Monday, August 22, 2016


I just rode the Greyhound back tonight from five day's-worth of holidays in the Okanagan with family and friends. Appropriately enough, the sky grew dark and scary as we drove through the mountains, and rain hit the bus hard as the wipers flashed to keep the glass clean. After 5 days of hot sun, blue skies and dry nights, the rain signalled like nothing else that the party was Over.

I ate cheese curds on the bus, because I was hungry. Now I smell of dairy, and I feel queasy, in that will-it-pass-or-will-it-get-worse kind of way. It is midnight, and the Snack Of Regret is keeping me awake, because I'm afraid that if I sleep, I will wake up and have to barf. Don't eat cheese curds on the bus, people. Just don't. 

My cousin was visiting from England with his wife, which was the reason for my visit. Twenty years since we'd last met, so one of us was a child (him) and one of us was barely not-a-child (me) last time we set eyes on each other. Now he's married, with a job in IT. And a musician, and probably many other things I don't know about. We'd be walking around, or talking, or just hanging out, and I'd look at his face and see my own features looking back at me, and I would marvel. He looks more like me than my own brother. My father and his look remarkably alike, and this resemblance has been passed on to their children. Big eyes, wide cheekbones, thin lips, fine brown hair. Some of the same features I have already written about how I love/hate, and they're not just mine: they belong to my bloodline.

I never really understood about extended family. They were Over There and we were Over Here and that's just how it was. What IS family? For me, it was just the four of us. A few satellites: grandmas and grandpas would appear occasionally and then go home again. One grandma lived with us for a while, but I was a teenager, and too self-absorbed to really make her part of my life. The weight of Family and Blood sits so lightly on my shoulders. I really think that is a gift that my parents have given me, that lightness. Hundreds of boring family dinners and petty disagreements missed. The stale trap of life within a group you never had the luxury of choosing. But also: no cousins to grow up with. No connection to the people who came before me. No seeing my eyes and mouth in the people across the dinner table from me. 
My cousin, my dad, and me.

My people were all around me this week. My cousin and his wife chose to come here from the UK to spend their holiday with us. My brother and his wife took the time to show them around Vancouver. I gave them my room while they stayed here. Then we drove up to the Kelowna to spend time with my dad and his girlfriend, who welcomed all us overgrown kids: fed us, drove us around, bought us meals. My boyfriend and his mom spent hours driving me to and fro so that I could also visit with them in Penticton. I am lucky not only in my blood family but in my chosen family: my friends, my love, his relatives and friends.

 I walk into the tidy sewing room in the pleasant condo shared by a retired husband and wife in their seventies, and my heart misses a beat. There she is, smiling out from a photograph. My lover's long-dead girlfriend. Her parents have invited my boyfriend, his mother and I for a quick coffee; they haven't seen him in many years and they want to say hello. We are very Canadian: we are polite and friendly. There are no tears, and only the gentlest of reminiscences, although the way of her dying left a lot of pain behind. Mostly we talk of their present: retirement, quilting, grandchildren. I look around the table and sip my coffee and marvel at the strangeness of it. If she were alive I would not be here at this table, whether or not my love and I would have eventually found each other anyway. And yet although it is strange for me, and probably for them, I am glad to be here in this moment. I feel a little closer to the man I love and to his mother and also to his past. 

Social media is really great sometimes. It's made my family connection stronger, even with the great distance that separates us. We FaceTime and we FaceBook. The older generations have all died out now, and so far there are no children to follow us. But we are lucky. We feel that lightness, the freedom that comes with our generations, but we look at each other and say I choose you. To be family, yes, but also to be friends. My people.

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