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House


David's brother Henry, in a moment of contrition and big-heartedness (who said that these two had to be exclusive?) bought the country house, just east of the lake where they used to go to summer camp as dirty, sweaty, buggy kids. He had ground his bones into dust working over the last two decades as a consultant for primarily consumer packaged goods.

He had absented himself from many of the extended family's major achievements and traumas: graduations, funerals outside of the immediate orbit (say, anything past an aunt was going to get a mass card and a check to a charity, but forget about an in-person call at a memorial service). The longer he stayed away, the easier it was to imagine that no one felt his absence, or that the family would actually think it more improper were he to show up. Better for him to keep his distance. To keep to his clients. To remain a topic of conversation. He thought, perhaps it made things easier to be a shared target of rolled eyes and clucked tongues. "Can you believe he's not here," he imagined they might say, and felt better at the prospect that he could relieve them, if only momentarily, from their grief.

What occasioned Henry's return into the familial fold was not any single event or momentous change of heart. He wasn't sick and he didn't feel suddenly guilty for having missed out on so much of the family's life in the previous two decades.

Rather, he very simply got lonely. Neither did the realization of his loneliness come in an instant It happened as a kind of process. A slow realization over the course of months. He felt it coming and regarded it with increasing curiosity. He was curious about why it didn't bother him to feel lonely. Then he was curious about the potential ways to address the loneliness. The phenomenon that interested him the most -- that most drove his curiosity -- was that the solution to it began to look like his family. This was surprising. They had never salved loneliness before, for him, when he felt it. Mostly, the group of extended cousins and cousins of cousins inspired only a vague sense of warmth out there in the world, maybe rooting for him.

But now, he sensed that the Jeds and Nathans and Susans (so many Susans and Sues and Susies from every generation, beginning with a great-great aunt of some acclaim for her ability to pursue a career as a scientist before anyone thought it might be a woman's place to do so) might help him unlock something true about himself in the next stage of his life. He began to think that reconnecting with them would be the only way to figure out -- not just a cure to the loneliness -- but to some other deep questions that had started to rise up in him over the same interval of time.

He quit the firm, put questions of succession in order, took his options, and left for the country.