Archives for posts with tag: emty nest

the path ahead

This past summer with W was wonderful. We hung around town most of the time but made a couple of trips to Asheville NC and to Washington DC.  One trip was to visit cousins I hadn’t seen in 25 years … a side of the family W had never met at all.  He fit right in with them and it truly did feel like a warm family gathering instead of a meeting with near-strangers. What a lovely fun smart humorous bunch of people. ❤

W spent the last 2-3 weeks of summer with his dad before going back to campus.  Suddenly my house was too quiet again. Suddenly I was talking to the cats about things that probably don’t interest cats at all, such as what household supplies I need from the grocery, and how @#$&ing stupid and obscenely wasteful the tenure application process is here. I’m pretty sure that these talks did increase the cats’ vocabulary, and I’m just as certain that they will not be able to show off those new words in polite company.

After a week or so back at campus, W called and stated, “I have decided that I am not busy enough.” I’m thinking, You take a full course load, work all the hours you’re allowed at your work/study job, are an orientation leader for new freshmen, are in student government, and host prospective freshmen several times a year. Plus you have 50,000 events you attend and people you hang out with. How could you not be ‘busy enough’?  After I stopped laughing, W said that he was going to become a tour guide for families visiting campus and he was going to try out for an a capella group and … a couple of other things I can’t remember.  Sure enough, he went through the tour guide training and a capella tryout, in addition to setting up meetings to talk with the internship office about summer opportunities  and the study abroad office about the trip he hopes to take next school year.  He was not accepted into the a capella group, but that turned out to be a good thing because he had discovered that he had more affinity for the campus players improv-like theatre troupe and joined them instead.  One of the troupe leaders sent out a message asking members how they identify and what roles they would be willing to play. One of W’s friends responded, “I am a banana.”  W’s response was, “I identify as a man, but I am willing to play anything including an amorphous asexual blob, should that need arise.”  Another of W’s friends wrote, “Please don’t make me a Nazi again.”      Obviously, this is the perfect group for W.

In that phone call I told W I felt as if he were expanding before my very eyes, still using the familiar tools and abilities I’d always known he had while also pulling out new and unique and unexpected tools from heretofore hidden compartments. I told him it was a pretty neat thing to see.

Later I examined my own life and found it wanting. Do I have hidden tools? Are they rusting away in there? Once the madhouse rush of W’s leaving and my tenure application process and the semester start was past, life settled back into a pretty empty-seeming pattern. Classes are going well … and that’s pretty much all I do now. I did try out a new church a couple of weeks ago – it’s tiny and meets twice a month in a youth center in the hills – and the people were very nice but for the most part way older than me and retired. I have friends I go out with occasionally. I have stacked my language books on the floor in my room so that I can begin to recover my Spanish and German skills. Occasionally I eye the saxophone case in the corner; the other day I went so far as to imagine assembling the instrument and bellowing out a few dreadful scales. I am sure that I can become the next Clarence Clemons if I try, despite that one time when a little neighbor boy (who had the misfortune to walk by my house with his daddy when I was practicing) shrieked ‘Daddy, what IS it?!’   

I have discovered that I am easily overwhelmed. To get around that, I think I must make things  very easy for myself, perhaps by breaking each big action down into a million ridiculously easy steps and then doing one of them at a time. Getting those language books out was a step. So was thinking seriously about the saxophone.  I need to poke around inside my battered old case of a self … to fish around to see what tools are still in working order. Impossibly tiny tweezers?  Filet knife?  Corkscrew?  Maybe they’re all in there just waiting to be used.  Next step: Choosing one of those language books and clearing workspace for it on my desk.

SeussianHair     I get to see my sweetie soon! He has just finished his freshman year and is probably in the passenger seat of a pickup truck bound for his dad’s house right now, trailing the stuffings of his dorm room behind him.

