I took this picture of an MFA on some gutted main street in a Missouri town I passed through a few weeks ago. Didn’t know what I’d use it for but now I do:
I’m traveling again and I love it. A West Coast tour of sorts. It started in LA on Tuesday. This morning, I flew out of the Mad Men-glamorous Long Beach airport and landed in chilly San Francisco. On Wednesday night, I had two glasses of wine and a beer with a niece I haven’t seen in a decade, the daughter of my dead brother who disappointed just about every person that ever loved him.
We are the same age, this niece and me, less than two months apart. She looks exactly like her father. We played together as kids, my dad was her grandpa, and then we floated apart. I’ve been bad about keeping in touch (but isn’t everyone?) except for the false intimacy of social media. We knew all the basic events of each others lives without ever having directly informed each other of them, and so it seemed that once we were face-to-face there was nothing to say that wasn’t known and we ended up getting drunk and hashing apart the past. It wasn’t my intention to go this route but she seems more damaged by the absence of a father than I thought to give consideration of, and at the end of the night we parted no better and no closer. I guess I get to take home the badge of good duty for finally checking in with family that I never should have let drift away to begin with.
The next day I met my other niece for brunch. We ate eggs benedict on the patio of a restaurant in Chino; the eggs were undercooked and even with the sun shining, I shivered. We talked about family and her current divorce and then drove away from each other, too.
Was it disappointing? Yes. But I wasn’t asking anything of them, either, and I guess it’s selfish to have hoped for something, whatever vague thing that might be.
This morning Jon drove me to the airport and I flew into San Francisco. My other niece picked me up and we ate brunch at a coffee shop. She ate half a burrito and boxed the rest while we talked about how strange and light-filled but dirty San Francisco seems to be. She lives in San Jose, she’s getting her masters, wants to be a sex therapist, maybe. We were so close as teenagers. I visited her once or twice in college. Twice. I really thought we’d hit it off in some ecstatic, laughter-filled reunion, but conversation was smooth and unremarkable. Now I’m sitting in a coffee shop, waiting to meet up with a few friends before heading down to Santa Cruz for the weekend.
Maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s me. After all, I’m the only thread that ties together any of these strange encounters. It didn’t seem to occur to any of us to take a photo, which seems to be the baseline standard of expressing appreciation for an experience.
What a strange feeling it is to reunite with people I haven’t seen in years only to feel the distinct disappointment of odd emptiness. Relationships expire, it seems, and all that’s left are the shells, faded buildings with nothing in them anymore.