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The decision to bypass dinner rewarded me with a dull headache and general feeling of unease I hadn’t experienced in a while. Luckily, the hangover was mild, and easily enough to remedy with some breakfast and strong coffee. I had an early morning breakfast commitment, where I unfortunately had to spend time with my loathed boss and coworker.

As it turns out, I was in much better shape than either of them, who clearly continued to booze it up long after I left. My boss looked like hell warmed over and barely spoke as he passed by. My colleague was not much better. I chatted with some of the other people at my table, who were interested in getting the industry exam I had taken a few years before. They were pleasant enough, considering the hour and the giant silent room. I left shortly after finishing my cold bagel for the equally cold embrace of the frigid auditorium for the morning’s sessions.

Entering the large auditorium, I noticed the conference schedule was all out of order, the keynote not happening until much later, which seemed weird to me. I had always thought the keynote was supposed to be first. The sessions were good though, demonstrating whether people really understand the documents they sign to enter research studies. Not surprisingly, even after 30 years of effort, people still don’t understand.

The afternoon sessions went quickly enough, and soon I was on my merry way to the hotel room to prepare for the evening’s activities. I had arranged to meet up with my brother and his girlfriend and my husband’s step-brother-in-law (yes, I know it’s complicated), so I was much more excited to see them than the previous obligation to eat dinner with my coworkers.

Dinner was great, and really helpful for me, emotionally. I get really depressed when I travel alone, and it’s easy to let the negativity get the better of me. We had an awesome time catching up, although the later part of the meal focused around complaining about family. My brother informed me that things at home were getting worse. His girlfriend recounted how my mother (with whom they are currently staying until they can save up for a new place) is boozing it up long into the night. She said the other night, she had heard my mother getting another drink of boxed wine at 3:00 a.m, the telltale shuffling, dumping of ice cubes into the same green dimpled glass, the sound of her wrangling the box in the quiet night.

My brother said that every interaction with my mother is full of negativity and badgering for money. It made me so sad to hear it, but it reinforced my decision to keep her from my life. This would be the same if she were in my life. When his girlfriend said that my mother constantly harasses her about giving her the grandchild she so desires, I winced, knowing the damage I was doing by keeping this secret.

Fortunately, the sadness passed as we changed subjects. By the time everyone left, we were all in good spirits, although a bit more aware of how time passes and how little we see each other. The distance between us is more palpable every time I see them, and I feel so badly that they must absorb the negativity that my mother spews forth. I know I got off easy, by comparison.

Afterward, I sat alone on the bed in my room, trying not to let the new (but not surprising) information get me down. Luckily, someone had checked into the room next to mine and was making just enough noise to irritate me to distraction. I’ve never had this happen before, but each time they moved on their bed (not to do anything gross from what I could hear), they actually shook my wall and bed frame. It was so weird. After a while, it became too much for me to deal with and I hopped over to the other double. For once, getting the less desirable room set up actually worked in my favor. I settled in and tried to sleep.