It was mid August when my mom and I made the trek into South Central Houston to visit Sidney. We wound through the dense medical district towards the massive complex of 5 buildings making up MD Anderson Cancer Center where Sidney, my mom’s former student, was being treated. As we made our way out of the parking garage, groping toward centralized air conditioning, I marveled at the sheer number of cars from all over the country occupying what was only a single corner of MD Anderson’s campus. I shouldn’t have been surprised. After dethroning Memorial Sloan Kettering as the U.S. News & World Report‘s best hospital in cancer care in 2015, MD Anderson boasted around 140,000 patients a year and rising.
It was a hot Los Angeles day when Dad took me to the Oaxaca Festival. As the women onstage twirled their colorful skirts, I could feel the sun sink into my skin and sweat drip down the sides of my face. The light fell directly on my neck and shoulder. I wished I’d brought sunscreen.
In his thirty years of work in publishing, my grandfather never once revealed to his colleagues he was gay. Doing so could have cost him his job as a children’s book editor at a prestigious house, or at the very least, his reputation as an honest, hard-working family man. It took me only ten minutes, in a phone interview with the same publishing house, to accidentally out him.
We arrive at night, landing at West Palm International, still wearing jeans and fleece jackets as we step into the Florida night and walk to the taxi stand through air softened by warmth and humidity. Fifteen minutes later my sister and I stumble over the tiny brick path that leads from the edge of the cul-de-sac to the front door, swatting at mosquitos while my dad punches in the security code, everybody exhausted but excited to finally be back. It’s always like this, in all my memories of the place – an evening flight out of Boston landing us in West Palm sometime between ten and midnight, the night always clear, the air a humid 73.
The house belonged to my grandparents. Every February while I was in elementary school, my family would stay there for a week, a brief respite from the New England winter. My grandparents purchased the house as an eventual retirement home, but my grandfather had still not retired, and so the house occupied a strange sort of limbo, going entirely un-lived-in over the summer, and seeing only nine or ten weeks of use in the rest of the year. We returned each year to a sterile, static domicile that was clearly nobody’s home, greeted by the same immaculate white carpets, spotless tabletops, and barren kitchen. The house felt like a blank canvas over which our vacations were painted; it functioned simply as a base of operations. And this was the role my parents wanted it to play, because they were always desperate to get out of the house, to not let their week off go to waste. But for me, the house, and the similarly sterile neighborhood around it became the consummate vacation setting. February vacation came to be synonymous with Florida, the days 80 degrees and sunny, the blacktop so hot that wiffleball games couldn’t be played barefoot, the nights cool and humid and echoing with the hooting, melancholy whistle of the night train that passed along the outskirts of the gated community just after my nine-thirty bedtime.
Like an orgy—or a fight. Legs collide with legs; strangers struggle around each other, into each other. A collective gasp clutches them all together. One, shirtless, leads the ball down the field, stumbles, and loses control of it. Now the ball leads him and leads his opponent into him. The two collide without a sound, the crash dampened by their flesh. Everybody stops to watch them battle for the ball. When it spills free, the first man gains control and rolls it across an invisible line between two heaps of t-shirts. Half the players cry in ecstasy. Half sigh in frustration. For a few seconds before this, nobody breathed at all.