me, nearly forty himself and he spends the last hour texting me.

Every night it is about the same topic, how can he tell our mother that he is getting married and that he wants to live in her house with his new family.

Now even if you aren't as emotionally crippled by the terrible childhood of neglect and abuse that we faced from our father and our mother that just turned her back on us because it was easier to pretend that things weren't happening for the sake of her own safety; wanting to move your new family into a house where your mother lives is a little weird.

Given the economy and all, most millennials are still living at home but I have told him too many times he's too old for the crying wolf thing and makes better money than me and my husband put together.

My brother never moved out because especially after my dad died, my mother took a special interest in him being her crutch and suddenly she couldn't bring herself to do anything from going to the store or taking care of her own house. She stopped driving and makes him haul her around to church and the few other places that she went.

I never fell for any of it and pointed out the local numbers for taxis and buses, but he just having somewhere to be agreed to bus her around like a child and play into her helplessness, the way on good days when my father's bipolar depression didn't have him flipping end tables, he would force my brother to be his wing man and attend car shows with him rather than have his own life.

It wasn't until my dad died that my brother finally had his first real friends and here he was getting married and his plan was to move the woman and her child from a previous relationship into my mom's house and kick my mom to basement because he was too emotionally crippled by her to think about his own independence for once.

Me on the other hand when I left home didn't leave a forwarding number.



I never tried to make any sort of apologies for my upbringing. Parent's of friends always opened their homes to me and I was envious of how people just got along for the most part and were able to tell each other things without fear and shame.

I can't think of anything personal that my mother knows about me. She basically knows about what can find out from a quick internet search. The town I live in, the basics of what type of life I lead without her influence.

My mother has never seen my son, she's only been by my house twice in the three years I have lived twenty minutes away from her current home. Once was on the day we moved in and my brother not wanting to help move us or anything as that wasn't a normal family mechanic that was understood in our family, but to peek in on the place he was envious that was mine; and a second time because my father in law wanted to meet her and see if she was as strange and unfriendly as my husband and I had reported to his side of the family all these years.

My mother said nothing but hello to the man that had driven twelve hours to be with us for Christmas staring at her watch bored most of the two hours that they had been here. Then we went to Denny's where she ordered a meal she didn't eat but waved away to the waitress the moment it hit the table like a spoiled brat. The second we returned to our place and the car rested in the driveway my mother demanded to my brother to take her home as she had cleaning to do.

We haven't seen her over here again since.

The ice queen that my mother is seldom breaks her silence to call and when she does its some sort of self righteous claim that as if she wants an award for doing things like donating something to her church or calling someone on their birthday.

Because she was such a failure at being a wife and mother I have floundered in my own attempts, not realizing how scarred I am from her.

I find myself sometimes afraid to tell my husband things although he is my best friend and the greatest man that has ever walked the earth because of the secrecy and lies that I have spent my whole life around. I try not to rock that boat and let on that anything bothers me and when it does explode out in anger sometimes, my husband sometimes has a hard time understanding what I'm trying to communicate.

I have a hard time believing anything from advice to an act of kindness is a gift after there was always a stipulation to anything my mother did for us.

I can't believe that here I am, an adult and the boogeyman is still an elderly lady that tries to hold me back in my mind.

The Price

Before meeting my husband, I was so desperate to be accepted by anyone I found myself in a group of people that weren't really my friends, I see now in retrospect.

I kind of knew some of them because of an old boyfriend that I hated more than anything in the world as he reminded me so much of the games my parents played, taking advantage of my weakness and seeing me as prey. I told myself I could get away from his abuse anytime I wanted and that I was only putting up with it because it was better than being nowhere alone.

I never loved him.

I never loved myself.

Still I romanticized my relationship with this group of friends the same way I overzealously clung onto groups before, making something that was not there. In my mind, perhaps with the overflow of my father's mental illness, I could believe that these were the best times and that we would be friends famously forever.

I posted on Facebook every event even as small as playing cards night or watching a fight on pay-per-view. I wanted to believe that these people were looking forward to seeing me just as much. I was always the one to buy the pizza, to bring snacks to prove my worth.

But in the end I didn't even have most of these people's phone numbers and they were plus ones to the ex boyfriend's friends that came about. Most of them didn't even talk to me directly if every. I was just there on an extended stay because the ex had said it was OK that I was always there.

When I finally had enough of his violence and left forever, I never heard a word from any of those people again.

It was better that way.

When my husband pursued me at first, I felt I knew how to take the role. If I had to, like everything else in life I would go through the motions. My childhood had taught me a lot about being a great actor and pretending that nothing was bothering me.

Fortunately everything that I had ever wanted was real this time, something I was glad my brother was now finding.

It felt great to finally be worthy of love.


Breaking The Habit

I will always struggle to try get back the independence I only got by running from everything that reminded me of my childhood.

Fortunately my sense of self preservation eventually wins over my stubbornness and I have backed myself out of many situations even if it took several years of playing a part with those people that I thought once were a means to an end. The end being finding a place that I could be.

My brother was on the slower path though and rather than running from home he took a few short strides that always lead him back. He instead of the self perseverance gene that I had and the brains to know that anywhere but home was safer, wanted to stick close to the familiar.

Even as an adult.

So he never moved out of the house although he hated it just the same. It was a place that he knew and it planned to be the place that he knew as a family home to his wife and children.

Instead of wanting the house to burn down like I do when I think of everything that took place there, he wants to reshape and change it to something that he can have control over and being familiar it takes away any risk of rejection.

Here we are again in the same stalemate in text message when I ask him when and how he plans to tell mom he's taking over the house. For about six months he's had this plan and as the wedding draws closer this summer I keep telling him the time was yesterday.

He believes that our mother will have some redemption in her and allow them to stay not so much asking for forgiveness for her own sins but because she will be able to play them all into being someone to take care of her while she plays helpless.

I tell him that is a terrible idea to go along with since he can see it from the get go.

After a life of living just how he was told and doing the things he was instructed to do. Taking jobs that our father pushed on him, studying a subject in college he was told to take because it was our father's choice, this is the only way my brother knows how to live and he's afraid to do anything new.


Well Being

Every night I tell my husband about the text conversations and he says the same thing.

He understands our childhood and why my brother is the broken puppet he is and that he will never change. We both know that if this marriage doesn't fall apart before getting to the altar, it won't last long as no one wants to be the second to a crazy mother in law that only wants to manipulate and pull the strings.

I know I will have to cut my losses and tell my brother because his own madness further connects me to this world that he refuses to leave, my family can't be friendly with his anymore and if he chooses my mother I have to cut him off.

I can't have the cancerous relationship with her vicariously through what he does to him and eventually to his family.

I was never close to my brother as I am not close to anyone but my husband's family so it will be no big loss and seems strange that my brother wanted to start up a relationship as adults.

I've listened to it long enough and now I am done.

I have been on the mental health merry go round with my mother long enough and anything that will keep me anchored to her is too much. If I am every going to fully mend myself from everything I have faced because of her it is now.

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