Note: This is Lovescrewed’s first guest post, courtesy of my sister/cousin Samantha Barnett, who is a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School on Guam.
My cousin Chloe was four years old when I was born and the moment that we first met is immortalized in a family photograph: Chloe is gap-toothed and balancing a baby me in her arms, while smiling mischievously. You could say that our future together was cemented right then. Because we were four years apart, I felt safe. There was just enough age and maturity between us that Chloe experienced every trial of growing up before I did. She had seen around the bend into the future and therefore she was my navigator, giving me advice on handling difficult situations with strength, wit, and foresight. We were like sisters, bound together by our family. Our family could collectively be defined by two traits: firstly, nearly everyone in our family were writers who had found success as journalists; and secondly, nearly every woman in our family was divorced. Our grandparents had divorced, remarried, and divorced again. Chloe’s parents had divorced, and both her mom and dad would eventually remarry and have other kids, making Chloe the oldest child and the oldest girl in a mixed family.
Looking back, I realize that Chloe’s fate mirrored my future. My parents would divorce when I was eleven, but before then I wondered how Chloe was coping with new family dynamics. The summer before my parents divorced, Chloe and I were spending the weekend at my great-grandmother’s house. My great-grandmother has one wall which seems to be dedicated to family history: displaying framed photographs of school pictures (including my great-grandma’s prom picture), family reunions (members of my family were scattered between Guam and the West Coast, mainly California), and wedding pictures. Chloe noticed that the glass of the frame holding my parents’ wedding picture was cracked without actually splitting down the middle. We wondered if it was a premonition of some sort, or if we were just letting it get to our heads. Either way, whether we predicted it or not, my parents divorced within the next few months.
From then onward, Chloe and I were bonded in a different way: we were divorced kids. It changed us, but it made our relationship stronger. We became more cynical, and we couldn’t swallow soap opera love stories without snickering. We speculated about love: wishing that our parents would get back together, gossiping about Chloe’s high school boyfriend, crushing on Johnny Depp, and wondering if fairytale endings really mattered if the prince and princess loved each other at some point.
Then, for the second time in my life, things started to change. Only this time I could not have predicted it. Chloe’s dad had found success as a blogger, and money was coming in. It was an exciting time for her family and they were talking about moving to San Francisco. Moreover, Chloe would be graduating soon and she planned to go to college stateside. At the same time, divorce was casting a more prominent shadow over my life and I was adjusting to my newly dating parents. My dad had a girlfriend who my brother and I didn’t know very well, and liked even less. Within the next year, Chloe left for San Francisco, and my dad told us that his girlfriend was pregnant. It was a blow, and I thought I had never needed Chloe more than I needed her now that she was gone.
We talked irregularly on the phone, and I knew that she was having a difficult time adjusting to a new high school in her senior year. She was in long distance relationship with her high school sweetheart, and it seemed to me that long distance relationships magnified all the tensions that regular relationships only hinted at. I read Chloe’s emails about her jealousy issues and watched my dad attempt to reconcile his rocky relationship with his now pregnant girlfriend. I swore off love, vowing not have a boyfriend until I was in college. At the same time, I delved into a world of fantasy romances, reading Wuthering Heights and The Princess Bride. We thought that divorce was a curse, bestowed upon our family in particular. Maybe Chloe and I fantasized about guys even more than regular teenage girls would, because we were seeking a sense of security.
Then something strange happened. Maybe it was because we came from a long line of writers, and our genes had decided to kick in. Chloe and I started sending each other emails, not short blurbs or updates, but lengthy emails that were almost like diary entries. In these emails, we began to come to terms with a world that seemed to be constantly shape-shifting around us. We turned the people in our lives into characters who came alive when we wrote about them. We were the shape-shifters now, and we found strength in each other, in writing, and in hope. We’ll always be bonded because our lives are rooted in the past, in creating new futures, and more than anything, in the kind of love and heartache that only family can cause.