Portland Oregon 

It feels like a homecoming today when I walk into my aunt’s house. I haven’t seen her since shortly after Jackson died. She folds me into her arms, makes me a cup of coffee, then sits me down in her living room and tells me about her life as of late. Then she clasps her hands together and says, “So tell me about your life.”

I do, telling her little more than she probably already knows from emails between us. I talk about my varying degrees of depression. I tell her I feel a decreased interest in pleasing others, a decreased inclination to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings at the expense of my own. I confess to my need for limited social interactions and to feeling like happiness, sustained at any rate, is not only unrealistic but overrated. 

“I don’t expect to be happy,” I tell her. “I don’t know if I even want it anymore.”

“What is it you want?” she asks.

I think about it for a minute and say, “Quiet, I guess. Quiet inside and out.”

My cousin David, her son, arrives, then Mark, and we all eat a light lunch Alice has prepared. Then we get on the bike and ride across the bridge to a night with another TS couple.

Gary and Mel have a few acres close to the Washougal River. They put us in a tiny house for the night, which gives Mark all kinds of ideas. They have two little Malti-pom (Maltese/Pomeranian cross) dogs, ten year old females from the same litter. Called Sheila and Shelby, they don’t bark once, in spite of clearly being wound up at our arrival. They are adorable, just about the cutest little dogs I’ve ever seen.

In answer to their question, I tell them the lie about meeting Mark 20 years ago and the two of us traveling back and forth in our “long distance relationship”, setting the stage for the second, bigger lie-that-isn’t-technically-a-lie to come: No, we don’t have any children. Then, while Gary is reheating leftovers for us all to share, Melody takes me into the bedroom to show me the dog’s sleeping set-up. I see a picture of a young girl, then her as a grown woman on the nightstand. Before I can ask who she is, and truthfully I wouldn’t have, Melody tells me it was her daughter, and that she died of breast cancer in 2015. For a millisecond I think about just saying I’m sorry, and leaving it at that, but of course I can’t and wouldn’t even want to. I whisper my bit, and we hug each other hard. Her husband calls us into the kitchen for dinner. She doesn’t tell Gary, and I don’t tell Mark.

The next day we go to stay with my former roommate from my year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Grand Junction, Colorado. Jackson was 4-5 years old that year, and Nicki and I lost touch shortly after our service was over and we went our separate ways. Jackson never forgot her though, and neither did I, but after so many years, I hadn’t expected to hear from her again. Then in March I found a letter waiting for me when I returned from India. It was from Nicki, saying she had just learned of Jackson’s death. She told me how devastated she was to hear it, and then she did something that nobody else has done. She filled four pages with her memories of him. Remember when he did this? Remember the time he said that? I found myself laughing and crying simultaneously. 

She finished by telling me to let her know if I was ever passing through. Now we are, and I have, and when she opens the door to her apartment I feel, for the second time in as many days, a homecoming of sorts. Nicki is one of the few people who knew Jackson and I as a family, and are still in my life. She feels like a lost link, and I am overcome with a wave of relief to see her standing there. When I hug her I begin to cry, and over the course of the next two days, I will both cry and laugh again and again as I remember what she gave Jackson, how she improved his life, and how much I hope to keep her in mine.

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