A year and a half ago, I moved into my best friend’s family’s home. Since then I have become a part of the family. They have been known to take in strays, and I was no exception. They are such a huge part of my life, I just refer to them as my family. They are Mom, Dad, and my little sister. They have nicknamed me Cinderella for various reasons, which has been shortened to Ella.
For the past five years, I have been in a complicated relationship, partnership, friendship, what-have-you with a guy, who I love more than life itself. I spent three years of my life seeing him and sleeping next to him every day. When he enlisted, it was so incredibly hard to say goodbye and live alone, though we’d broken up months before. I saw him several times in the year after bootcamp; it wasn’t easy, but I saw him semi-regularly. For the last year, we hadn’t seen each other or even talked much because we’re both busy, and he’d been deployed. It was a great year outside of that, but also one of the hardest without him. It was made harder by the fact, I didn’t know when I would see him next. This past weekend was the Marine Ball. I wasn’t going to go because I was broke as broke can be.
About three weeks ago, I got a message from my best friend telling me Mom had something to tell me. An hour later, I was standing in the kitchen sobbing because they all coordinated to send me to Jacksonville for the ball. On top of the ticket, I was told verbatim “Now, we just need to find Cinderella a dress.” My Fairy Godmother had been busy. Three weeks later, here I am sitting in the Jacksonville airport having spent four days with my partner. I went to the ball in a beautiful dress; more importantly I had much needed time with the guy I love.
My Cinderella story doesn’t end with me riding off into the sunset with a guy. On the contrary, I’m going home knowing we will, in all probability, never be romantically linked again. No, my Cinderella story doesn’t have the romantic happily ever after. I get a different happy ending. I am flying home knowing I have people who care, listen, love, support, and want me to be happy.
I have heard it countless times: family isn’t defined by blood. People say it, but they don’t mean it. Society is family driven. When a person’s life is not centered around their family, the person is questioned as having bad character not the family. Especially around the holidays, people ask if I will be going back to Iowa to see my family. Absolutely not. When I say no, they are always shocked and usually have something disapproving to say. It has taken me a long time to realize: my parents are toxic; being around them is bad for me. Society does not support this statement or mindset. Parents give life and therefore should know best and care most deeply. In some circumstances this is not true. It is hard enough to emotionally, physically, and psychologically separate from family who are toxic. Society makes this so much more difficult.
I have a biological family. They raised me. They gave me my genetics. They financially supported me until I was 19. They moved me into college. They have 24 years of first-hand, anecdotal experience. They are not the people I refer to when I talk about my family. Family isn’t always blood, and my family came into my life only two years ago. When I moved into my best friend’s home, I thought it would be for a few months tops. Woops. I’ve been here a year and a half, and I couldn’t be happier. It was not supposed to be a permanent situation. I will leave eventually, I promise! When I do leave, they will be where I call home. When I think to my future, I think of their role in my life. When there are holidays, I will be making the trip to their house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Or inviting everyone to my home. When my little sister graduates college, I will be there, or she will hunt me down and kill me – this is a fact. If I get engaged, Mom will be the second person I call – my best friend being the first or like her sister it will end in my death. If I get married, they will sit in the front row. If I have children, I want them to be there. They will also be the ones to get late night phone calls when I inevitably don’t have an answer and I’m too tired to know what to do with said future children. I can’t even imagine my life without them. I have a relationship with them I could have never imagined. They don’t love me because they have to. They don’t support me because I’m theirs. They don’t take care of me out of obligation. They are saints. They listen to my stories and my past without judgement. They aren’t afraid to yell at me when I’m stupid. Mom gives me advice about everything, and then listens to my pain through tears when I don’t listen. (I’m sorry, I can guarantee you it will probably happen again.) Never once has she said “I told you so.” Dad is always there with funny remarks and one-liners, which I keep meaning to work into my own rotation. Never once has he complained about dinner! Most importantly… He makes me feel safe. I’m not his kid, but I think if I came home hurt, he would make sure it never happened again.
My best friend brought happiness and joy into my life. She brought loyalty in a form I would have never imagined two years ago. She opened her home, her room, her bed, and her cat to me. (If you know her, these are signs of true love.) She shares her family with me everyday. There is nothing I will ever be able to do to thank any of them for all they have done, do, and continue doing for me.
My family has listened to me talk about my marine for two years now. They knew how important he is to me, and for Christmas they gave me something I needed desperately: time with him. It is one of the best presents I have ever been given. Getting to see him and hug him was more than I could have possibly asked for. I used to want a life with him, but recently I realized the thing I have always wanted and craved more: a family. I’m not flying home with a relationship or a ring, and that is perfectly ok. This Cinderella isn’t asking for a prince. Instead, I have an equally fantastic Christmas present: I’m going home to people who love me and know how to make me happy.