Friday, January 09, 2004

So, although my last name isn't very common in most parts of our country, in Northeastern Ohio it has a bit of prominence. My family are sort of "pillar of the community" type people. My mom's a teacher, my dad used to work for the roads department in the county, my grandmother was the first woman to hold a trustee position in our township, my older brother is now a local politician. In the rural areas up north, if my last name is mentioned or noticed for whatever reason, people usually ask me if I'm Bea's grandson, or Donnie's brother, or Joyce's son. Things like that. In some cases, people have actually looked at me and asked if I was a Barzak. I was in an accident once, years ago now, where an ambulance came to check me out afterwards, and the first thing out of the paramedic's mouth was, "Are you a Barzak?" I said, "Yeah," and strangely enough also could tell what family he belonged to just by his looks. Small town life is very weird that way.

But eventually I moved to the next county down, and didn't have that many interactions of this sort afterwards. It was kind of nice, people not recognizing me.

Then today, I'm at the post office, mailing out stories, and the postal worker, Francine, takes a look at my return address and says, "I THOUGHT you were a Barzak!" and for some reason smiles really brightly, as if this itself is a good thing. She then follows it up with, "Are you Donnie's brother?"

I say, "Yes," politely and nod like a good politician's little brother. Francine runs into the back office and comes out with a newspaper clipping of her and my brother and several other official looking people. Turns out my brother helped her with the Stop the Family Violence stamp, or some such thing. He's such a damned do-gooder. ;-)

I must promise Francine at least three times to say hello to him for her, and then I'm allowed to leave the post office.

It's always a bit undermining somehow to be known because of other family members, to not be recognized as my own person. No one around here really knows that I sometimes publish stories, and sometimes in magazines or anthologies that are actually on the shelves of their bookstores, but they know my mother, my brother, my grandmother, my father. They know my family, and I immediately begin to feel them building an idea of who I am in their heads based on this profile. I haven't felt this annoyed in so long that I realize how keenly I have reacted against my family's identity for most of my life, almost like defining myself in opposition to them. I'm always the one leaving, or coming home again, or getting into some sort of trouble, or doing something that I think they might find semi-scandalous, or saying things that they might find to be completely outlandish. I have youngest child syndrome.

It doesn't help when your mother, after you've received a Master's degree in English and teach (granted) part time in the composition program at a university, after you've published a handful of stories in decent magazines and maybe have a career of some sort in writing ahead of you, suggests that you take over your brother's (the politician's) insurance business after the next election, as if you have nothing better to do, as if your life is obviously not going in any good direction of your own choosing.

But that's okay. I know it's just my family's way of showing they care about me. And hey, that's kind of comforting in a way. A weird way, definitely. But comforting. If I ever go bust, if I ever fall down and can't get back up, I can always sell insurance.



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