Last Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, Grace called and asked if I knew about the storm.
I pulled back my blinds and peered out from my fifth floor studio. The uppermost branches of the side walk trees swayed in the rain that hadn’t stopped all day, but there was nothing that could be labeled a storm. Three hours before I had come home from Magnolia Bakery at Rockefeller Center, shivering from rain. I had asked the frazzled girl behind the counter if she could saran wrap the cupcakes for me.
“I’m sorry,” she said, leaning over, “Can you repeat that? I can’t really hear you over all this.”
She made a sweeping motion behind me towards the crowd – hoards of people all trying to do the same thing: get cupcakes back home for Thanksgiving. Around me tourists and locals pondered Red Velvet Rockette Cupcakes or Banana Pudding; paperback or hardcover cookbook; T-shirt or onesie? Little girls huddled together, their hair but not their spirits slightly damp from the rain while their dazed parents stood behind them, holding dripping umbrellas. They seemed to be reading the menus but I could tell they were wondering what made them think that coming to New York for Thanksgiving would be a good idea. Despite the rain, the streets (at least around Rockefeller Center) were packed. Umbrellas poked you in the eye or scratched you on the neck. In New York City, Black Friday began on November 1st.
“Can you saran-wrap them?” I said again, “I’m taking them home to California.”
She looked at me as though I was the luckiest girl in the world. I certainly felt that way, minus the thought of lugging paper boxed cupcakes home and across country. First world problems, I get it. The weather report said California was somewhere in the seventies. Not a drop of rain in sight.
Grace snorted into the phone, “Don’t you read the news, Betty?”
“I looked at the New York Times just a few minutes ago. It didn’t say anything about a storm.”
“Yeah you looked at the news, you didn’t read it.”
I imagined her comfortably ensconced next to our best friend Amy on the squashy teal colored leather couch of her childhood home. They would be wearing sweatpants, t-shirts.
I scrolled through the NYTimes website again, but didn’t see anything about a storm. Weather.com told a different story. Apparently the east coast was getting huge dumps of snow. But in New York City, it had only rained. All day. Still, major flight delays were anticipated. I looked at the cupcakes I had strategically stacked in my carry-on. I wasn’t bringing anything else home except a collection of James Baldwin’s Essays, on which I had a final paper due.
“Shit,” I said, “Well. No point worrying about that now. Either I’ll make it home for Thanksgiving or -” I glanced at the cupcakes, and briefly a depressing image flashed in my mind: me alone in my apartment on Thanksgiving day surrounded by cupcakes with candy turkeys on them. I shuddered at how tight my pants would be – “I won’t.”
“Yeah,” Grace said, “Make sure you bring a good book to the airport.”
We hung up and I went back to staring at James Baldwin, who was in the middle of describing the Christmas he once spent locked up in a Paris prison. There were worse things than being stuck in New York over a major family holiday. But still, I had not missed home since arriving here at the end of August. I had not missed home until home was a day, a potentially delayed or cancelled flight away.
On Thanksgiving Day, I woke up and lay still in bed, listening for sounds of a storm. But there were none, just some cheerful chatter on the sidewalks below. Sunlight poured in through my windows. The storm, if it had come at all, had passed.
|The view while leaving New York.|
The cab driver was from Kashmir. He arrived ten minutes before my requested time and groaned in mock protest when I asked him to wait ten minutes.
“It’s Thanksgiving, lady! What you want to keep me from my family? You think you’re the only person who has to go home for the turkey?”
I ran down the stairs, trying not to jostle the cupcakes or break my neck and apologized as I slammed the car door. He was smiling.
“Oh you rush! No need!” he said, “I joking with you. But I guess you cannot tell over the phone. I ate my Thanksgiving dinner already.”
He was in his mid sixties with curly once-brown hair and smiling, amiable eyes. Just an hour before, he’d left his house to begin his afternoon shift, mostly shuttling last minute stragglers like me out of town. His home had been quite lively when he left it: he had three grown children, all of whom were he said, “Doing good things, having good children.”
“But still,” he said, “Even though they grown, when they come home, they are your children. They are always your baby children, no matter how old they are.”
I nodded, knowing the feeling well. It is both a fear and a fallback and why I intend to stay in New York or move elsewhere – anywhere but back with my parents – after my program is finished. It sounds like the next logical step, but I know how comfortable life is back home and how well practiced I am to close chapters in cities far away only to reopen the doors of my parents’ home.
“Just the other day,” the driver continued, “I went to see my mother and she told me to clean my plate like I was a five years old boy! I’m old man now, a grandfather! And still when I go home I become my mother’s baby. She told me to clean my plate just like she did when I was small boy, told me to clean it so the plate looked like there had never been food on it!”
I laughed. He moved his hands with such emphasis and I could imagine his mother nagging him in Kashmiri, though I had no idea what the language sounded like.
“My parents don’t nag me at all anymore,” I said, “And I don’t think they treat me like a child…”
I revisited a long impromptu phone conversation I had with my father the week before. While browsing through West Elm I remembered to call him back regarding our Thanksgiving arrangements at Orange Hill Restaurant. I ended up wandering the two-story Broadway store for an hour and a half while we talked at length about school, writing, and POI.
