Black Sheep or Projection?
Written at 4 am in Kiev, Ukraine. My great aunt’s kitchen table, orange streetlamp beaming through ornate lace curtains and cutting the color of icy dark blue. I couldn’t sleep, my throat felt continuously tightened as I lay in bed. I knew something had to be written and this is what came out. Having arrived for the untimely burial of my uncle, I was processing all of my concepts of family. 11 am East Coast time.
For a long time, I felt like a black sheep in my family.
Maybe it was because when my mom and I came to America, we sort of latched on to an already-whole nuclear family to survive. Family that wasn’t directly ours – although they loved us dearly and were all too willing to help – but you know, kids who had their grandma and aunts and uncles all in one city. (Chicago! It was full of Russians) Though that wasn’t how I felt at the time; I just accepted all as Family. The older I got, the more I sensed the divide. It’s funny how that innate wisdom children possess gets skewed by growing up and growing through different life experiences. I had it most right back then – it was ALL my family. But insecurities and fear skewed my ability to just accept love and built weird blocks that haunted me for years.
Maybe it’s because once I realized my older brother and sister were actually my cousins (and later actually second cousins) and I’d never share their special bond, I felt left out, having no sibs of my own.
Maybe because when I started to voice these feelings in those little notebooks my Babushka got us all to write to each other and read ten years later, I felt needy and dumb and like a baby. To be honest, part of me still cringes at what I might have written. And I hate that! (Now I’m kind of curious…)
I thought maybe it was because I sang too many Jesus songs (thanks, HPCA elementary school) and all the others were Jewish, going to Hebrew school and learning cool songs in minor keys that I didn’t understand the words to. They all got a bar/bat mitzvah and had amazing parties with nifty party favors like those kinetic metal figurines that you’d win from the DJ for silly contests. I went to a Baptist school in North Carolina where we had Chapel every Thursday and most of my classmates’ families also went to church there. I also never did drama or ballet like my cousins and had terrible stage fright when I was forced to do piano recitals, whereas my eldest cousin excelled on stage. She owned it. For so long, I was aware only of what I was lacking that I didn’t quite know how to appreciate what I had.
When I was 20 and living in Philly, I shaved the side of my head. A couple months later I happened to visit my great aunt (who I call “Babushka”, as that is who she became to me when my mother and I stayed in America. She is the sister of my mother’s father, and the cornerstone to our family. It was she who invited us in the early 90’s to visit when there was no food on the shelves in the broken down USSR) in Florida at the same time as my younger cousin, Sasha; I remember her making it a point to tell Sasha never to do what I did. Babushka said never to do what I did with my hair or tattoos or she would be ugly and nobody would like her. I tried not to cry and laughed instead. Thank goodness my cousin is a stubborn, independent little ham and we still love the shit out of each other.
To be honest, when Sasha was born, I was terrified of displacement and dramatically resigned to my fate of being a nothing. After all, my cousins now had a new baby cousin who was actually their cousin – not the adopted 2nd cousin rando from Russia. It sounds ridiculous now, but at the time- the way a 6-year-old mind works- it wasn’t. If anything, this will remind me to be gentle to children; their feelings are real. Again!!! Thank goodness my cousin is a stubborn, independent little ham and we still love the shit out of each other. (Repeat things like this often. They are true.)
I thought it was because I chose the rocky path of art over something sensible like marketing or medicine (though actually my eldest cousin, Lina, did the acting thing in NYC before eventually becoming a boss mom fitness coach which is quite fitting for her. I always admired that!) I thought because I got drunk at my little cousin, Sasha’s bat mitzvah and sobbed into my grandpa’s shoulder about how I felt and what a beautiful family they had that everybody was ashamed of me.
I thought a lot of things, and I projected even more probably. I held resentment I didn’t even know I had about a lot of little things, and for a long time ostracized myself because I felt so different. Silly thing is, I was the one perpetuating it all along. It’s hard to not let differences, criticism or tradition close you in, but when you let it turn your heart into a little fist, then you can’t do any good no matter which road you take.
We can never know quite what another thinks of us unless they directly tell us. The rest of it – even if you think you are feeling the VIBES – is assumption, projection, and fear. In the end we are only human and most of the time too wrapped up in our own lives to be spending our energy wishing malice on others. Life is already one big, beautiful bitch. Don’t make it harder on yourself by projecting your feelings about yourself onto others.
Trust me, they love you. They really do.
Cast off the black robes, you’re not a sheep at all.
Stand bare and let their eyes receive you.
Let yourself just be.