Day 1 – Of Awkwardness & Excessive Navel Gazing
We were the last to make it to the house in Truckee, after dark and dinner. Already in attendance: my parents, my sisters, their husbands and children.
My family had been on the road seven hours by then. And like most stressful visits, it seemed those hours had been spent traveling not only on the Butthole of Freeways also known as The Five, but through a wormhole into another dimension.
Arriving, it felt as if we were all trying to figure out how to reconfigure our normal lives as separate adults into our old memories of being a family again.
Several times, I was struck with a strong sense of boundary violation. For example, this year, my hair has gone from fairly straight to wavy/curly. Unexpected! My mom took one look and said, “It’s a hormone change. That’s what’s curled your hair.”
I felt a reflexive, ew, don’t talk about what you think is going on inside my body! But also not sure if I had justification to be irritated. I mean, it’s only an opinion, given at the proximity my family’s operated from all my life. And it’s no secret I have hormones. Plus, for all I know, she’s right.
As my kids and husband were scrounging dinner leftovers, Middle pointed to the overflowing basket of fruits and vegetables on the counter and said(not to me, maybe to one of my kids), “We didn’t buy these avocados. They came off the tree of my (way to describe a relative, such as ‘cousin’, ‘aunt’, ‘grandfather’ or the like)’s friend’s tree.”
I could not figure out who she meant. I actually asked, “Who?” out loud, because I don’t have that many of that type of relative, and I could not wrap my head around who would be in proximity to avocado trees.
The Exes. I had literally forgotten I’d been related to them.
Somewhat awkward: Middle’s slow realization she had inadvertently pointed out The Exes had been hanging out with my family so recently, there were still fresh avocados involved.
This visit, and that moment in particular, had this cold but relatively painless comfort: I’m simply not part of my old family anymore. It felt as if I’d changed enough to be completely on the outside rather than shunned but part, if that makes sense. This notion underlined when my mom mentioned she’d been hospitalized earlier in the week. I’d known she’d been sick, but not how bad. I am no longer in the circle of people who are called in a crisis.
Dad seemed to be doing really well when we got there. Mom told me later the two of them had been driving to Truckee and scoping out the vacation house every few weeks, trying to get Dad invested in the idea he helped orchestrate a big, fantastic family holiday. Kudos to Mom for that, because if there’s anything that lights my dad up these days, it’s being, in any way, master of his own destiny.
He gleefully said,“Everybody’s here!” several times, all his children and grandchildren under one roof.
Mom had warned me earlier: “Your father has gotten worse. He no longer makes sense like he used to. He might speak for thirty minutes and I still don’t understand what he’s trying to say. But he still understands when people are listening, and that’s important to him, so if you could, spend some time letting him talk.”
But it turned out he seemed very much the same. Since I felt so disconnected from the rest of my family of origin that first night anyway, it was a relief to sit next to him and nod as he talked.
He spoke that night in the cadence of a man telling a story. But the content was completely made of the parts of speech used to connect two ideas: “And then this… you know, and I. It’s gonna be how, well he didn’t know.”
At the end of each ‘story’, he’d say, “Well, that’s all I have to say about that,” And wait, giving me side-eye, as if either either anxious for my reaction, or awkwardly not knowing how to politely get up and leave.
I’d say, “I like hearing what you have to say.” He’d grin and fumble around for another topic, then talk more.
About twenty minutes in, he said, clear as if he were channeling his former self. “I thought about suicide. Quite a bit.”
I leaned in, trying not to break the spell. “How did you decide?”
He frowned, nonexistent eyebrows squinching together, the way they used to when he was about to say something complex and deeply considered. “I have to do…. what I can do.”
Wisdom? Word salad? Either way, he disappeared again into nonsense. Which? I wasn’t devastated or anything, but I was pretty much fuck the rest of whatever today has in store, and went promptly to bed.