Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dinner with Lauren

A few weeks ago I had a ‘cyber reunion’ with my niece Lauren (see my entry on Sept 27), and since then we have been IM’ing and emailing each other. She seems to be adjusting well to life outside the JW religion, and outside the watchful eye of her parents. She’s 18, living with some friends, and working for a temp agency.

Although she didn’t say so directly, I could tell she was eager to see me in person. I was excited about the idea, but also a bit nervous. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Lauren in 12 years, due to our family’s religion’s prohibition of associating with former members. She was a 6 year old little girl the last time I saw her. The idea of meeting up with her in person seemed about the same to me as meeting a stranger – only we have all kinds of stuff in common that strangers usually do not.

I really didn’t know anything about the kind of person Lauren is. My aunt Mary hasn’t seen Lauren in over 3 years. My cousin Nez has seen her several times at family picnics, but she really couldn’t offer too much in the way of Lauren’s personality, other than that she was outgoing and seemed independent. Then there’s her age. What do I know about 18 year olds? Although Joe has a niece and a nephew around that age, they live in MD and we only see them at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I can’t say that I really ‘know’ them, or that I know what 18 year olds are like or what they do nowadays. Then there’s the whole gay thing. From our conversations I knew that Lauren’s best male friend is gay and that she is totally cool about it. But I was concerned that it might be different for her friend to be gay and not be dating anyone (more of the idea of being gay), then for her uncle to be gay and living with his partner, (it ain’t just an idea anymore, Dorothy).

With these reservations in mind, I suggested we meet for a casual dinner on Tuesday evening at Fuddruckers. It’s near where she lives now, and is very casual. I asked Joe to join me, since we do all social things together, and because I value his professional evaluation of Lauren, he being a social worker and therapist. Lauren and I exchanged photos via email so we’d be able to recognize each other at the restaurant.

Joe & I arrived first and waited near the door. When Lauren came in and saw me she got a huge smile on her face, threw open her arms and gave me a great big hug. “I’ll never let you go again” she said. I introduced her to Joe, we ordered our food, and sat down at a table. The conversation began to flow without effort.

Lauren was rather talkative, which I was happy about, as I was really more interested in listening to her than in talking myself. She opened up rather quickly, and we learned that she drives too fast, enjoys going to frat parties, and has several good and loyal friends. I found myself becoming concerned when she mentioned drinking beer at parties, but I resisted the urge to tell her so – not wanting to sound like a parent. When the time is right I’m sure I’ll find a way to voice my concerns about underage drinking and all the bad that can come from it. But for now, I just needed to be the uncle she was meeting for the first time.

We had lots of good, hearty laughs! Lauren reminded me of family nicknames and comical habits I’d forgotten about. She did an imitation of my mother that really cracked me up. She was also able to update me on some of my other relatives I’ve not been able to see or hear from in 12 years. It was like a walk down memory lane to hear her refer to our relatives by their nicknames.

Something I wasn’t prepared for was the difficulty I had in knowing how to refer to our family members. Do I say ‘my sister’ or ‘your mother’? Do I say ‘my parents’ or ‘your grandparents’? The first couple of times I said both. But then I decided to speak of these people in the relationship that she has with them, rather than the relationship I once had with them.

I was curious to find out if Lauren was still in contact with the family. When I left the religion I made it clear that I no longer wanted to be a member of the religion, that I was gay, and that I was now living as a gay man. There was no negotiation – it was a done deal. I was 29, had my own place, and was supporting myself. Lauren’s situation is a bit different. Although she also announced that she didn’t want to be a member of the religion anymore, she did not have a new lifestyle to announce. She had just turned 18, was living at home with her family, and was not self-sufficient. Although it is not clear to me whether Lauren was actually kicked out by her parents or she felt forced to move out in order to be happy, Lauren did say that she is still in contact with her parents for now, and that they allowed her to keep the car she was driving when living with them. They also gave her some money to tide her over until she could find a job and become self-sufficient. Lauren did say that she is not hiding her behavior anymore, so she expects that one day her family will tell her they can no longer associate with her, as they told me 12 years ago.

When that happens I think Lauren will be in a far better position that I was at that point. For quite some time she has had friends outside her family’s religion, and has been doing things her family’s religion prohibits. She’s already built up a social and support network that can help take care of her when the final shoe drops and she is finally cut off from her family. I’m happy that her transition to ‘civilian life’ will be smoother than mine, so she can get on with her life.

When talking about the upcoming holidays, Joe mentioned that we host Thanksgiving for “our family” which consists of Joe’s family and my aunt Mary. He kindly invited Lauren to join us for Thanksgiving, since she is family too. Her eyes brightened, she smiled and excitedly replied “YES, Thanksgiving with family!”

3 comments:

Michael said...

Oh that was a nice blog. ***tears***

I hope I will meet some of my nieces and nephews one day. So many of them are being rasied JW's.

My niece sent me a picture once. I opened the envelope and a picture with no words. Just the picture.

I'm sure it was an effort on her part to tell me she still loves me.

Take care.

Mike

Casey said...

Oh...you just blogged my dream. I left my 3 year old niece and 5 year old nephew behind the day I announced to my sister and her husband that I was leaving the JW's 10 years ago. The last words I heard my nephew speak were, "Why are mommy and Casey crying?" I miss them so much.

I wish there was some way I could let them know that I'll be there for them if they make the same decision I did. Thanks for your post--it gives me some hope.

Casey, via Michael's blog.

lauren said...

I M FAMOUS!!!!! lol no really uncle mark you are a really good writer! i think someday you should write a book about your expiriences.then you'd be rich hahaha.i love ya-lauren