In the Company of Family

If I could tell you anything about my family, I’d probably start with the annoying stories. The ones where my mom and aunts start a shouting match in an Arizona McDonald’s. Where my dad discontentedly sighs as my mother asks to visit her family in Michigan. Of course, there’s the fun ones, when I sang songs from That Thing You Do with my cousins in a performance for the family. Or we stayed up late in my grandmother’s attic trying to imagine what our mothers were like at our age.

The truth is that life was rather lonely growing up with my cousins far away, no family in Texas. I remember when I was 15 I cried telling my dad that our family was so isolated, we had no friends. This was probably one of the reasons why I ran away to college, why I remember feeling truly happy for the first time because I was finding happiness. There was happiness in walking independently to the cafeteria, in flirting with guys in line, overly obsessing about English papers that I knew I’d make As on. A lot of the girls in the dorm didn’t like how loud it was. But I liked hearing people walking home throughout the night. It felt less like being an only child and more like I was part of a big family and I cared enough to make sure they got home safe.

After college I swore I was not moving back to Dallas. If you move back there, you’ll never leave. I can’t decide if I underestimate myself or if I like egging myself on. Either way, I stayed for a while because there were jobs. For five years I slid from job to job, wrestled world religions. I know how to have a good time, in case you didn’t know. I dated a lot. Then I didn’t date at all for a while; it was more like online dating roulette.

People are always so concerned you know where you’re going—as if the directions, the maps, the sandwiches you pack are the most important thing to outline in a checklist. And it annoyed the shit out of me. Why do I have to know right now? Chase your dreams, they’d say. That’d be nice if I had any, I’d say with a wink and a smile. I want everything and nothing all at the same time. People don’t like those kinds of answers at dinner parties. They pretend to want you to be independent and interesting, but in actuality, they’d really like you to choose things that make it easier for you to fit in their plans.

I left Dallas in a fit. I love a lot of people there, but I had to try Colorado out. It was this dreamy place my grandfather had described from his childhood and 20s. So I went and started mending myself, thanks to people not asking me about my life plans. I could finally hear myself think, which is actually scary as fuck. Because when this happens, you have to decide if you’re going to lie to yourself and your dog, if she’s listening. She probably isn’t, though. And so I took a big, fat red pen to a life plan. Plans don’t work, but ingredients and recipes are better. Well, maybe plans work, but they aren’t challenging. I can make a good plan all day. Need a new way to get to work that doesn’t make you wreck your car? I can get you one. Need help cooking chicken parmesan? I’m your gal. Need career coaching, a strategy for how to position yourself for the next dream job you want to line up? Sign me up.

Ingredients take a different sort of honesty, though. And I had to decide if I liked the ingredients that make up my life recipe. Not so much, I decided. I liked a lot of them, don’t get me wrong. But there were some things that seemed misplaced, less authentic. I hate that word, authentic, but it’s really the only one that fits here. So, in Colorado I found some more of my ingredients. I found out I could climb mountains and shit. But there are no roots here. That’s what’s missing, I think, at least. When I think about leaving Colorado, I get nervous that I’m just resisting planting roots because of some secretly hidden fear of intimacy. But I’m intimate as hell with plenty of people. I’ve got a best friend of 20 years. We’re pretty different now, but we love each other’s hearts even when they’re disappointing. So there’s that.

This week I buried my last remaining grandparent. We weren’t very close as I got older, but I do remember her reading and singing and playing all things Mary Poppins with me. And that’s what made me cry during her funeral. As I was talking with my dad afterward, he asked how things were going with my job. I said, Oh, there are things in California, things on the East Coast. But moving just for a job again feels cheap.

He said, You know what Grandpa would say: Chase your dreams!

God dammit, not again. Not dreams.

I told him I wasn't so sure about dreams or whether or not they really exist. I don’t know what dreams are. I mentioned things about achievement, family, having fun. And he said, Yes, have fun! There’s a song that goes,

Turn around, turn around, your dream’s been chasing you all along. Maybe you just need to turn around to see it?

My dad’s clever like this. He reads people like a book but tends to veer off too far into religious dogma and prayerful dialogue. But I could take music lyrics easily enough. It would be a terribly funny joke to play on a seasoned planner like myself, if my life’s dream has been hiding in my back pocket the whole time. Who knows, really, though. But I do know that as I watched my four grown boy cousins bawl their eyes out when we said goodbye to our grandmother, I knew I’d let a treasure slip through my hands all these years. I held Bethany’s hand and we bought cookies at 9:30 at night. I hugged aunts and uncles. I had listening ears all around. It was family. And in their company, I’m not sure how I could ever want for anything.