insight / hindsight

The thing about arriving at a new destination after sunset is that you’re left in the dark — har! — about what it looks like. For one night all I knew of Sedona, Arizona, was a sheet of blackness punctured by a scattered constellation of house and car lights. Then I woke up the following morning and peered behind the window shade. Trees! An undulating horizon of scrubby juniper and pine. And here I’d been expecting piles of stark red rocks.

There were red rocks aplenty indeed, and I found them later on that day. But it is nice to show up at a place where “rocks” is pretty much your only expectation and then let the waves of mild surprise wash over you like a gentle sea.

I was in Sedona near the end of October because my in-laws were vacationing there and asked if we would come meet them. The beau and I were there for three full days and all we did during that time was hike, and I’m not at all complaining about the forced time outside. At night we patronized a string of restaurants whose menu selections read like buzzwords from NYT food reviews in the ‘90s. Calamari! Carpaccio! Radicchio! Arugula! Salmon and wild rice! Veal piccata in a lemon caper sauce! It was comfort food for the 65+ set. Oh, I’m not making fun. You know in 30-odd years I’ll be making 5:30pm reservations at any joint that’s still pounding out plates of pork belly, ramen, and Brussels sprouts.

So the place was crowded with retirees, yes, but there were also lots of tourists and spiritualists. Picture a town of insanely expensive art galleries and schlocky tchotchke shops jabbing elbows with spirit psychics and energy vortexes. One day on a hike I came into a clearing where maybe a dozen women dressed in white were silently meditating while on the canyon rim above a tour guide enthusiastically narrated the views to a Jeep full of khaki-clad sightseers clutching cameras. And I was like: yep! This seems pretty much about right from what I’ve learned about Sedona so far!

The trip was fine, and I’m glad I went, even though a trip with your in-laws isn’t on quite the same level as, you know, a trip without your in-laws. I am lucky to have a decent relationship with them but family in any form can be draining AS FUCK. I mostly handled this by totally mentally checking out of the proceedings. Which probably isn’t cool! Especially since I have made an issue in the past out of feeling like the beau is not “backing me up” in conversations when we’re visiting my parents, yet here I was doing the same thing to him. I was just like: [throwing hands in the air] these are your people, you can handle the Genial Smalltalk while I silently shuffle along the trail or blankly stare out the window of the moving vehicle.

Part of it is that I am left out of a lot of conversations with my in-laws by virtue of not knowing the backstory on anything they’re talking about, but again it’s not like that doesn’t happen for the beau around my parents. My dad once spent the bulk of an hour running down a list of his ex-coworkers and giving me Where Are They Now updates while the beau could only mutely observe. So I don’t know, maybe that whole participation situation is a wash.

Another thing I figured out that I could really stand to be nicer. For example, one morning during the trip my mother-in-law enthusiastically asked me, “How’s that baby doing?” “Um, I dunno, it doesn’t really say much,” I ducked and mumbled. And you know what? No, I don’t have a literal window onto this baby nor do I have a metaphorical one. I can’t yet claim to possess any insight into its moods, preferences, or opinions. Once while listening to LCD Soundsystem’s “You Wanted a Hit” I received a pretty vigorous kick in the groin but I can’t know for sure whether that counted as a thumbs up or a thumbs down. But it’s also like: THIS IS YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW. Petty semantics don’t apply. Why can’t I just, for once in my life, show my teeth and exclaim, “Great!” It doesn’t actually matter whether the baby is great or not! That’s all my MIL wants to hear!

My parents used to tell me “good night” as I was going to bed, as normal people tend to do, and I invariably reacted in horror. “BYE,” I’d bleat in response, and shut my door a little harder than necessary. These days I’m far past sulky preteenhood but at base level I still sort of act like this! I am the cantankerous and cynical flip side of my mother-in-law’s sweetness and doe-eyed innocence. Heaven help that poor lady when her son brings me around.

Ever since I got back I’ve been toying with the idea that maybe I don’t need to protect my identity so ferociously in polite company. No part of me is going to get lost if I simply play a part temporarily. No one’s going to revoke my wiseacre card if I force a few smiles. I’m not suggesting I could or should change my personality to suit other people — just that maybe I can stand to file down the sharper points when the stakes are sufficiently low.

Learning! I will probably continue to do it the rest of my life!

I could draw comparisons here between my personal growth and travel — totally in the dark until comprehension dawns — but that would be a little too on-the-nose for my tastes. So instead I will just mourn Arizona as the last time my toes will be naked in the sun for the next six months. Yesterday winter arrived in Denver like Kramer bursting through Jerry’s apartment door. As I type this it is snowing and 5° F outside, which is very nearly zero degrees. In fact, I am advised by my weather app that the near future holds fewer than zero degrees and I still haven’t figured that one out, how we can have less than nothing of something and somehow the fabric of the universe remains intact!

2 Responses to “insight / hindsight”

  1. Thank you for talking about weird, in-between relationships with in-laws! It seems like people either get along famously with theirs or require all the wisdom of Dear Abby just to stop from killing them, but for others it’s just a parallel family they’re inserted into as an extension of their partner. It’s strange spending time with people who are family-but-not. I think in-law visits should warrant another vacation directly afterward to recover.

  2. It’s OK that you’re still not used to small talk about the baby. I imagine by the time you get used to it the baby arrives so don’t beat yourself up too much about it.

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