Family is a Habit by Alina Stefanescu

Family is a habit we wear inside the house in which a history hops from head to head like lice. We don’t see the lice. If we could see the lice, we could wear our hair tucked under hats as a form of modest protection. The hats would serve as a final frontier against hopping. But we don’t see the lice or the dead family members who linger in the tiny bodies of lice tell us who we are without ever knowing. They define us without having met us. They tell us without knowing and mostly through hopping. A hat could protect us against hopping but we don’t know enough.

The habit is dark and intimate. The habit is very close and familiar. Others who wear the habit are eager to point out how bad a person looks in a hat. The habit is not flattering. The habit is not flattery. We feel bad about hats in the habit.

Family is a habit we wear inside the house of sharp, pointed fingers. Inside the house fingers point with unpolished nails and every finger points in a different direction. Despite the bounty of pointed lines created by fingers, there are no intersections where people might pause to admire the oak trees and chat. Despite the points, there is no gentle, pointillist fabric pillow which allows us to hide our faces from the faces of others who have also promised to wear the family habit. There is no place to hide our itching heads. There is no way to explain why itching, which is not a form of pain, causes crying, which is a behavior intended to communicate pain.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by the love-ghost of Tom Waits and Hannah Arendt. She lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and three small native species. She was a finalist 2015 Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize, and her syllables are forthcoming in PoemMemoirStory, small po[r]tions, Rivet, and Kindred. Her chapbook, “objects in vases” will be published by Anchor & Plume in March 2016. More online at