I am, in a word, exhausted.
The leaving at first is a rush and then is sad and then is a focused whirl. Jonathan has left, again, headed toward a sandy, hot base on the Gulf of Persia, where he will drive faster than fast, past luxury cars and camels and discarded, twisted Toyotas and Mercedes. Kuwait.
Truman and I go with him to Atlanta, flying thousands of miles in the space of a few days, there and back, sitting in hotel conference rooms and industrial-carpeted barbecue joints and a fountain wall in Centennial Park and a private booth in a restaurant with two majors in the Army Reserves (Oklahoma, New York) and a sergeant (mine).
When we return I gather the boys one by one, airport, aunt Abby's house, we usher one another into this home now stark and emptied. It is a strange thing to leave one's house, is it not? To stand before your things and stare at them in a panic and think, "all this, without me, until it's summer again?" To shut the door on your own and count on your fingers, four birthdays and one anniversary and Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, the others too, first PTA meeting and last day of school and the day we get our tax return and, surprise! snow days! -- you are of course out of fingers. There is too much you will miss, it will have to come and go without you, petals gradually falling from the sunflowers until the desiccated heads are blind, seedless; grapes ripening and then being harvested and, some, wrinkling on the vine, until the leaves turn yellow and fall, a carpet of summer's shelter; the rains coming, soaking the sidewalk, soaking the stairsteps, soaking the maple leaves, soaking the as-yet-unstained deck, soaking the dirt. Until it is spring again, and the rains still come but the buds poke out from the maple branches; the sunflowers sprout again, bravely, false leaves wide open like a yoga pose; the nubs of grape leaves sprout on the branches, first brown, then pinkest, then green; weeds and calendula and borage again, in a riot, mint rampaging over everything and flowering into exuberant green-purple, bees everywhere, bees everywhere, it all pushing and creeping and shooting and flowering into the verdant sky. There will be hot days ahead, and cold, and hot again, before the homecoming. How does one do this?
He does, and in his absence I gather my boys for movies and popcorn on the first night and a quiet day of business before the second. I wake up on the Sunday without him and I begin to put it away, the shaving cream and his razor and soap, I change the toothbrush system and re-arrange the spices on the shelf next to the stove and I push his favorite sauces into the back. I do not put the garbage out; I put laundry in the wash; I fold his t-shirts and shorts carefully, and put them all away. In his absence I begin my un-doing, my un-winding, and then again I will wind up, I will do all (that I can), I will walk through and through and through this house until it becomes a tool for me, until it does the work of this life without whine or stumble.
With each leaving there is a holding of breath, and a letting it go. It pulls out slowly, emptying the chest, emptying the belly, and when the loneliness and loss hits you it is a surprise because it was so slow and didn't I mean for that to be cleansing? A purge does not have to succeed a binge; an emptiness does not have to be hollow. The breath comes in again, and in time, the stomach will fill without bile. But the loneliness will return, a punch, a slap, a spin around in the basement while barefoot and laden with clean things.
And what is there to do but to fold and put away? We create ritual out of loss, we create busyness out of absence, we are loud to fill the silence and quiet to calm our racing hearts. We have what we need; we find a rhythm that works, again, we pound out the drumbeat of this family with a discordant echo. Goodbye, again, until it is, again, hello.