On the other side of the river
After we crossed the Mississippi, I realized: I was fifteen again, in my family’s minivan of old, on the way to a holiday get together, headphones in my ears and a hand of Rummy in my fingers. Crammed in amid Christmas gifts and bags and books and games I could see the present as the future through the eyes of the past. Look, I have a son. He has dark hair and a nose that crinkles, just like mine. He calls Dad Gramps, and Dad likes it. He loves cars.
I am fifteen. I am thirty one. I am both at the same time.
I was actually fifteen sixteen years ago. Even if I could have been magically shown the future then, I’m not sure I could have recognized it for what it was. You spend so much of your teenage and early adult years in wonderment over how much you are changing that by the time you come out of your self-absorbed reverie with a three in front of your age you don’t recognize any of your old surroundings anymore. You forget that everything else was changing, right along with you.
There’s this quote from the movie Garden State:
“You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.”
Back when I was fifteen, my brother and sister and I were just the kids. Our parents were the parents. We made fun of each other in the back seats, poked each other in the sides, played cards with each other. We shared our gas station candy and banded together in our urgent pleas for bathroom breaks to the (gallon-sized bladdered) driver. Whether we liked it or not, we defined each other in ways that no one else ever has or will. (For better or for worse.)
The truth of the matter, though, is that only my thirty-one year old self was in that minivan. There is no more me of fifteen. There is no more family of sixteen years ago. Instead, there is only the family of now. There are grown ups where there were once children. Children where there were none. A new family, growing, changing, and incredible.
But I’m glad that last week along a stretch of I-10 on the western bank of the Mississippi, we got to call back into existence, if only for a moment, some of that old family. That imaginary place that we’d all been missing.
Another Travelin’ Song, by Bright Eyes
One of These Things First, by Nick Drake