In my childhood bedroom, I sit cross-legged and allow myself to feel old.
It’s been years since I’ve seen this place. Everyone looks a little bit different. The landscape here has changed just enough to make things seem otherworldly. Like, I’ve returned to some alternate universe to find a different version of everyone I left behind years ago.
What has happened here? And, why is everyone getting married?
It’s my family reunion. I get a funny feeling that I can’t shake. I stand in strangely familiar surroundings — an observer and an alien. My awkwardness, performed in a nuanced fashion, is easy to disguise. Once, I was happily impaired as swarms of relatives buzzed around me — a host of inquisitive flies. Today, each encounter is centered. I see a different version of myself reflected in every set of eyes I look into — like watching an old VHS tape.
While standing in line for salad, I wonder if the only thing I have in common with these people is blood. I refill my red Solo cup with raspberry-lime seltzer right beside the keg where my relatives line up for the good stuff. Lager foam spills over the top of their cups and they push off the excess with their index fingers. They all ask me how life is treating me out West, and then, turn back to the keg without listening to my answer. I remember how easy drunken pleasantries were, I used to make them myself, between sips of frothy vodka sours. Maybe it’s me who’s rude these days, but, I’m less concerned with hurt feelings than I’ve been in years past.
The truth is, back West — it’s all unraveled. But here, in front of the macaroni salad — it’s whatever you’d like to hear.
My cousins pull me onto the dance floor at the bar where everyone has headed after a long day of family togetherness. They all do the twist, raising their arms up, cocktails spilling over the sides of their clear plastic cups onto the dance floor. I jostle my hips, stiffly, from side to side. This isn’t any fun sober.
In another universe, drunken dancing would have been the highlight of my evening. Tonight, I just want to go home. I tell my cousins I’m too tired, because I am, and I leave, alone.
I walk home on a dark country road. Another super moon dangles in the sky like a giant light bulb. The road, that’s usually pitch black at this hour, glows a hazy blue. The trees are lower to the ground here than they are in Oregon and the shadow levels us — there is something comforting in the congruence of our size. For a just a moment, we are all perfectly rooted in the Earth.
As I walk up the driveway to my house, I replay the day: As if it were choreographed, a parade of bathing suits, cut-off jeans, and summer dresses weave in and out of mismatched wooden chairs with peeling paint. My grandmother’s voice — caught in her throat at the sight of us all together. Tiny babies. Weddings planned and divorces finalized. Not-so-tiny-babies. Childhood brethren and sworn mortal enemies. It’s more drama than a good soap opera. Characters that move about wildly, without predictable trajectories. I stop to remind myself — everyone’s family is crazy.
Everything looks different through a steady lens. And, I feel it — an era has ended. Time is moving at different speeds. But, eventually — inevitably — we will all meet again. We will stand at the keg, whether we’re drinking from it or not. We will ask each other how things are going, only to realize — we never really cared to know the answer.