By all accounts he has had a wonderful year at THE perfect college for him. His professors have made him work and laugh and fume and think, his work/study job has taught him tele-marketable skills, and he has made friends he will keep for life. After visiting him on campus one weekend, my 17-year old niece reported that W knows everyone and that he occasionally, upon seeing someone on campus before they see him, will hide behind a tree or building, call them on their cell phones, and say in his special-creepy demon voice, “I see you…”   They respond by laughing and saying, “Oh, W…!” as if it is an everyday occurrence to receive a telephone call from an unseen creepy-stalker demon.

Some branches of my family would not find this funny or amusing at all; to them demons are very real, extremely malevolent, and omnipresent. There is no joking about demons in a world over-populated by demons.  Once, at a reunion of sorts, I learned that I had been eating eggs seasoned with exorcised salt every morning for breakfast, on account of the cook’s strong belief that demons had been singling out her family for special horrid treatment.  Upon hearing this I was speechless. I wasn’t sure whether I was being given the salt out of love and a desire to protect  or whether I myself was suspected of harboring demons.  It was probably a bit of both (I just want to go on the record here and say that I did not hiss, yowl, melt, curse, or have any head-spinning pea soupy reaction at all to said exorcised salt. In fact, I found the eggs yummy.).

That’s not to say I don’t have any demons, and this first year of W’s college adventure has certainly resurrected them for me. Sometimes I hear someone else’s voice echoing around in my head and it ain’t pretty. It is a voice from my past that has, at different times of my life, taken up residence with no invitation and no welcome, completely comfortable in its entitlement to my skull and private thoughts. This voice likes to bludgeon me into submission, drain every drop of blood and every ounce of good feeling from my heart and my veins.  An internal Dementor, I guess. It lives to make sure I know just how awful I am – worse than worthless, really, because at least worthless does no harm. What I am is vile, poisonous, contemptible, utterly unloveable and grotesquely flawed in every measurable way, a walking burden on the earth and all its occupants. I’m not sure why the voice has been around more than usual this year, but I suspect it moved in to take up the space that used to be filled by my daily interactions with W. It’s not an actual voice from my actual past  but it contains all my child-time interpretations of people’s reactions to me, and all the feelings that came from those – the observations that I used to build my sense of myself.

As you can imagine, I don’t LIKE my new roommate. In fact, I am mostly sick to death of her and desperate to evict her – as forcefully as possible – forever. Don’t know if that’s possible, but I have developed a way to keep Demonella at bay.  It involves inviting even more characters to take up residence in my head. I invented these others and I call them the protector women. They are a little younger and harder than I but fiercely loyal. They are armed with bats and are very skilled at wielding them. They lounge around being funny and sardonic until Demonella pokes her head around the door frame to say something snide; then the protector women turn to me, eyebrows raised, and ask hopefully, “You want we should shut her up?”  The protector women have a kind of working class New York accent; I don’t know where they get that but I like it.

So, demons everywhere, some good, some bad, some being dealt with. It’s okay, because Sunday is Mother’s Day and I get to bring my boy home.

me at W’s age

I am remembering the Thanksgiving I was W’s age (18). I was in my 2nd year of college, too far away to drive home for the weekend. Instead I made the much shorter trip to Philadelphia, to the apartment of a sweet acquaintance (C, the best friend of the sister of my boyfriend, who went to the same university my boyfriend did). She had offered me her studio apartment for the long weekend while she was out of town. The plan was that I would go there on Wednesday, spend a quiet Thanksgiving by myself, and then on Friday my boyfriend would come back to town from his family’s home and I would cook him dinner and we would spend the rest of the weekend together.

