I've kind of neglected Alan's life a little bit since being here, I'll admit. He has a family back in Wisconsin that loves him very much, and no doubt misses him. And I got a little absorbed re-fashioning his life into my own, that I couldn't help but leave them behind.
From the beginning, there were texts and calls, usually ones I dodged, even though I knew it wasn't fair to Alan or his family or anybody. But I had to distance myself. I felt like I'd spent a year suppressing everything about myself just to fit in and make others feel better, I needed something for me.
I warmed up a little bit, responding to texts and calls more quickly, but I still hardly know these people. I told them I had found work out here and decided to stay a while, which raised questions (Alan was not one to leave his family behind) that of course I dodged. I just wanted them to know their son is OK (he is) and to feel like they could reach me if they have to, but... jeez, they really test that. Every day I get some new update on some neighbor or distant cousin I don't know. But I try to be polite and answer back, "That's interesting" or "Good for them" or "What an asshole," as applicable (then I get chided for strong language.) I also dodge questions about Greta, saying only that we parted ways and I don't know what she's up to (mostly true.) Of course there were questions about how one could just part ways with the woman he probably was going to marry, but I chalked it up to "Personal differences." End of story.
Or so I thought. During a recent call, I had to explain again why I couldn't make it home for Thanksgiving. I let it slip a while ago that I had started a new relationship. And of course Mama Schmidt scoffed about how soon it was to be throwing family traditions away and if she loved me, she'd understand and let me come home. I told her I wasn't exactly being held against my will, and I was sure Thanksgiving would be fine without me.
So yeah, I agreed to go see Meg's family for Thanksgiving. While they didn't exactly "keep it small" (six aunts, five uncles, and 11 cousins were present) these people were all supposed to be strangers to me. Plus it was local, which was a huge bonus. Once Meg let it slip that I worked in a kitchen, her mom insisted I bring a side. Arguing that I mostly cook eggs didn't phase her, so I cooked up a recipe for whisky-infused green beans. Except I kept that first part a secret. They were a big hit.
It was a chaotic, exhausting, wonderful day. Meg is a lot like her mom – same sense of humour, same smile... but with more of a housewifey vibe. She warned me they might judge me because I didn't go to college, but they were very polite... to me. I do think her Mama is a bit judgmental toward her, though. I put my charm into overdrive to win over her dad – a friendly, intellectual guy with a big interest in history (seriously, the guy was loaded with facts about he first Thanksgiving, the Colonial era, and even a fair bit about pre-Columbian times.) Asked him lots of questions, didn't yammer on about myself.
"They really like you," Meg beamed afterward on the drive home. "My Mom is just happy I'm dating again, and Dad seems to think you're really smart."
"Don't know how he got that impression," I smirked, "Guess I'll have to keep him fooled."
Later that night, as we were getting ready for bed, she said something that struck me: "I wish I could meet your parents."
I'm sure she meant well by it, but it caused a real chill to go up my spine. I sat up and looked at her and I just said, maybe a bit coldly, "You don't have to say that."
She looked at me, "No, I mean it. I think it's a shame that I can't... like, share that part of your life. I'm really sorry about it."
"Don't worry. It's gone," I said. "They're gone. It's..." I trailed off, suddenly getting very emotional.
Sensing she had touched a nerve, she wrapped her arms around me. I felt my face get hot. I wondered if I was going to start crying. I took a breath and told her "Even if... even if I was me, even if everything was normal... trust me, it would be okay if you never met my Dad."
"Was he... that bad?"
"Yeah," I said, "We're, uh... not close."
"You never talk much about home. About Mobile, your family, your childhood. Is that why you didn't mind not getting your real body back?"
"It's just complicated."
She took a moment to swallow this. For a second it looked like she was hurt that I wouldn't open up. Then she said, "Whatever you're running from... and you don't have to explain it to me if you don't want to, I'm sure if you're ever ready you will... it's in the past. I didn't mean to remind you of it. But you're here now, with me."
"I know," I said. "Believe me. I know."