I wept as I said goodbye to my family at the end of my Christmas visit of nine days. As displays of emotion are rare for us, I hid the tears, not particularly well, turning away and wiping my eyes. I wasn’t embarrassed particularly, but the tears were out of place and two of my brother’s friends were visiting who I don’t know particularly well, and were witnessing this scene.
I could blame it on a long day with a bass line of family tension. It started with a dastardly long process to take family photos – my friend, a photographer, had called in sick, so we were forced to manage on our own, a complicated but familiar set of dysfunctions saved only perhaps by my sister-in-law who could break our long-set patterns. I then had technology problems transferring said photos from computer to computer (managing to screw up my brother’s portable hard drive in the process, another theme, the incompetent younger brother who breaks older brother’s computer devices). My seven-year-old nephew was banned from sweets as punishment. In fact, I had been quite charmed when he whispered to me as I was hoping to settle him down for his afternoon nap, “you know, sometimes, I don’t sleep.” “That’s OK,” I told him, “being quiet is OK too.” But his parents didn’t agree.
A lack of sleep often makes me teary – and the basement, where I’d been relegated to so that my nephew and niece could sleep in my old room, was frosty in Vancouver’s winter, and the base of the bed (forty-year old mattress removed for being too soft) was not particularly comfortable. I was also awaken most of my nine mornings by the children, though I stayed up late, so was sleep-deprived.
I could make them happy, sentimental tears. Most times when we’re all together, someone is having a bad week, and will be particularly ill-tempered. We all revert to our family roles and patterns, as stated above. But this time, all of us got along. I found the ages of three and a half (Hayley) and seven (Jeremiah) to be charming as I hadn’t seen them for a year. Usually, I don’t miss my family, but this time, I will.
I could confess more dramatic reasons – that I hadn’t absorbed the information earlier this year that Dad’s kidneys are failing, that he’ll go on dialysis in the coming weeks and that he’s unlikely to travel again because of it. I fear that he has not many years left in him.
They could have been tears of nostalgia. I spent much of my time reviewing and discarding old letters and essays and papers, three apple boxes down to less than one. I have finally arrived at an age that finds weight in hanging on, and where I can discard all these possible futures that would have found those archives useful. But it stirred up emotion, reminded of passionate friendships, first lovers, and the interesting young man I was.
The tears were gone soon enough and it doesn’t really matter how they arrived at the corners of my eyes, my cheeks, the doorstep. But I think they tell me my days in Vancouver this Christmas were valuable.