Minerva, New York: This is not my natural environment. Perhaps at one time I would have felt nothing out of the ordinary by being up here, surrounded by wild nature in a pure form. These days however, this entire experience is a bit unsettling. The whole area smells of pinewood, kerosene, and sawdust. While my brothers and my father were out logging, I sat on the small deck in back. I fed wood slowly into the firebox for the hot tub, drank some cider, and read a book that I had meant to read for some time. I occasionally took a light stroll out into the woods to inspect the damage caused by chainsaws and lawn tractors. They could have spent the entire weekend out on the back line, and hardly made a dent into the thick layer of forest surrounding us.
Meals consisted of anything that my little brother could cook on a grill, and various leftovers regrettably found in the back of the refrigerator. There was a bowl full of macaroni salad that quickly disappeared, and another bowl of my mother's three bean that seemed to linger all weekend long. We would have devolved into picking grubs without a seemingly endless supply of food pulled out of the cooler in the back of the truck. My inner voice screamed bloody murder thinking about the variety of semi-dangerous bacteria I was ingesting.
We played pinochle until we became delirious and openly laughed at our incredibly depressing hands. We began taking pictures of some of the more impressive nightmare deals, and threatened to build a website profiling them. The entire time the Archos sat in the corner, silently recording my father and brothers laughing and telling old stories. Another set of files for me to obsessively organize and back up on a regular basis.
I belong here because I am family, and I am an independent yet critical part of the way they view their world. I feel that I am here at their whim.
Lake Abanakee, New York: I am not the type of person that sticks hooks through worms. I am not the type of person that the likes to extract hooks from the mouths and faces of fish. I prefer my tortured animals to be guilty of something, so that I may feel morally superior. I don't consider my inability to freely stick hooks into things to be a test of my manhood in any respect, but my father seems to think otherwise. I swallow my pride, and ask him to just do it and stop laughing at me. He smiles and does it, just like when I was a child.
In an ironic twist of fate, I end up catching a dozen or more fish after we switch the bait out and head toward a weedy patch. I didn't have to wait more than thirty seconds between casting the line and pulling in another six-inch sunny or smallmouth. The entire time, my father takes these small fish off my hook and dumps them back into the lake without a second thought.
My father is an odd man that I will never understand. I came to terms with this a long time ago. He is the type of old-school fatherly figure that does everything he can for his family with complete disregard for his own needs. He is the most stoic person I have ever met. When I first discovered that others had fathers that had interests in things that extended beyond the physical nature of the world, I found this notion disturbing. Then, as I began to dwell on things a bit more in my college, I began to wonder what would drive a man to actively avoid evaluating one's life in respect to what one had seen, or what one had thought. Now, things are clearer. He has raised a successful family, with a wife that loves him, a house that is paid off in full, and sons that have become mostly successful. Although he would never say such a thing, he is proud of the life I have carved out for myself, despite not understanding my life in any great detail. The day that I realized this was a very happy day.
He is becoming sick, but he doesn't want to say anything. Like I said, this is his way. I wonder how much time I have left with him.
Warrensburg, New York: I ride in my father's truck because we both smoke. It is one of the few things that I have in common with him, and this is a special bond that we share in this family. I never actually told him that I had started smoking; I merely lit a cigarette in his truck on our way back from picking me up at college, and he grunted and nodded.
He is not a social smoker. When we are at the house together, he wanders off to have a smoke without telling me. I end up finding him five minutes later, sitting there and letting everything wash off of him. He uses smoking to think, not to interact with others. My interaction with him in these situations is usually what I perceive as a comfortable silence. I'm not sure if this is actually the case, but believing that gives me a nice feeling.
Both of my brothers are also fathers now. It's a family full of men and their sons. The closest thing that I have to a son is my cat, and I don't think that will have much currency once the rest of them have fully settled into their roles. This will be the only connection that I have with him that will remain exclusive between us, and I'm holding onto it to an unhealthy degree. I'll take what I can get.
When we do talk, it is about practical things, and this moment is no different. We talk about how my wife is doing in graduate school, or how I am doing at my job. These are things that can be easily measured and categorized, so it is something that he can hold his perspective on. I eventually find the NPR station, and we listen to Car Talk for the remainder of the trip. I hear him genuinely laugh for the fifth or sixth time this weekend. It is a nice sound.
Castleton-on-Hudson, New York: I had to drive up to Albany to drop off my little brother and the baby back at their house, and my mother came along for the ride. The trip back carried a strange conversation that carried on for quite a bit longer than I thought that it could. It is difficult talking with my mother about her marriage, as I feel that I am both a catalyst for their longevity, and also a source of some of the stress. I do as best as I can to muddle through words of non-committal encouragement.
For a long time now, I have been both the repository for words that cannot be said normally, as well as a source of some kind of advice that I don't understand. I guess they all assume that my different lifestyle must impart some kind of genuine outside perspective on their lives. I'm not confident that this is the case, but I do what I can to ease fears, and give practical advice where I can. I don't think I have done any damage in this area, but time will tell if I have been planting flowers, or planting minefields.
My mother says twice that she is not worried about me. There is more than enough worry in this family. I am glad to be reducing it in whatever way I can. And, I thought to myself that she is right not to worry about me. Out of all of us, I am in the best shape right now. I hope that I never cause her another moment of worry in her life. Although things were difficult back in the day, I know that she was worried the entire time I was bouncing around the state, largely homeless and suffering the damage of one too many fucked-up relationships. I'm glad that I am beginning to pay those days of anxiety back off.
Bridgman, Michigan: This is a different land, but it is one that I recognize as comfortable. The gas station is open, but there are no high school cheerleaders running a fund-raising car wash this time. I have been on the road for the last thirteen hours, and there's another two to go before I arrive back home. I've been chain smoking for the last third of the trip. My lungs feel heavy and tired, and my legs are stiff and weak. I could stop for a few hours and see if I feel better, but stopping would only make things worse. I step inside the little store to refuel the car and top off the caffeine. The light inside the store makes things look sickly and green, which is much how the whole world feels to me in my road-weary state.
I am glad to be heading home, even if home is more than 700 miles away from where I have been. I've taken the time to craft out my own life, and it will be nice to put the insulation back in place for a little while. I'll be out there for more than a week in December, and I think that will be just enough time for me to rebuild the longing to see them all again. There will be a new baby again this time, and with it a new set of complications. A new set of conversations. Until then, I will put myself in storage, in exile, once more.
It's good to be home. And then it is good to go home.