36 Hours

On Thursday, without official plans for the holiday for the first time in years, I decided to head back home and spend Thanksgiving day with my father. His reaction to a far-slimmer and more fashionable son when I enter the room is appreciated at first and jarring later when its extended-play passes the threshold of a slight on a former me. The high road is gentler on my rims, so I smile through it. The absence of maternity is distinct, if not bothersome. A feeling that can’t, no matter how hard I try, be explained to others with any semblance of atomic balance.

My best attempt: a feeling of watching the cement dry around your feet while at the same time not wanting to budge. I grin and bare it, at times retreating to the kitchenette to choke back aggression. My older brother’s now-annual absence articulates the grip. A relationship flanked by decades of exploits and ego is terse at moments and laughter-filled during others. He’s excited by his favorite team winning the football game. Cocktails, anyone?

I acknowledge my dismissal of the advice he gives because I don’t see it reflected in his own decisions. His attempt at a power struggle—I shared excitement about some recent triumphs in my business—is doused when I make swift note of his failure to be an adequate role model leading up to his most recent misfire. A selective memory on his part makes me question decades of fatherhood. My inner thoughts are narrated “be gentle, brutal son” continued by Muhammad Ali’s holler “rumble young man, rumble.” Once the initial burst is out of my system I reel it in reminding myself “easy, Oedipus.”

After a night in the hotel across the street—I treated myself, Home Alone style (a prescient choice)—I stop by for a final visit as the nurse prepares his breakfast. He tries to rope me into his continuation of an earlier scheme and suggests my next partner should look like the buxom British girl on television. My ego entertains this for a brief second, but the tactlessness of the comment’s timing ruptures the dream. He detects the look on my face as disapproving and when he asks what’s wrong I mutter “we’ll talk about it later.” We won’t. Following a reluctant hug, I wish the nurse well and exit, indifferent. A younger me knows he saw a different, more-composed man raising him and asks “who is this guy? Was I too young to see the details? Am I just a dormant volcano, too?” My hope is that my mother’s contribution is an overpowering Jekyll to my father’s Hyde.

I cap my dark-comedy spin on a National Lampoon’s Vacation vehicle with a highly anticipated visit to see A and S and finally meet their recent addition, the wonderfully soft-headed D.T. She performs a three-part act of cooing and wailing (her father’s apt nickname “squeaks” will melt your heart), which, of course was not without a losing of her lunch onto the bib that rest between her lips and my shoulder. All I could do was grin, bright-eyed, as a new fan. I’m happy for her father who has no idea how much he made the trip worthwhile when he asks his daughter if she’s enjoying her time with “unkie ry-ry.” She could destroy an entire wardrobe with spittle and I wouldn’t mind. Color me baby-crazy.

The drive back beneath grey skies is a four-hour blur soundtracked by Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. I return home earlier than expected, a bit tired and hungry. When I return the keys to the device in the glove compartment, it tells me my trip was four minutes shy of exactly 36 hours. I round up for the story. As I get upstairs, the only meal that makes sense as my luggage hits the floor is sushi.

Huffing down the block, my usual haunt is closed so I go to my backup, anchored by the sushi man (and fellow jazz fan) I’ve developed a mostly-silent rapport with. I close a long-running case when my food arrives and I observe he fails to roll his inexpensive maki tight enough but gets his special rolls conspicuously correct. He flashes a thumbs up when I nod in approval, gnashing on his selective craftsmanship. If you filmed the moment you’d think it was the cheesy ending to a certain 80’s karate flick. I’m home and asleep within the hour.

If I could reach out to a younger self, all I’d say is “be thankful for all of this.” No context would be required, as if he listened, he’d learn why doing so was important in the years to come. What I learned and experienced this holiday was that the road is bumpy, but not impossible. Just remember: there are a lot of people out there who endure far worse than you (horror stories shared by A, a paramedic, earlier in the day on Friday confirms this). Be grateful, no matter the circumstances and remain warm to those impacted by things out of their control, even when you’re stricken by your own difficulties.

Good news: mom’s stuffing recipe holds up remarkably well; I think I’ll make it again this week. Atlas Shrugged is top contender for a mid-meal movie.