“My friend, not only could it happen again– it will happen again.”
Last night I was reunited with my extended family. My enormous, gregarious family, wine and beer flowing, an even layer of attempts at laughs, here, there. The joke is my uncle doesn’t like my mom. The joke is all there is in life is pleasant and loose.
It was as if I could feel my serotonin levels rising, chemicals being pumped into my brain by virtue of me being a mammal who was with my troop. We were mirroring each other’s body language unconsciously. Everyone had such gravity. We were there.
One of my aunts has dementia, and she has made me notice how particular the cadence of our voices is. How even if she has stopped speaking, the way we structure a story, our family, our troop, is in common. We are speaking the way she taught us to speak, the way her mother taught her to speak, though I didn’t know her mother.
One aunt has a snort in her laugh. My uncles all sounds so similar we have to close our eyes and squint to think which uncle it is. One cousin has a booming voice weighing in.
These people who have known me since I was born. People who reminisced about visiting my parents’ trailer in the trailer park, before I was even a thought. Oh, yeah, we stayed there once, they say. Just like I’ve had nieces and nephews and siblings come stay with me.
Staying at each others’s houses is usual. I’ve stayed at the homes of almost all of my aunts and uncles: a house in New Jersey with a guest room where a doll from Singapore looked down on me, a modern hand-built house in Oregon, in the desert. A comfy old house in a green suburb of St. Louis. Only once did an uncle stay with me. But I’ve never had a guest room.
I’m moving into a place with a guest room in four days.
Truly if you asked me who I am right now, I would wearily recite the things culture has told me are my situation. I am staying with a friend. I have a place I am moving to. It has a fireplace and a big porch. I am looking for a job. I have one class and one portfolio to complete my master’s degree. I am tired. I am a little out of it, from dislocation, a sudden move, and the way the world burned down last year.
These strange times that my life feels like a novel, because everything that happens is of note. Where I wake up. The gush of rain last night. The unusual meetings of people, unusual groupings, when I stay at a friend’s house, and other friends see me there, or pick me up there. A friend, my sister, and me. We talk about “passing the open windows,” as John Irving would say.
My cat licks my nose twice.
I turn on the shower to steam my dress into a presentable state. My idea of a presentable state is not very smooth, but it was truly a wadded up mess.
I check on my dress. This lets out too much steam. I stand a minute and think, does steam relax everything, everyone?
Moments within the six hours of continuous conversation that I thought, I wondered if I would see all these people again. And each of their faces is here. We were lucky. Very lucky. Privileged and lucky, and science believers.
People recount kindnesses past, and fret over the futures of the young. My aunts and uncles give my mom a beautiful necklace for her birthday. I am especially relieved because I have been broke, and I couldn’t afford to get my mom a nice present for this big birthday.
A cousin’s kid tells me she has many special skills, including ventriloquism, stalling (“for hours”), and negotiating contracts.
Another cousin’s kid sits and discusses if someone will be allowed to pull his loose tooth. On the table: someone changing their name to his name, any toy under $127 (a figure mysteriously specific), and a Chipotle kid’s meal gift certificate. Towels and sheets are fetched to “catch the blood,” but the kid’s grandma ensures that the various volunteer tooth-pullers stop just short of pulling on his tooth even a little bit.
There are stairs in my friend’s house, and I am staying on the third floor. Up and down, up and down, the old wood creaking. The top flight is twisty, servant stairs twisty. The bottom flight has two options which I think should make for magnificent drawing room comedy. I hate drawing room comedies on stage. In life I think they could be charming. For the moment, though, it’s me, my friend, and my cat. Not enough characters.
I am back in a city. (I almost typed THE city, but of course that is The City, darling, I miss you.). An aggressive zoom on a trafficway can get you where you want to go. An old man sits in a triangle of cement, with two plastic bags and a book he is writing in. Hunched way over.
There is a sign in an alley that says, “These trash cans are for residents of 2452 Pennsylvania.” I’ve moved from a college town, where all the dumpsters and recycling bins are communally parked, and no one is directed to, or not to, use them, to a place where parking must be bickered over and left turns are frequently not permitted. There is the city part of me that has not been exercised. She feels enlivened.
Kansas City is not The City. She has messes, people who wait for busses, dramatic and terrible crime, risks that are real. She has need of a Level 1 trauma center, where gunshot wounds are treated regularly. She has a history of gangsters and corruption that a college town can only wrinkle its nose at. She has recent immigrants struggling mightily. She does not have easy access to things she needs by just posting in a Facebook group. People will suspiciously refuse to help. They will immediately assume advantage is being taken.
The news: a new variant of the virus flourishes. I have also moved from a college town where vaccination levels were high, to a city where a mix of people includes plenty who don’t want to be vaccinated. One of the national hot spots is just south of us. In the Ozarks, society frowns on anything unChristian, and uses that to contain the devil, rather than ordinances and hearings. And they flood together in tourist towns to exchange breath indoors.
Am I returning to mask wearing? I just know I’m vaccinated, and tired. I keep being told that my vaccine works.
I work my way through the novels I have to read for my summer class. The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh. I would not have read this book. It is set in India, in a region of water and land giving back and forth to the people. When discussing the nature of floods and earthquakes (and I’ll add pestilence and fire, and mud slides and tsunamis), the way those forces periodically overwhelm our lives, flatten what we know. The character says, “My friend, not only could it happen again– it will happen again.”
Image: Standard with Two Long-Horned Bulls, Hattian, ca. 2300-2000 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art.