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Looking out the window of the train

Saturday

I spent the morning eating peanut butter with a spoon, thinking things over, and writing four pages of sappy words about Margaret. There was even a poem. I don't want to be that guy, writing his heart out about that dame, so I deleted it, all of it.

Let's try again, but with a 100-word limit:

Maggie visited. It went shitty. I'm still bummed about that. I am fat, poor, messy, uncouth, anti-social, and lonely, and Margaret is all those things too, yet we fizzled instead of sparked. And here I am, alone again.

There are worse things to be than alone, though. I've got my health, my porn magazines, and my peanut butter and a spoon, so I'll be fine. Shut that daydream down and drop it in the dumpster. I hope Margaret's story goes great, and maybe my story too, but we'll have no more stories together.

That's the short version. Better than the long version, trust me.

Sunday

Today was another day with Mom, and my brother Clay and his wife and kids. They're on the rebound from visiting Disneyland, stopping in San Francisco to see me again, and tomorrow they're driving back to Seattle.

They were supposed to meet me in the lobby of my rez hotel at 2:00, but BART can be confusing for visitors, so they didn't arrive until a little after 4:00. The rest of our afternoon and evening was pleasant enough — many words spoken and most of them heard. Mom cried about Dad, and so did I. I was wearing his shorts, in his honor.

We talked about Dad three or four times today, and twice my mom asked me, "Do you regret that you weren't there when he died?"

Her intent, of course, was to make me feel guilty about my absence as Dad's life ended. And I do regret it, sure, but regret isn't the same as guilt. I got no guilt about it. Mom looked disappointed, so I tried to explain.

I had to leave Seattle, and had to be out of touch for a time. These were requirements for my sanity. It sucks that Dad died during that time, and I regret that I wasn't there to see him off, but I was required to not be there. That's among my smallest Dad-related regrets.

Much more, I regret a big argument Dad & I had when I was a teenager, that neither of us ever apologized about, and both of us pretended hadn't happened. I regret that I owed him hundreds of dollars when he died, a loan unpaid until I settled with Mom today. I regret that I never told my father that I respected him, and of course, I regret that he never said he respected me. Goes without saying, there was always much, much more to respect about him than about me.

Maybe my greatest but weirdest regret about Dad is that I never bought him a meal, or even a doughnut. Whether it was a cup of coffee or a meal in a restaurant with any of his children, even long after we were grown, Dad always insisted on paying. That generosity was a relief when I was broke, but when I had some cash Dad's stubbornness meant that I never paid. Not once. We never even went halvesies. To make up for that, if ever I return to Seattle for a weekend or a week, I'll leave a doughnut or a cheeseburger on my father's grave.

All this I said to Mom & Clay & Karen & the boys, and I don't think any of them understood that it wasn't a bad joke, or a joke at all. I meant it.

Walking from my rez hotel to lunch, Clay and Karen paused to gaze longingly through the window of a Christian bookstore, and asked whether I'd shopped there. Nope, I've never shopped there. I'm not in the market for Christian books, and I hadn't even known there's a Christian bookstore in my neighborhood.

Clay had already decided we'd be lunching at Tony Roma's on Ellis Street, a chain pasta place I'd never been to. The sign on the door boasted reasonable prices, but those were 'lunch' prices, and it was 'dinner' when we got there so all prices were doubled. I suggested Tad's Steak House instead, a more affordable meal, but Clay said he was paying, and money was no object, so Tony Roma's it was. I ate it and said thanks when it was over, but it wasn't good.

We went to Chinatown — my third trip through the trinkets and tourists in a month. Chinatown is fabulous, if you stay out of the shops obviously targeting tourists, and of course, those were the shops where my family wanted to linger. And everyone but me was fascinated by the existence of Christian churches in an Asian neighborhood. Mom said, "I wonder if their Jesus is yellow?", and I just couldn't find a single word in my whole damned brain.

Clay & Karen's kids were well-behaved. I should say something more about them, but I don't know what to say about kids. They're people in progress. They didn't annoy me so they were fine.

We all BARTed to Walnut Creek, walked to their hotel (the same hotel where I'd stayed last weekend), where I declined the family Bible study (same as I'd declined last weekend). After they'd finished, we all hugged goodbye, and Clay insisted on saying a prayer before letting me leave. "Dear Lord, Please protect this prodigal son ..."

I rode the subway back to San Francisco alone with my thoughts, jotted on a paper placemat I'd swiped from Tony Roma's.

So, Mom visited, along with Clay and Karen and their kids. It did not go shitty. It also did not go great. They're good people, but the full-fledged "family" vibe eludes us. Maybe it eludes everyone, in every family? Does anyone feel fully accepted by kin, like your brother is your best friend, or does that only happen in fiction?

My family isn't fiction. We connect, but only intermittently. Big chunks of who they are, I don't understand at all, and I'm certain they feel the same un-understanding of me.

A couple of times today, Mom repeated her invitation for me to "come home to Seattle" and visit for a month or two. I told her I couldn't afford even a week off work, let alone months, and she said I could look for a job while I was visiting. She was serious.

One day I will visit Seattle for a weekend or even a week, but I won't be looking for work, or an apartment. San Francisco is my home. Mom doesn't understand that.

Look, I ran away from Seattle, from all the people who knew me and the few who loved me, and ended up in a San Francisco flophouse — where I'm happier than I've ever been. Some of that happiness, maybe most, is because I'm seeing myself through my own eyes, no longer defined as Mom's son, Clay's brother, April's ex. Here in San Francisco, I'm me.

Those last six words, wow: Here in San Francisco, I'm me. I'd never thought of it that way until just this moment, riding BART home from Walnut Creek, staring out the window and into myself. Maybe it's the so-so pasta and suspect sauce from Tony Roma's, but it felt profound to me.

It was good seeing you, Mom, and Clay and Karen, and the nephews. And it was also, with no meanness intended, good seeing you leave.

That sounds like a bastard thing to say, and if they ever saw these words they'd misunderstand. So they never will see these words. But all I mean is, I'm a better man here than there, and better with them there than here.

From Pathetic Life #2
Saturday, July 9 - Sunday, July 10, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

 

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