When I got off the plane everyone hugged. It’s a family ritual. We hug when we meet and when we part. After that, conversation is limited. ‘Did you have a good flight? You must be tired. Are you hungry? Is everything going well at home?’ Curiosity prompts limited inquiries into one another’s lives, after which we settle in like strangers waiting together in a bus station.
When we reached my mother’s house I unpacked and spent the evening in front of the television. My mother’s partner, Joe sat across the room in his recliner, my mom on the sofa and I near her feet. She stretched once, her foot touching my lap. I thought about pulling her slipper off and massaging her foot, but didn’t. Any sign of random affection was against the rules, and the rules were all the stronger for being unspoken. I would be seen as perverted or needy. I lived on the west coast after all. People did all sorts of strange things out there.
We sat together in a small over-warm room and gave our full attention to the television. An audience applauded and smiled. A game show host with too many teeth coaxed contestants to greater heights, and was interrupted at intervals by commercials of Jeep trucks careening down steep terrains, and people eating hamburgers. We watched. No one talked. I had come 3,000 miles and no one talked. We didn’t know how to reach each other. There was no vocabulary. We were inches away, but it could have been a continent. I excused myself and went to bed.
The next evening, we had a family reunion in a near-by restaurant. We started in the lounge with numerous rounds of drinks and the standard apology to the bartender. This is my daughter, Karen, she doesn’t drink. I was an oddity. Well, how about a coke or something, he would answer. You can’t just sit there with nothing. The evening wore on as I got more and more hungry, and they got more and more social. Grabbing my mother’s arm, I said, do you think we could eat soon? I’m really starving.
Oh yes, dinner. The light of recognition returned. That’s why we’d come. Of course honey, we’ll be right there. There would be twenty minutes more for breaking off conversations with barroom regulars, rounding up drinks and finally the migration to our table.
When the waitress came to take my order the table fell silent, as I inquired about the ingredients of a dish. My oldest sister, having her tongue loosened by alcohol gave me a sharp poisonous look. Don’t be a problem, she yelled from the head of the table. Just order like everyone else. I don’t know why you had to come home anyway.
I waited a few minutes more before excusing myself to sit in the Ladies room. I didn’t want her to have the pleasure of knowing her arrow had reached its target. I breathed deep, closed my eyes and tried once again to compose myself. Her attacks came without warning. I retreated into silence and counted the minutes until my plane left.
Susan picked me up from the airport and spent the night. Her love, words and assurances were like healing suave on freshly opened wounds. I talked most of the night, while she listened and offered compassion and insight. I cried with a child’s voice, while she comforted me like the mother and sister I never knew. I started my period after dropping off to sleep. Blood stains as I woke in the morning seemed a fitting symbol for the wounding of another visit home.