I try to visit my family in segments — a sister here, a parent there, I break them down into manageable numbers. On rare occasions, such as birthdays and holidays, I must see them all at once. I have one word for such encounters: LOUD.
Imagine 6 adults (myself included) all talking over each other while 5 children shriek like banshees in the background, playing a made-up game during which they bash each other over the head with previously agreed upon items (in this case, it was a beanbag chair and a beach ball). A child cries and my mother's voice rises in decibels, as if drowning out the wails will aid her attempts to soothe.
Over the table, I meet my father's eyes. Ever since the separation 12 years ago, Dad has lived a quiet life of solitude, of meditation and reading. Ever since I met David over 8 years ago, my home life has been hushed; my days are tranquil, and my evenings (when I'm not Out & About) are untroubled.
For such people as my father and me, the constant din of a loud television, of over-talking and hollering is overwhelming. While holding the gaze, Dad smiles, and I understand that he feels the same way — that though it was great to see everyone together, and on some level we interpret the maelstrom as happiness and proof of a life well-lived, we were each looking forward to the calm that awaited us at home.