On the Bus #10–Two Snowflakes in Oregon

Wednesday, September 13th

I’m back on the bus and am glad to be heading home from NYC to New Hope, PA.

I got off a plane last Monday night at midnight and got to sleep at 1:30 AM.  I got up at 5 AM to catch my 6:30 bus on Tuesday morning,  and then stayed all night in the city on Tuesday night. It will be nice to go home and reacquaint myself with my cats and my bed.

I don’t mind pushing myself. What I do mind is the people in the seats in front of me chatting loudly.   Why don’t people understand the bus rules?

When I was in Bruges,  Belgium a few years ago waiting in line at  The Basilica of the Holy Blood to see what is supposedly the blood of Christ contained in a little vial, there was an ancient woman who walked up and down the line whose job was to sternly shush people who talked. I fell in love with her and her power. I wanted to be her. Maybe if things don’t work out with my job, I could freelance as a bus rule enforcer.

Today, I’m a little rattled because I got a random instant message from someone I haven’t spoken with since high school.  The message read,  “STUPID, SNOWFLAKE, LIBERAL ELITIST”.

That was it. That was the full extent of the message. Not even a “Hi, how are you? Long time, no see. You are a stupid, liberal snowflake elitist and I like you better without a beard. Call me sometime so we can catch up!”

I guess he had some point to make and not a lot of time to make it?

It’s not that he was entirely wrong.

I am liberal.

And I don’t mix with other people on the bus so I also have to cop being an elitist.

I take umbrage to stupid though. I had the third highest GPA in my class behind Cathy Obermeyer and Randy Beck. Plus, I just used the word umbrage in a sentence. How stupid is that?

Now, I never understand why snowflake is supposed to be a derogatory term so maybe that makes me stupid? Don’t people love to catch snowflakes on their tongue and don’t they admire their uniqueness? Are they bad because they melt? Who would want snow around all the time?

Anyway, I had a crush back in high school on the guy who sent me this message so I guess it’s nice to know he is still thinking of me.

I was on a plane Monday night because I went to Oregon to visit my husband Saul’s father. I have spent a lot of time with Saul’s sister,  but only a brief dinner with his father and mother. They are long divorced so this visit was really the first in-depth time I have spent with either one of his parents.

You learn a lot when you meet your husband’s family. There are a lot of oh that’s why he does that! moments. That’s why he loves animals! That’s where he got his artistic talent! That’s why he yells at me when I stand too close to him when I brush my teeth.

I still don’t know why he clanks his bowl so loudly when he eats his Halo Top ice cream. Maybe a visit to his mother one day will  give me some elucidation (elucidation–see how SMART I am, Mr. High School Crush??)

There is something very wonderful seeing the home where the person you love grew up. One of Saul’s most wonderful traits is his childlike enthusiasm, so it wasn’t hard to imagine him as a curious little snake-loving boy playing in an ally and picking blackberries from the bushes growing along the fence, or hopefully planting a redwood tree that is now towering over the neighborhood. It was a visit to the innocence that he was and that deep down under that big beard, he always is. When you can see a person as an innocent child you get a glimpse into their truth.

The trip was going amazingly well until our second last day when a rather heated debate flared up between Saul and his stepmom at dinner. Anger and hurt quickly ignited into a wildfire like the ones that had been raging though Oregon causing heavy smoke to hang over our heads for most of the trip. I excused myself from the table as they both began turning to me to agree with the point they were trying to prove and I melted under the pressure like a snowflake. (Ah! I see what my old high school crush was talking about!)

Saul soon joined me a few minutes in our guest room and announced rather assertively, “You have to take my side on this!” I was grateful for the clear direction. I annoy friends by often trying to look at both sides of the issues. “Maybe people who deny climate change weren’t loved by their fathers” type thing.

But I took Saul’s direction and let him be upset. I realized I was mired deep in family dynamics that had been there way before I was a gleam in my husband’s eye so for once it was easy not to take the situation personally. Still, I felt trapped like that rock climber who got stuck wedged in a rock and had to saw off his arm to escape. I longed  to sneak out the guest room window and run through the desert until a helicopter found me or I died. (I had no idea until last week there was desert in Oregon which is probably why I was only third smartest in my high school class. I bet Cathy Obermeyer and Randy Beck knew that).

But I stuck with it and Saul stuck with it and I suggested he keep his side of the street clean which is always good advice if you ask me.

The  final meal was much better although there was still a bit of tension which I tried to break up with my nervous prattling. “My! This butter is delicious, isn’t it? It’s so buttery and delicious, right? Wow how about this weather?”

That little drama was flashy part of the trip. The moments I will remember most are the quiet ones. One day early on Saul asked his dad, “Was I a bad child?’ His dad paused and finally said, “You weren’t really a parent’s child.”

To me that wasn’t a cruel thing he was saying. It felt like a truly authentic moment between father and son. Saul is his own man and his own independent spirit and I suspect he always was and even after we are married a gazillion years always will be. I’m not sure his father would have admitted to being child’s parent either. But the two got thrown together in this life and did the best they knew how.

The other moment that stands out (besides the afternoon Saul and I climbed to the top of this impossibly high peak of some humongous rock called Smith Rock—it is not as innocuous as the name sounds. It is annoyingly steep, but Saul had mentioned that some muscle boyfriend he brought years earlier couldn’t make it to the top. You can bet I was going to get to that damn peak even if I died after getting there). Anyway, the other significant moment I remember was when Saul’s father told me a story about when he took Saul and his sister into the Amazon and they stayed with a local family  that lived quite humbly. On the day they left, Saul gave his Walkman to their delighted little girl. His dad’s eyes glistened as he told me this. “It was a perfect moment.”

I got what he was saying. In families and friendships and deep relationships we see each other at our best and our worst and we love and admire and judge and fight and forgive over and over and over. The relationships that withstand the test of time seemed to have these elastic bands that connects them. We can pull away and stretch it to the limit but  eventually we return to each other. As far as I can tell that band is made  of forgiveness.

Saul and I survived the steep rocks and rocky moments.

On the last night  of the trip we stood outside and looked at the stars. We weren’t able to see them any of the other nights because of the awful smoke from the fires, but on that last day the smoke cleared and the stars appeared as if by magic.   The entire sky was practically white.

I held my husband’s hand as we stared up.

I suspect sometimes we all wonder if we are a good child, a good friend, a good parent, a good spouse and talented at what we do. And we need those witnesses no matter how imperfect they may be–those friends and family members and spouses who have stuck with us through the fights and tears and the smoky days to remind us that deep down we are those generous, sensitive boys  or girls who planted trees or gave away our Walkmans–—that behind the smoke our stars are still shining.

I would love to say that at that very moment a snowflake fell from the sky but that would take artistic license to an unacceptable level.

I will say that instead of thinking of the guy from high school as the guy who sent me that hateful note, I will remember the cool boy I had an innocent  crush on.

Maybe some of that remembered innocence will heal both our hearts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR–Keith Hoffman is a stupid, snowflake, liberal elitist.

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Keith Hoffman lives with his artist husband, dog and two cats in the small town Lambertville, New Jersey 72 miles outside of New York City. He has completed a memoir entitled The Summer My Sister Grew Sideburns.

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