Four days until we are four.
Of course, we have been alone before. We are alone now, right this moment, the father of the house off playing chess with a neighbor while I write. It could be anything: a bike ride, an errand, helping a friend move, talking on the phone, washing his grandmother's dishes, a state away undergoing sergeant training meant to make him a "warrior leader," which stretches to all but emotional bone structure, taut skin of convention, duty.
Five. Five, his years in service, E-5, his rank now. Five, Truman's age.
I wonder in the times in between the countings and the accountings, what is left? And who was it that did the taking-away? Surely, we have only been withdrawing in these past years, and I do not list in my debit columns the service itself. Surely, we are strewn all over with the red of our deficit, blood or ink or the many jars of tomato sauce I canned (for him, for him!), when I put my hands to my face, some days, I pull them away wet and I expect scarlet. It is the color I see when I close my eyes, some nights, crimson, port-wine, rage. I draw in my breath and it is jagged with the effort, gasping into lungs who protest the overdraft. I search for my center, my mantras, my notes-to-self, but when the gyre's been tangled in knots, the innocence gulps sea water and I shout back, scream, wail, tear out of the house in my pajama pants and running shoes and rain coat, pull the hood down, ask questions with no answer, pray, not expecting anything in return.
Zero. Zero dollars and seventy-six cents in our bank account. I spent that money, knowing; I wanted to buy happiness measured in pounds of sirloin-tip steak, quarts of ice cream, dozens of deviled eggs; I have no one to audit but me; he'll "give me everything," which might be, each month, four thousand, four hundred, thirty-one dollars and twenty-seven cents if I have found the right columns in the right tables, and will of course be enough. Enough. More! This is the low point, here, I swipe my pen for reminder, commemoration.
Because I wish to be circumspect, persevering without perseverating, courteous and kind, it is now that I -- I wish to be mild, you see -- speak in the abstract, the hypothetical, the "one." I can understand how the wife of a soldier might, were she in the sort of situation I am sketching right now in the notebook of my imagination, be counting down to grief but also to equilibrium, to loss, but still, to accumulation. A wife might see her home as castle, fortress, stronghold; she might see a zealous and intemperate and occasionally calamitous force whip her papers, her quiet thoughts, her delicate accomplishments of parenting or householding into the air, so that they are just out of reach and the heat of her tears sears, her heart blisters, she might end up as the clock winds its way around, again, in the dark of the night, with a back that is aching from its daily work (of home, of satisfaction!) and a nature that is too raw to weather one more bluster, and she might not wrap this person in the embrace he requires, instead, she might wrap herself around herself and brace for the wind.
Two. Two boys who, after tomorrow, will be categorized as "severe emotional disturbance" by the public school system; two boys whose eyes look at mine with such clarity, clairvoyance, then flash in an instant to an unholy mindless madness. Two who are angry; one who is unkiltered; three who need the bulwarks buttressed and the covertures conserved. Will I do this worthily, preserving, nurturing, husbanding my whelp and weal? Or won't I?
We are counting "lasts," mourning and marking. Last Saturday morning, last Sunday night, I see my schedule scored with checklists and certificates and the creation of documentary security, and I fear that in all this discipline-making and family-supporting and country-serving a model has been molded, and is it the knight exemplar whose armor I wish to display in my Great Hall? Or will the sculptor wet the clay, again, rework, fire with the heat of the Biblical desert, return the armature fitted as a paragon of husband-ry? He is running out of lasts; the count is ticking down; with what sort of fireworks will the last moments be marked?
The numbers are easy, count down from four to none and then it's 400, the numbers are discernable, the same no matter how I look at them, recorded on papers that I must print 14 times. It is that which is uncountable that has us pushing as through a jungle blindfolded, the rain-ripples on a mudpuddle, the walnut leaves out my kitchen window, the dandelion seed-parachutes on a little brother's head, the number of stabs of sarcasm, the quantity of little hurts and healings, the length of the road back to joy. I know this: in his absence there will be loneliness and a sacred quiet, one year of one centering prayer. I will gather my forces, I will ride my ramparts, I will round we four into the sanctum and, one by lentitudinous one I will count back, again, to zero.