When I arrived in Denver my father was standing at the gate. “I’ve been waiting two hours,” he said.
“I thought when I told you what time we landed I needed to account for time zones.”
“That’s not how itineraries work.”
“Come on, let’s go,” he said.
My granddad’s old copper-colored Buick hunched in the parking lot. My father popped the trunk and I tossed in my duffel bag. It was strange seeing the big trunk empty of beer. We drove in silence for a few miles, and then my father said, “I’m glad we have a little time to talk, just the two of us. I don’t get to see you much since you went off to art school.”
“How are things with Jody?”
“Have you two thought about getting married?”
“Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, I guess,” he said. I didn’t bite. “You have real talent, son. I know I don’t say it very much, but I’m proud of you.”
“Look, don’t try to fix your relationship with me just because your father died,” I said. I stared at the passenger window.
“Your grandfather was a good man. He had his problems, but he tried. He supported his family. He came home every night, not like that son of a bitch dad of your mother’s.”
“Hey, he tried, too,” I said.
“He was a mean drunk.”
“He was a good guy.”
“He was terrible to your mother.”
Heavy snow fell as we climbed the mountain toward my grandparents’ cabin. The flurries came so quickly that I couldn’t see the road, but that didn’t bother my father. Years earlier he drove this run with his eyes closed and his girlfriend, now my mother, navigating. He had dozens of stories like that: ice skating on the frozen lake; stealing the school’s outhouse; barreling down the mountain on his bike; playing pinball at the town bar while my grandparents drank; buying used 45s off of the jukebox man. I both envied and loved each of his stories, and I resented that I’d never have any of my own.
Why did we have to leave Colorado when I was so young? Why did we have to live in a series of ever improving subdivisions devoid of stories? My mother once caught me sobbing in my bedroom. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Our life is so normal,” I said. “There’s no suffering. How am I supposed to be a great artist?”
“I’m sorry we let you down,” she said, and then she laughed and closed the door. I was maybe ten years old.
There were no signs of suffering when we arrived at the cabin, either: nothing but quiet, stillness, and the light glowing behind my grandfather’s vacant Taiwanese bar.