Monday, September 1, 2014

A Season of Leaving

I love to read. When I was a kid, I could devour a Nancy Drew mystery like El Wingador devours -- well, that might be a bad example. Anyway, Nancy and her friends were always visiting Aunt So-And-So in England, or expecting one of Ned's old friends from summer camp circa 1946; if they weren't picking someone up from the train station, they were packing their steamer trunks for a week at sea. As I curled up in the corner of my parents' living room, tucked unobtrusively between the Christmas tree and the heating vent, I'd leave the big brick row house with the threadbare carpet, forget the painted steel doors of the public school to which I'd return after the holiday break, trade in my faded dungarees with the iron-on patches at the knee, and I'd go with my friend, Nancy, to lots of wonderful places all over the world. Sometimes, we'd just stay in River Heights, making preparations with Hannah and Bess -- planning meals, scheduling tours and the arrivals of our visiting out of town guests. The irony is, at my own home -- the one Nancy had delivered me from -- some of these same preparations were being made; Christmas was always "at our house," but no one ever came from any further away than ten miles or so. In my world, calling long distance was not only unnecessary, but if carried out -- even accidentally, was a capital offense.

I no longer wonder what it would be like to find myself submerged in the task of making sure the guest room is clean, or "snacky foods" are well stocked. I know what it's like to rush from errand to errand, somehow feeling that the success of the visit hinges on whether I've mailed the broken tool bit out to Bad Dog Tools for a replacement, or dropped the old pictures I found upon cleaning said guest room, off to my cousin for her to peruse and pass on. I know how it is to anxiously mark away the days on the calendar, crazy with the anticipation of seeing your child for the first time in months, while simultaneously wishing you had just a few more hours to wash the trucks, bathe the dogs, make some of those pastries she loves so much, and repaint the porch rail you just noticed has been peeling where the lowest branch of the dogwood has been rubbing. ("Maybe I have just a few minutes to trim that.") I know what it's like to leave work an hour early just to be home with them -- not because they're even awake yet, but simply because you want to be wherever they are, at least until they have to return to wherever they were.

And that, too, is what I've learned. That the flipside of arriving is departing. That for all the days, even weeks of "arriving," departing happens in the blink of an eye. There are no preparations to be made, no scheduling or anticipating, no errands to run, rooms to clean, or meals to plan. They pack, you watch, and before you know, they are the voice at the other end of the phone, or the winky face on a silly text message. In the time it takes to open and shut a door, your house goes from brimming with a fullness and excitement that could very well resemble utter chaos, to a silent stillness that could impose ennui on a dust bunny -- a very small, very quiet dust bunny. All the time that once lay before you, is now behind; "yet to come" is now "has been;" our hearts are full, and the empty nest is empty once again.

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