I hate getting caught off-guard.

I just got off the phone with one of my cousins in Carolina. I haven’t spoken to him in a couple of years at my brother’s wedding. Before that it was actually longer. I had to ask him to repeat his name a couple of times before I recognized who it was.

He was extremely friendly and seemed to be trying to draw me into a friendly conversation. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out what he wanted. He wanted some help with a website. No problem there, I’m going to do some looking in to hosts for him. But unfortunately I feel that I was kind of short with him.

This also happens when one of my brothers calls. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to them, it’s that I haven’t thought about what I want to say. I guess I’m sort of the kind of guy who has to prepare for daily conversation sometimes. I like to have a stock reply to such simple questions as “How have you been?”

“I don’t know, let me get back to you,” doesn’t seem appropriate over the phone. It’s one of the reasons I excel in a chatroom environment. I get a good 90 second delay. I can pretend to be multitasking.

The conversation of alcohol came up at work the other day an I commented, to the disapproval of a few, about how much I appreciate it taking the edge off when I am in a situation with the capacity to be awkward. Say, for instance, a cousin gives me a call and pretends to be really interested in how I’m doing because he wants something. That’s not to say that was the case with my cousin, but one can’t know for sure.

A while back another conversation came up about rhetorical questions. “How are you doing?” while passing in the hall is not asked to elicit an answer. You don’t want to be the one guy who traps someone just trying to be nice into a conversation. So you come up with stock replies. “Great!” when I remember, or “Pretty good” when I forget that “Great” is a better answer. But it took my young self a while to get uncomfortable with half-incomplete conversations. “How are you?” “Good, you?” “Great!” “Good.”… how mundane. But necessary in order to keep things light and upbeat.

You’ve got to do the same with family. Particularly since I’ve moved out here, aunts and uncles and everyone wants to know how things have been for Clancy and I. Your time is limited, so you don’t want to talk too much. God knows that I could bore someone to tears with the intricacies of my work environment or a comparative analysis of gas station prices between towns that I find utterly fascinating. No one cares! In most cases, unless something is seriously wrong, they don’t care how I’m doing. They just want me to know that they care about me. Maybe that I can call them if I need to talk or work through a problem.

And I’d do the same for them, of course. Family works that way. But the truth is that I haven’t spoken to my cousin in almost two years. I’ve seen him once in the last five years or so. I’m not going to go to him if I have a problem because I don’t really even know him. Nor him me. Our respective mothers aren’t particularly close – and neither of us particularly close to our respective mothers – so it’s unlikely we’ll ever need to know each other really well.

It’s not that family doesn’t matter to me. I enjoy time spent with my father’s side and some with my mother’s side as well (particularly since some torn relationships have mended). But when you stop seeing them on a regular basis, it turns in to something else. A few months back I spent some time with Clancy’s family at an annual Easter retreat. They have a certain cohesion that my family lacks. The Trumans meet on a few holidays a year, but other obligations make it an incomplete set. And since I have come out here there is just less opportunity.

It’s the price I guess we pay for autonomy and mobility. My mother moved from one coast to the other to get away from her family, Clancy went a distance to get away from hers. I followed Clancy because getting out was more important to her than staying was to me. But everything comes at a cost, I guess, like stilted conversations on the phone after two years of not having spoken.

Category: Elsewhere

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