My mother tells me she loves me you’re my son; my mother tells me I am going to hell. I open the back door through the garage after being on the bus for nine hours, the train for one. My house the scent of old photo albums. All houses have a smell and this is strange that I bring mine. The ceramic pumpkin dish in the entryway grinds in its grooves when I try and open it. There is nothing inside. It only contains itself.
She asks me questions about my life, no big boy job yet but I work full time with benefits, I am paid for being home. Isn’t that nice? We are both stubborn people: we will not listen to each other. She touches my shoulder, that’s why you walk in the darkness, and we walk in the light, daily diction like the leaves on the unraked ground outside the window or what food will be on the table for the holidays. There is no listening, only telling. No parables, only laws. There is no grace in monochrome.
I do love her, I do. In all of this.
If I were to ever publish a book she would say that’s nice. I talk about Minneapolis like it is a place in a PowerPoint presentation, a priori to the present. I’ve learned that when I am honest with my parents it backfires, when all I want is to be as vulnerable as a hospital gown. Eventually: do you drink to get drunk? I don’t know how to answer that I say. Do you drink to get drunk? It has become a rocking chair mantra.
I remember I first talked to her about my sex life: after I called off my engagement a year and a half ago she thought I would plunge into a Devil tarot card of drugs, orgies. I’ve had sex, mom. And there’s that I said. I was on the porch I almost burned down. There was silence on the opposite end of the phone. Okay. Well. Now, it is almost a joke to her Alexander, I know you haven’t waited like your siblings have…
My sister asks if I remember how we used to eat ice cream (dad taught us to eat a lot of ice cream she says) and how he would read us stories from his childhood hardcovers. What I say. You don’t remember she says. No I say that’s what four concussions will do. Alexander you have to remember my mother says. Yeah my sister says you have to. I am genuinely surprised about this family detail. Ugh my sister says. You treat us like a museum artifact.
In the Metra station I had a feeling I would see someone I knew; sometimes, I hate knowing innate things about to happen in my life. A guy touches my backpacked shoulder, a friend-cum-acquaintance that graduated high school a year after me. We sit together on the train. To our right, teenage girls laugh and rummage through anthropomorphized bags, point and comment on their smartphone’s screen, abilities. He talks about going to his five-year high school reunion. You could tell which ones were married. I started counting the sad, married faces he says. They thought they could move out to California, marry a surfer. They live in their parent’s basement, he says. I told him I was going to be married (he nods, wow he says); we talked about the attractive women in his class; we talked about his escapades in Chicago’s epicentric nightlife. The conductor walks past. My friend talks about the girl who cornered him who works at Jamba Juice (Jesus, I say, I forgot that was a restaurant), the guy getting his PhD in anthropology (he would I say, yeah he says), the woman who is working at Anthropologie moving up to assistant manager, the man who owns a bank branch (is that a good thing I say I guess he says). Really though, the reunion was fun he says. The conductor again. I point to the ticket tabbed behind my chair. Everyone moves to the city and forgets he says. We talk about how women with no gay friends think we’re gay; he gives me his semi-opaque business card and says we should hang out sometime, subtle hints of Midwesternspeak. His stop is here and that’s what you say when things end.
Back in Minneapolis a few days before I told my friend I feel like my life is a lame indie-romance-breakup film right now. That’s because it is he said. He laughed. We laughed. I am a sucker for coming of age films, anything with transition.
I told my therapist that I just want harmony with my family. I don’t want to bring up topics that turn myself in, the non-Christian to the lions. I live a boring, non-biblical life. If I remember correctly, that man in the Gospels was carousing with people worse than full time workers at bookstores who read, write, sometimes drink to get drunk. The man did not turn water into Capri Sun. I too flirt with women at wells, ask them for a drink.
I stare out the bus window; I stare out the train window; I’m paranoid people know the I’m Single Stares, this ablution for attention, this advisory to look away from a healing mess. I move my coat around my face, horse blinders. The train seats can move back and forth I move them like levers in an olde tyme flying machine—
facing together & facing away & facing together & facing away
—the conductor, keys clattering like some netherworldly collector of souls, walks through and fixes, pushes them all Russian Doll, still and silent. I wait for the doors to open.
There is this possibility of change that traveling home brings, maybe they’ll see me how I really am. That maybe you’ll be different, maybe they will see you differently. My friend who profiles for the county says that your brain changes around your parents.
Step out of the doors into the cataract night, their house. That smell of ancient libraries, again (did the people that destroy them knew what they were doing?) and I can only speak in the tongues of infants covered in mother’s matter. I am crippled by non-context and already the polarity fissures: I am past, I am myself, I am here, I am Gomorrah, I am gone, I am outcast, I am family.