We discussed in detail the particulars of a possible thesis which I’d gone over with my professor the day before – a collection of essays with a spine, as she put it: a theme and tying them together, a story arc. Many essay collections lacked this, my professor warned, especially from new writers. I tended, she observed, to write largely about two things: family and relationships. I preferred to keep the two separate, but she didn’t see why I should.
“Your family is obviously a huge part of how you developed your view of relationships. They are very much at the back of your head when you write about relationships. I don’t think they ought to be kept separate at all,” she’d said.
My professor and I discussed too, the market for someone with my particular “angle,” meaning, a twenty-seven year old woman with no prior history of having been in a serious relationship.
“You’re far from the only one,” my professor said, “You might feel sometimes like a fish out of water but trust me, I’ve been listening to my friends, students, friends of friends… it’s a strange but increasingly common thing.” She thought for a moment, “Maybe not that strange.”
“Market,” my father repeated, “Angle.” These were words he could wrap his head around. Publishing is after all a business and my father is a businessman. As I wandered through the recently discounted holiday bakeware and organic sheets, explaining the practical aspects of publishing: finding an agent, working with an editor, and marketing a book, I could feel him opening up, trying to view my mysterious world through his clear, practical lens. It made sense to him, he said, that the professor was telling us to keep our audience in mind and he set out to give me pointers.
“Maybe you could organize your book by theme, or contrast the relationships people had back then, like your grandparents, your mother and I, versus the ones you’re seeing or aren’t seeing now among the people in your generation.”
I nodded, wondering if my father was watching TV at the same time, though it didn’t appear so.
“If you think about it,” he continued, “You see so many types of relationships around you. Look at your mother’s parents versus my parents. Look at your different sets of aunts and uncles. Look at your brother and his wife, and now you and, what’s his name?”
I reminded him, surprised that he brought POI up at all. My father is not one to talk about things like relationships and for the most part never refers to POI or when I do, says, “Who?” or calls him “That guy in London.”
“Right,” my father said, “That guy.”
We discussed my thesis for another half hour and I felt both in and outside the conversation, wondering at when the change, if there was indeed a change, occurred. I was never once frustrated and like creative partners discussing a new business venture, we batted around ideas. My father is a reader too.
At some point I reminded my father that I was going back to London a week after Thanksgiving.
“What are you doing that for?”
“I told you,” I said, “To visit -“
“-that guy in London. Right, right.”
“You’re okay with it?”
“Am I okay with it?” my father snorted, “You’re going to go anyway. When did I ever – no, have I ever stopped you from going anywhere to see anyone?”
“No, I guess not.”
I squeezed past a young couple who were studying a stainless steel wall clock. I wondered if they were just dating, engaged, or married. They both still had their gloves on.
“I do want to say though, Dad,” I lowered my voice even though I was speaking in Chinese, “I appreciate that you trust my judgment. And I wouldn’t be going if I didn’t trust him.”
“Good,” my father said, “This is very important. You must be careful.”
I nodded, murmuring assent and watched as the couple left the clock and split up, the woman heading towards a rather busy looking ornament display and the man towards bedding. Perhaps they’d meet at the register with items of vastly different purpose. One functional, one purely ornamental. One on sale, the other full price. One perennial, incapable of being broken, the other seasonal and fragile, needing to be wrapped in tissue paper and put away after the New Year.
“What do you like about this guy in London?”
Good question, Dad, I wanted to say, this is something I often ask myself. Not because I didn’t know but because more and more I was surprised by the answers.
“We have good conversation,” I said.
“You have good conversation with a lot of people.”
True. I have good conversation with strangers on planes, trains and in hospital waiting rooms. This did not mean they were good relationship material. I remembered too a recent video chat I had with POI in which he fell asleep for five minutes while I left the screen for a few minutes to take banana bread out of the oven.
“I guess it’s a bunch of things. Mostly,” I said, “He makes me laugh, makes me feel safe.”
“Humor is important because you are a humorous girl,” my father said ‘humor’ in English, “Because your father is humorous.”
“Actually,” I said, “In some ways he reminds me of you too.”
“He says what’s on his mind, for one thing… doesn’t seem to care too much if he offends people.”
“Ah yes,” my father said, “Beating around the bush is a waste of time.”
“Yeah,” I said, “He’s not shy about making fun of me and can handle it too, when I make fun of him.”
“Oh that’s important, especially for your kind of humor.” Again, ‘humor’ in English, “It’s no fun to be with someone too sensitive. If they can’t take a joke, it’s no fun.”
“But really,” my father said, “How can anyone compare to me? They don’t make them like me anymore.”
I laughed, arriving at the very adult stage where your father’s cheesy jokes no longer aggravate and only endear.
“So you think you are an adult now,” the driver said, as though reading my thoughts, “You think you are an adult going to visit your parents, but I know (he wagged his finger in the rearview mirror), I tell you now, you will feel just like a baby again when you’re home.”
I watched as the city rolled away and thought ahead to the drive from John Wayne Airport to The Park. I could see the streets: MacArthur followed by the curve of the 405 and the normally congested connection to the 55. I could anticipate the smell of my father’s car and the jerky way he braked and accelerated. If my mother went to the airport with him, I would sit tin the back and feel briefly, like a kid again. If my mother didn’t come and I sat in the passenger seat, I’d still feel like a kid.
“This is the natural way,” the driver said, chuckling to himself and thinking perhaps of all the plates he’s cleaned in his mother’s presence, “Perhaps until your parents not there, this is the way it will always be.”