Coming into Albuquerque I can almost taste the dryness in the air. It dries out my nose, it chaps my lips, it fills my lungs. It feels like home. It feels like family.
I've been thinking about just what family is. There are people who I am not related to by blood or marriage or adoption that I consider family. There are people just outside the bonds of paperwork that fit snugly into my life like brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles - family by choice.
There is also family that is not by choice. Brothers and a sister that I share DNA and memories with, that I share structure and inside jokes with, that I share life with (although I am typically poor at the whole life sharing part, blame it on distance and laziness). Between my siblings and I stretches this cord of relation, sometimes stretching until it almost breaks but always holding no matter how far it bends.
I'll admit that when I arrive 'home' at the wellspring of my DNA, there is an initial period of awkwardness. You can only talk about travelling conditions, school, work and surface things for so long before you've got the basics down and you're grasping for new things to talk about. Living far away tends to limit the pool of things in common and stunt your speech. Once you come to this loss of words, you have to figure out just where you are in the relationship. The years and miles stretch between you, infinite and palpable. Do you still fall back to the memories and jokes of long ago or do you forge ahead and create a new dynamic?
My siblings and I typically fall into a normal routine. At least once every visit my brother Ben likes to remind me that when I was Carly's age I sported a perma-wedgie. I retaliate by reminding him that he once set the wood pile on fire, for fun, to see what would happen. Oh yes, and he burned toilet paper in the bathroom. My sister Charlotte (aka Cha-Cha, Queen of Legos, QofL, the favorite) will invariably sit behind me in the car and play with my hair, tickle my neck, and tease me about my wrinkly forehead until I'm driven to distraction. I retaliate by worshiping the ground she walks on. If you don't think that's irritating, just think how much work it is to live up to the perfect expectations of your younger sister. My brother Bud used to pretend to use the top of my head like an airplane landing strip. I have never figured out why he does/did this, and it never really bothered me, but it would make him smile really big and we all know if your older brother is smiling really big, that's bad. Very very bad. I get him back by riling up his children and bribing them with toys so they will think I'm cool. Whipping them into a state of frenzy and buying them noisy toys brings a special kind of joy to my life.
It usually takes us a couple of days to feel each other out. Once we've decided that, yes, actually we are the same people - just bigger and funnier looking - we settle into an old comradeship that is the culmination of being locked up in the same car together on road trips. Back in the day there were no DVD players, talking books or hand held video games. The only entertainment we had was each other and that throbbing vein in my dad's head. And my mom's eyebrows. We also used to walk uphill both ways in the snow. With no shoes. It builds character.
When we get together now that we're older and wiser (and have shoes to wear), we tease, we laugh, we annoy, we get mad, we admire, we compare, we enjoy, we love. Just like old times. The new relationship we share is a hybrid made of long years of shared existence plus new memories and experiences. It's the product of loving parents, a common goal, and a genuine admiration of the finer qualities that exist in each of us under our flaws. At least, it is for me. We would probably all define things differently since that's how perspective works.
For me, this sometimes awkward dance just feels like home.