Feeling Family

This was the view from our condo. We rock. So does Seattle.

This morning I woke to the smell of bacon and the sound of kitchen noises. The sun was subdued by a swath of gray clouds, keeping the day from coming too quickly. On the other side of the bedside table, someone else was still sleeping. Perfectly, peacefully. So peacefully that I could hardly believe that same person had been snoring three hours earlier. Our beds had matching comforters and fluffy black and white pillows. There was art on the walls and carpet on the ground. I got out of bed, pulled on a sweater, opened the door and walked barefoot onto the wood floors of the entryway.

“Good morning,” said a voice from the other side of the kitchen bar. It caught me off guard, to have company in the morning. “Good morning,” I replied. I began making coffee, while Ryan chopped onions and tomatoes. A thin wave of steam poured from the bathroom where Jeff (who goes by Wheeler) was fixing his hair. “Morning, Kuehn,” he called to me. “Nothing like the smell of bacon on a Sunday.”

Eventually Anne made her way out of our bedroom and onto one of the dining room chairs. She leafed through a journal. Wheeler pulled out his laptop. I marked on a manuscript. Ryan scrambled eggs. We are writers, all four of us, fellow members of Saint Mary’s MFA program in California. But this past weekend we were something more. We were travelers, conference attenders, dining partners, city explorers. We were family.

Strewn across the 36 rows of United Flight 1129 to Seattle (Wheeler was in first class, while our fifth roommate, Ani was in row 35) we took roughly the same flight on Wednesday afternoon. Our first night in Seattle we walked into Petra’s Mediterranean Bistro. I flipped through the menu, not knowing what to order and wondering if the rest of my party felt the way I do about sharing food (which is that it should be done as often and as much as possible). I prodded my fellow diners and coerced Ani into splitting a roasted cauliflower dish. Splitting is my favorite.

“Do you all want to share an order of hummus?” Wheeler asked as we waited for the waiter to return. We did. It was creamy and spicy, drizzled with oil, sprinkled with paprika and loaded with garlic. Lots of garlic. The kind of garlic that even three glasses of wine, a good tongue brushing and the next morning’s coffee doesn’t quite remove. “Well, we’re all in this together, right?” someone posed.

Filled with rice and spice, we left the restaurant and explored the area. We searched out an ATM, passed bars and cafes, wandered up to the Space Needle and stopped in a convenience store on our way back to the condo. By the end of our four-day weekend, the five of us owned our Belltown neighborhood–Uptown Coffee (home of “Seattle’s best latte”), La Parisienne Bakery (which smells of butter and tastes like France), Bambinos Pizzeria (where the beers outnumber the pizzas), The Fish Cake Factory (whose panang curry I stretched to feed three people as leftovers), the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum (an amazing amalgamation of glass-blown art and cutting-edge design).

That first night we polished off three and a half bottles of wine in as many hours. It set the tone for our time together, for group text messages and late-night address reminders, ridiculously good food, family meetings and heart-to-heart conversations (yes, even among writers, who tend to hide their feelings behind their egos).

Family photo

Back in California, we have our own lives, some of us even have our own families, but here in Seattle, we are on equal ground. We are alone together, out of context, away from home. We co-navigate routes, split meals, share taxis, buy each other drinks, make each other breakfast. And though we could go it on our own, we don’t. Life is too hard and too good, too challenging and too beautiful not to share. Some of us need a little more help than others. Some of us struggle to connect, to trust, to attach.

As I write this post, we are preparing to leave Seattle. Anne is Facetiming with her boyfriend. Ryan is working on his laptop. Jeff is telling me about the awesome series of vignettes he believes I am going to write, the ones I should probably be working on at this moment. I am reading a text message from Ani, who is already home with her family and helping us figure out how to get a discount on an Uber to the airport.

I know I can’t stay, but I don’t really want to leave. It’s normal to feel that way at the end of a vacation, a departure from the day-to-day (whatever that may look like). It’s normal to wish you could prolong a suspended reality even though you need to get back to your work, your routine, your classes, your life. But this isn’t a case of not wanting to go home. It’s a case of not wanting to leave it. I don’t want to go back to cooking for myself. Sleeping by myself. Living by myself. I want a family. I want to be family. Here in Seattle, in my little commune of writers, I feel like I had that, had a taste the “normal” that makes up so many other people’s everyday lives. My departure from reality has not been an escape from expectation, but a discovery of it. It has been finding and holding the feeling of family.

See more photos from our “family vacation” here.