This past Thanksgiving I travelled to Connecticut, where my extended family congregated over two days of Thanksgiving meals, two turkeys, innumerable amounts of pie, stuffings and love in the form of aliment. There’s a cathartic feeling associated with the gathering of family. My ego is stroked by the recognition I receive from distant family members. I revert to vulgar jokes around my comic uncles. I take pleasure in the intimacy of long overdue conversations. There tends to be a certain type of affection and generosity that might otherwise be absent if it didn’t exist within a space and time dedicated to thanks. But although love exists here, so does the reversion to old habits, an old self I feel I’ve avoided in order to create a present one.

I’m the youngest of three girls. While I believe that both my sisters and I have formed our personalities based off of individual interests, habits and capabilities, such attributes seem to have been founded upon our roles within the family sphere. It seems that each of us embody the role indicative of our birth order. My oldest sister, Madeline, is in medical school. Sasha, the middle child, is the family mediator. I, the youngest, am passionate and directionless. At least that’s what my family seems to think.

When I go home, I scan the old journals and scrap pieces of paper that lie preserved and untouched within my desk drawers. I don’t look at old pieces of writing in order to encourage new ideas. In fact, looking at the feelings that inhabited my younger self’s brain makes me cringe — there are so many misspellings, clumsy phrases and pretentious thoughts that are not fleshed out. Mostly though, a lot of the words I wrote as a high schooler just make me sad. An old piece of paper reads, “All unhappy people are just more interesting.” Is this really what I thought about during what now seems like such an uncomplicated time? Such words make me crave the distance between my present and past self that much more.

The reminder of that uncomfortable and reliant 16-year-old appears time and again in the company of my home. On family outings, I never bring my wallet. As the youngest, I never did, and for some reason, although I’ve gone to college for three plus years and have lived in a foreign country where the only English words spoken are “beautiful lady,” I can’t seem to depend on myself when in the presence of my own family. To my parents, this marks me as careless and childish. To my sisters, I’m still unable to take care of myself. For some reason, no matter how much I’ve grown up, I neglect that growth in old surroundings.

Further, growing up alongside two sisters who seemed to have constantly been in relationships, I’ve been characterized as the lone black sheep, who over the Thanksgiving dinner table has been called out as being a lesbian by my grandmother. It means that one of my uncles, who identifies as the black sheep of his siblings, sent me a poem about all of the black sheep in the world — assuring me that I wasn’t, and would never be alone no matter how alone I might have felt. Did this mean though, that whenever around my family, I’d always be seen as different?

It feels natural to distance my current self from the one that sits at the family dinner table — unsure of herself, anxious and maybe a little bit misdirected. It’s a time for new pathways, when employers will say, “tell us about yourself,” and I’ll tell them about what I’m doing presently rather than who I presently am. The key is that, although it’s uncomfortable to face the person I used to be, I am a cumulative being. Humans are building blocks, evolving over time into new structures. And when I’m reminded of the underdeveloped kid I once was, that girl who forgot her wallet is a part of the reason I’m now able to answer the employer’s question with confidence, self-assurance and poise.

Abby Taskier can be reached at ataskier@umich.edu.

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