December 30, 2011
Having just returned from a three day trip to Carmel and Monterey where I visited my second-cousins Phil, Julie, and their daughter Madeline Rose, I half-heartedly thought about how I have relatively few cousins. My only aunt on my mother’s side doesn’t have children, and there are just two cousins on my father’s side. Compounding this smallness is my family’s emotional distance. Like the inner planets of the solar system in relation the ones past the asteroid belt, the orbits of my family consist of a firm, defined boundary holding my mother, father, younger brother, aunt, and maternal grandparents. This is followed by a loose, misty circle holding some outer cousins, distant uncles, and other “secondses” and twice-removeds. This recent trip to Carmel opened my eyes to the family of Phil, Julie, and Maddie, who in the past 7 years or so existed within the outer familial orbit, but gradually gravitated inward.
Maddie, 14 years old, was well-spoken, shy, and often seemed to wish she was somewhere else. Having never really had a “cousin” relationship, I latched onto this new person in my family; I had met Maddie once before when she was maybe 1 or 2. But now, through a coincidence of last minute travel plans, I reconnected to Phil, Julie, and Maddie, and all of a sudden the potential to have a new cousin relationship arose. Despite living on different coasts I imagined being friends with Maddie on a sort of smarter, older, cooler plane; not exactly a peer of her parents, but still a source of wisdom, experience, and relevance. Admittedly, I can cop to not being the best older brother, and I wouldn’t doubt if any of my motivations were perhaps those of repentance. Still, I envisioned a new cousin in my life, maybe the first cousin.
While in Monterey, My wife Emily and I went to the Goodwill where we killed about 30 minutes looking at used clothes and coffee mugs. This past December I had completed my first semester in a Masters Nursing program, and had been looking for a good book to get lost in. An education in nursing is mentally taxing in its rigorousness, its basis in facts, and the weight placed upon the understanding that while the goal of nursing is to heal, within it exists the ability to do great harm if applied incorrectly. This produces an educational vigilance all semester long, which leaves a great vacuum immediately following completion of the last question on the last final of the semester. In order to fill this vacuum I planned on using literature as my winter break vacation. Anything engrossing, left-brain stimulating, and page-turning. Some Asimov, or Pynchon, or maybe some crime non-fiction. But like grocery shopping while hungry, I gorged myself on books that I only opened, and was unable to fully commit to one book. I started David Eagleman’s book Sum, about the afterlife; Peter Orman’s Love, Shame, Love, about politics and middle-class Jewry in 1960s Chicago; and in an embarrassing attempt at overachievement, I began to read a book about cardiac rhythms and EKG’s in order to get a leg up on next semester’s pathophysiology course. Nothing significantly grabbed my focus. So when I saw Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle on the $1 shelf at the Monterey Goodwill, I bought it without hesitation, knowing its teleportative and mesmerizing powers. I thought that this book could be my gateway drug to enjoying anything else during my 5 – now 4 – week break from the grind of school.