I’d like to get back into practice writing thick descriptions, a key ethnographic skill that’s really just an exercise in observation and the memory of presence. So here are a few of family; I am clearly rusty, and not all of these are thick, nor all of them descriptions.
Mia leans into her laptop, white headphone cords trailing across her white sweater. College applications are due. It’s 4 minutes to midnight and her mug of tea is growing cold. We intersperse our sprints of writing work with burying our hands in Chico’s fur and telling him he’s an adorable big dog who really needs to lose some weight.
HELLO HELLO winks the ceiling-light letters in the restaurant. Kei is worried about zombies; they don’t teach zombie-evasion drills in middle school. In teenage-boy oblivion, Neil takes Kei’s elbow and strums across her arm like a guitar, bobbing along to a song inside his head. We rip apart the chicken and pass butter-toasted zucchini bread and watch the cooks pile thin-shaved fennel on thick slices of yeasty bread. Later on, we sit and stab felting needles repeatedly into the forming shapes of polar bears and hedgehogs and ice cream cones until it’s time to eat the pots of curry on the stove.
The Portland food trucks have closed illogically early for a Saturday night. I walk with my dad through the wet streets, looking for dry shoes; in what may be the first recorded case in human history, a father insists his daughter shop longer for shoes in the department store. (I had long since located a satisfactory pair by the time he conceded they would be just fine.) We char our faces by the hotel fireplace while he describes the habit of compassion and connection he’s seen burst out in me, almost uncontrollably, since I was very small: when faced with someone with a need I could meet, I find myself unable to not give.
Sinking so deeply into the hotel bed that I don’t move or think for a good 10 hours; it’s one of the best sleeps I’ve had in ages. Quality beds make a huge difference. Someday, when I can afford it and have settled down a little more, I’m going to nest in a massive Heavenly Bed; along with wooden bookshelves and a baby grand piano, it’s another piece I plan to use to build the sanctuary of my home.
My grandmother’s futon: wrapping myself like a burrito in the quilt to stay warm through the night, turning the electronic picture frames face-down upon the tables and curling away from the crack of light spilling out of the bathroom door. A fridge with food — and food, and food; feeding and eating as a currency of love.
Can’t lipread in the car.
Mom and I finally have all the shopping trips that normal girls have with their mothers back in high school, back and forth between different stores, through the mall, in and out of the car, late at night. She shows me how a thick black shawl (now dubbed “THE BATCAPE” with great glee, and reminiscent of Lynn Stein) fits over multiple shirts and a dress. I ask dumb questions about how to care for makeup brushes. She tries to get me to wear dangly earrings (fail) and pads a set of comfortable low heels so I can walk in them (success) and we both rejoice when I find an appropriate jacket: I geek out on the well-engineered features of the dual-layer, snow-skirted, thumb-looped, zippered-to-high-heaven, slim down coat, and she breathes a sigh of relief that I won’t be borrowing hers any more.
You look good in orange stripes, says Jason. You look good in jewel tones, says Mom. I am still adjusting to the tall, well-dressed woman in the mirror, but I am growing more and more accustomed to seeing her, straight and tall and grinning, with the same sense of wonder and curiosity that I am no longer afraid of losing just because I put a necklace on occasionally.
How I can leave my things sprawled on the floors and tables of my parents’ house, go out for hours, come back, know that it’s all right — this leaving-out, this not-needing to clean up and tidy myself away, this implicit permission to leave a trace… I think this, too, is a sign of home-ness for me. My messes are accepted. So am I.