We played poker that week, we'd draw the cards and shuffle them around. All the lives I used to live were buried in the compliments my parents gave me. To show the growth I've gone through to get to the house I live in now, with all its struggle and timid mid-century beauty. There was a distinction in how they talked to me, sometimes a whisper, sometimes cautiously. We talked until our voices were hoarse, all about how much I've changed, grown, become something.
We played poker and it kept my attention all week long, the dexterity of conversation. How we wouldn't dwell on any one subject for too long. How anything anymore is too painful to bring up, too trivial. It's easier to ask if the weather is always this nice and not ask if I'm happy that I moved back to San Diego. Time was short and days ran long. I've said it before, but time is just a trickster god. A coyote yelping in the distance, telling me I wouldn't see them again for another six months.
There's a thing in poker called a "tell". When a player can't mask his intent. When his subconscious twitches at the fingertips. When a player touches his nose, rubs his ear, clears his throat in the silence. I wonder what my tell was that week. I keep turning this over in the silence before I fall asleep: What was the hint I gave them all? What did my body say that my tongue could not? How well do my parents this person I've become to be able to pan through the fools gold of conversation for what they really were. How to navigate the minutiae to find the nuance of my biting lip.
The truth was that it's been six days since my parents left and it's been hard to stay positive, to keep my mind off how much I miss them. I think it read on my face, the truth is the tell was present in every movement, in every frown, in every smile I gave that stretch across my face whenever I caught my mom looking at me.
My parents left six days ago, but I cherished it all. Every moment, every heartbeat, every eyelash my mother would pick off my cheek and blow into the wind. I'm more like my mother than I ever thought possible, in our temper and our careful approach to love. I think about how much I've hated her before and I can't seem to find the reason for all of that anger. My father sat at the tail end of conversation. He's a good man, silent and awkward. My parents left six days ago and that happiness couldn't have lasted forever.
Our life out here is so different than my parents, I had to preface everything i showed them. "We don't normally go here." "We don't normally spend this much." "We usually just sit at home." I couldn't lose that connection, to remain down in the salt of the earth with them. I'd be buried in it, if I could. Preserved, cured. Perhaps in more ways than one.
We got seasick on a boat ride around the bay I arranged for Father's Day, they ate In 'n Out for the first time. We drank milkshakes and kept our eyes on the horizon. We ate at a Chinese restaurant where our waitress spoke Spanish with no accent and English with a heavy one. We sat on the edge of the world and watched the water crash on an outcrop of houses in La Jolla. We ate leftovers in our swim suits. My mother made coffee too weak; she got frustrated that the coffee pot wasn't like hers. My parents napped with our dog, Elsa, and then my dad slept for 12 more hours. We got tattoos to commemorate my continual, chronic years of not appreciating my mother's love. We hugged at the airport and my mother whispered in my ear at the terminal, "I don't know how much longer I can do this."
We drove home in silence. Her words still are ringing in my ear.
My parents bought a house in North Carolina, surrounded by forests in a town that only has a pizza place and a Dollar General. My parents called it a homestead. It'll be willed to me and my siblings. My mother is decorating it in greens and blues, colors of the ocean. My mother is going to get another rescue dog. She's decided on a lab. A boy. My dad wants to quit his job in ten years' time. They have plans, lives I only intersect at the periphery. They miss me in their own way, and I, myself, don't know how much longer I can do this.