What was left in Charlotte’s bowl wasn’t worth saving. But I ate it on principle, so it wouldn’t go to waste. And there was an analogy in that, to going back to my hometown for our annual visit, gumming the edges of my childhood. The look of the sentimental, the look of ‘wist,’ that reeks of regret, scant life. It’s the look of an empty glass, a bowl of dead roses, what’s left.
I stank bad when we got on the plane, really bad. I felt swollen and fat with bad hair, and needed a shave. My feet stank, my arm pits stank, and my breath stank from airport beer and fish tacos, Baja sauce. I felt old and flabby like I needed a wash, but nothing I could do would make me feel clean.
We touched up from Newark and looked down on the canals like earth worms below, like brain segments, intestines. Baseball fields, seaports, ribbed water, tug boats. I had no sentiment for it. Lily sat next to me reading, bouncing her legs, chewing gum, wearing a beanie and headphones, happy. I looked at the drink card trying to decide what to get. And played back the days, a hierarchy of stops hurrying from place to place, trying to make up for lost time.
My mom’s 81-year-old brother Dave, a three-hour drive smack dab in the middle of the state, possibly the hardest ride to keep awake, even during the day. Dave’s blind poodle Casper, eyes red and zombie-like: better to get them sewn shut, the doctor said. Dave microwaving hot dogs for the four of us, butterflying them down the middle, offering three choices for dessert, whipped cream. And just like he did when I was a little boy, he gave my kids a 20 on the way out.
My other uncle Jim, my dad’s brother: alone in a trailer home near the state park where he once worked. Calling Jim to confirm our arrival time, the care with which he gave directions even though I told him I’ll use the navigator. Don’t deny men in our family their right to give directions. No navigator can be as precise, or loving in detail.
Jim’s trailer is a tribute to my grandparents with the poster board of my grandmother from her funeral still featured, a set of gloves and hats on the coffee table my grandfather wore as if they’d just been used. Jim says that men are more prone to getting sentimental with age, more emotional, and we all nod in agreement, and say no more on the subject.
I find the most recent photo with our family, wearing a shirt I still have though the photo must be several years old. The queer acknowledgment of time’s toll on us, how deep it cuts. Dropping my dad off at his house, and catching him in the rear view mirror as I pulled away. Going back to the apartment where I grew up and walking across the field where we kicked the soccer ball, feeling nothing: perhaps, at last, it’s time to move on.
Lily asked if we could go to the Starbucks on our last morning, and if I could drive around so she could see more of Allentown. I said this was one of the first alternative records I ever got, when I was about your age (“Gene Loves Jezebel”). She smiles politely, and I let it go at that.
When we’re back in Seattle, the kids go right to their rooms but I stay up with a beer and a candle, playing the classical radio station. I’ve reset the clocks and turned the heat back on, checked if any of the plants need watering.
In just a week away, spring has brought the leaves on with heavy rains and longer days. Our sheets smell musty from disuse, but I imagine the house is happy to have us home. There’s the sound of bath water running in the morning, and music from one of the kids’ rooms. So much left, I remind myself. Time to make plans for the day.