My family is coming into Chicago next month to see my graduation. There’s only three of us these days; both the immediate and extended family took heavy losses over the last few decades. Mom’s a tough broad, if I can say that about a diminutive 5’1″ woman who carries her purse clenched to her chest. I wonder if she can even believe that I’m graduating — I put school off for nearly seven years, arguing with her over and over about what I was doing with myself out in California. (“Coke, Mom,” I always wanted to say.) But she’ll be here, along with my brother Alex, forming a very odd sort of “Buster and Lucille Bluth” relationship. Just like Buster, Alex has a heart of gold, and I’ll always be proud of him even when Mom refuses to talk about her older, fatter, less educated son when at tea with the ladies.
I’m trying to book their hotel when I realize that I don’t know how they’re getting here — flying or driving. I don’t know how long they’re staying or how many rooms they’ll need. I don’t know. I can’t imagine having to share a hotel room with my mother, but maybe people do this all the time. I just don’t know. Then it hits me. I have no idea how my family travels, as we never really traveled that much to begin with, and the last time we’d gone anywhere together must have been fifteen years ago. I’ve got vague recollections about road trips with Kris (efficient), Kevin (informative and nutritious), and Damon (exhausting — we argue like old ladies at bridge club), but really what I remember is San Francisco and Nashville and Chicago. Three women, three cities, each woman as different as the cities themselves.
I think you can tell a lot about a relationship when a couple travels together. It’s just another dance routine, this going to the airport business. See who takes charge, who gets into an argument. See who the slow one is, the disorganized, the panicked. See who laughs, who’s holding hands.
I wonder how good I am to travel with. My boots are off, wallet clenched in my teeth, laptop out of the bag, ready to pounce through the metal detector. I do not screw around. I am a sleepwalker. I define autopilot. When I’m alone I read, I sit at the airport bar. Sometimes I sleep, sometimes I write. But what about when I’m with someone? Do I talk? Do I drag? Am I hectic and flustered, am I always running ten minutes behind? They’re always around, those couples, and I look and listen. (That’s what I do, isn’t it? Isn’t writing just voyeurism, a way to live as somebody else?) So who’s watching me? I walked through one airport after another with a girl’s hand in mine, and somebody had to have seen us and said, “Oh, well they’re doomed.” There had to be signs and body language, an off rhythm in our steps.
There’s trouble when you can compress a relationship into something suitcase-sized, something to come around the carousel. As if that was all you could remember.