The apartment was tiny and adorable, a few stories up in an old brownstone on a well-traveled street. The  kitchen was in a closet, the bathroom had a claw-foot tub with a puzzlingly clingy shower curtain, and there were  three tall sunny windows overlooking the mostly-leafless trees at the sidewalk edge. Wednesday I settled in, learned which keys fit which locks and how to unfold the couch into a bed, located the nearest store and bought groceries. That night I learned how it felt to be all alone in a grownup apartment in a grownup building on a street which felt as if everyone else had gone home to somewhere far away. I listened to C’s albums and fell in love with Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. Thursday was even quieter. I’m sure I had books; I don’t remember C having a TV. I didn’t go out – just listened to Alice’s Restaurant on WMMR and replayed all of C’s albums, feeling at once grownup and very very alone. I pictured the family gatherings at my parents’ house and at my boyfriend’s parents’ big city apartment. I could almost smell the warm scents of the Thanksgiving-day kitchens and hear the voices and laughter of family members drifting in from another room. Thursday was a long day.

Friday I set up the folding card table (C’s apartment was too small to have it up permanently), found a table cloth and nice dishes for two place settings, and put together two salads (fresh greens with tiny bits of carrot, diced tomato, mushrooms). I wasn’t a very experienced cook at 18 but I probably marinated the steaks in something. Those were for Boyfriend; he loved steak. I put dinner rolls in a basket on the table with the salads and set about cleaning and slicing potatoes for homemade French fries (which I had never made but figured how hard could they be?).  Boyfriend arrived, I was overjoyed, and grownup homemaker-type bustling ensued, including the pouring of two cold glasses of milk. Boyfriend also liked milk. At some point I turned on the burner under the pan of oil in which I intended to cook the fries. The steaks went in the oven.  Here’s where my ignorance becomes obvious.

Me: I don’t know why the oil isn’t getting hot. It’s been on for a while. The burner looks hot. Oil bubbles when it boils, right?  Why is it not bubbling?

BF: Maybe throw in a fry and see if it start cooking.    [I throw in a fry. Pooffffff!  It bursts into flame.]

Me: What do we do for a grease fire? I don’t think we’re supposed to put water on it.

BF: I think I heard that you can use milk for a grease fire.    [I take one of the glasses of milk and pour some into the flaming pan. Booooooom!!  The  flames explode outward. Boyfriend and I leap backwards, crash into the table, knocking it over, breaking all the dishes, and scattering salad and milk across the tiny apartment.  One of us calls 911.]

BF: Don’t tell anyone this was my idea, okay?   [He said that a lot.  I’ve kept this particular secret for over 30 years now. It’s time to go public.]

The firefighters came and had the blaze out in about 30 seconds but the apartment was a wreck and there was no eating THAT dinner. Turns out there were enough neighbors still around to be worried that we were trying to burn down the building. The next day I made Boyfriend help me scrub down the walls with the hope that the smoke and soot would come off with enough effort. It did not. I dragged boyfriend and another friend who had come back to town early   around Philadelphia looking for paint stores, determined that C would not come home to a blown up burned out smoky wreck of an apartment and that she would not have to forfeit a damage deposit on account of us being stupid enough to pour a glass of milk onto a raging grease fire. I had enough money for a few gallons of paint.  We spent the rest of the weekend repainting her apartment and airing it out with cold November air.  I cleaned up the kicked over shards of dinner dishes and salad, wishing I had enough money to replace all the broken, blackened and otherwise totally ruined stuff. A couple of months later I did send her some replacement pans and plates and bowls, all filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I still feel bad that her act of generosity literally blew up in her (well, my) face.

Anyway, I did not mean for this post to be about how I blew up Thanksgiving.  I meant it to be about how it feels to be alone and far from home and family in a brand new and very grownup situation.  Turns out it feels weird, good, bad, and difficult all at once.

Tonight I am thankful for the family who took W in this weekend  when he was too far to come home for Thanksgiving.  I am thankful for the friends who took me in here today  recognizing that this would be a very lonely time for me if no one made me get in the car and join them for the afternoon.  I am thankful for delicious food and I am thankful that no one kicked over the table before we could eat it. I am grateful for a warm whole unburned house and I am grateful that there are so many kind and generous people in the world.

Happy day of thanks to you all.