You always imagined you’d return as some kind of exultant hero, the prodigal son, back to reclaim your place on the intricate stage that is family. You imagine the flowers presented– sure, flowers, why not? – and the hugs, the warm eyes, the baked goods, the overlapping conversation so generous with welcome.
It wasn’t so much the liberation of France as it was facing a hangman’s jury for desertion.
“Nice car,” said Connie. “I wonder how many treatments that would have paid for?”
“It’s a rental, Connie. And it’s a Crown Vic. All the Mercedes were being re-upholstered. And you might want to dial the Bitch Volume down a notch. I’m not deaf. I’m here. I said I’d come.”
“Boys, release the balloons and toss the confetti. Your uncle’s here!”
It was friendlier than expected.
My great-nephews. Two boys who look nothing alike. Sam, the eldest, is almost 18. He dresses like he subscribes to Hipster magazines. A roguish red fedora tilted to hide one eye. Don’t-give-a-shit skinny jeans and a dull orange t-shirt bearing the face of Richard Nixon with the words “Man with a Plan” stamped across the face. Angry eyes, so much like his mother. Longish hair frothing from under the hat, currently dirty blonde, limp and fashionably unwashed. He is not a handsome boy, his chin mottled with stark pimples, his eyes look like they see everything in black and white. A boy growing up in an ugly shadow, like a baneful mushroom. He barely acknowledges me, other than a dismissive nod.
Brady, the younger, is an attractive little man. He’s fourteen if my math is current, and he’s all wide-eyed wonder. He tentatively steps towards me, digs his hands into his pockets as if looking for confetti, and then steps back. His eyes are bright, but he looks skittish, like a lab rat shocked too many times trying to find the cheese. He’s skinny, wears a heavy parka that seems too warm even on a cold day, and he stares like he walked out the wrong door.
Connie. I barely see her face. She doesn’t let anyone see her face for too long. She has always turned her back before anyone could look too closely. She’s a moving fire, all flint and spark. She’s put on a few pounds since the last time I saw her, but who hasn’t? She’s still limber, still fast-moving around corners, and any pity she once might have felt has long disappeared through the exhaust fan.