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Family Bonding

By , Syracuse, NY

Our roaring cheers, highlighted by the glow of the television, were only subdued by my mother’s shuffling footsteps and subtle eye roll as she passed us by to scrounge for dinner. My dad’s an intellectual, so you might assume that we’d spend our time together critiquing film noir, or even more pretentious, playing chess to the faint pattering of classical music. Instead, we’ve bonded over our mutually discovered passion for the television show Survivor. Most of our conversations, underscored by the host Jeff Probst, are fairly lighthearted. I vaguely recall predicting the outcome of a tribal council, and much to my horror, my dad expressing that I have “mad skills.” And his claim that he would sell me to the circus for a young castaway’s hair sure was something special. Of course, our talk of game strategy remains anything but laid-back. You may dismiss our survivor game talks as “lighthearted” as well, but if you were to see the wild, frantic gestures, paired with our passionate arguments both racing to be heard and acknowledged first, you'd know otherwise.

It’s fair to say that my dad and I are pretty similar. Perhaps it's because the mechanisms of our minds seem to work within the same operating system, an idea that haunts my dad quite a bit. Neither of us are what one would call sentimental, and the idea of sharing feelings gives both of us one heck of an inward shudder. That’s why, over the course of my life, our conversation topics consisted mostly of highly sarcastic, joking interactions, an occasional heated political debate, or a defeated discussion of what we could possibly eat on a given night. As survivor sauntered its way into our house, we still talked about the same things we did before Jeff became part of the family. We both admittedly gush about Bernie Sanders, and the distinct lack of edible food in our house has prevailed as one of the most popular discussion topics (it has been said that my house habitually consists of “nothing plus popcorn”). However, there is a comfort and familiarity between us that wasn’t there before.

I’ve always had a loud mind. Everything I see must be analyzed from eight different perspectives, and internalized for later contemplation. The pinched expression of a person’s face or the jittering of their leg signals my brain into a spiral of questions and concerns, and an event on the news brings up the repeated, somber question of “why.” I think a lot about how most of who I am and the ways in which I see the world are wound up in a tight coil in my head. In fact, it’s become a bit of a running joke within my family. My dad’s tendency to internalize, paired with my inability to communicate haven’t exactly created a wedge between us, but we were never quite familiar with each other. Somehow, there was a mutual understanding that while both of our heads may have been spread over twenty different places, actually expressing those tangled thoughts to each other created more trauma than it was worth. In fact, the last time I went to talk to him while feeling anxious, I ended up cracking a joke about myself, we both laughed, and called our experiment with sentimentality a day. But now, at the end of most days, we have survivor. A collective breath is released each time we turn on the TV to rant about the intricacies of Survivor politics. We shut off our brains and simply focus on the particularly shocking blindside, or gush about a survivor’s athleticism. It’s a moment of peace in which I can latch my mind onto one train of thought instead of the dozen tired but angry interlaced ones, and we’ve grown closer over the appreciation of that fact.

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