How the house felt after the kids left for summer camp

Outside it was warm and the lupine stalks were bending down, some on their faces like mollusks gumming the ground but not making it very far, frozen mid-suck.

The dog smelled bad, a telltale bad like she’d rubbed herself in shit or the dead, or both: and it reminded me of what our captain said on the whale watching boat about wolves, you can smell one before you see it, they stink so bad.

The dog had eaten out of the litter box again but this time, she’d thrown up on the inside of the plastic cone she’s still wearing from surgery and it was stuck there, yellow and gloppy, and reminded me of what it’s like to care for an infant cleaning her off, how dependent they are, they really need you.

Taking the time to finally set up the record player in Lily’s room with her gone for camp now and dwelling there, looking at her things. All the gracelessness and beauty of growing up. Then later, finding the ring she bought for me in Mexico, I thought I’d lost. And wondering if it was a small sign of something inexplicable, this love for a child. How Charlotte expressed that for Lily in the one-page memoir she wrote for her school project—and called it “Changes,” describing the night she woke up and Lily had gone to the hospital, and what that felt like. And how she uses Lily’s name for her iPhone passcode, breaking it down into digits: 5159. “Lily.”

How I lay in bed with Dawn in the morning thinking our lives are so sweet right now, we have nothing to worry about. Though my work contract is ending soon, I’m taking the month of August off and my old job is asking me back, as if it was all meant to be.

The caterpillar on the side table by my chaise lounge out back, how it wiggles like a tiny finger with a fur coat, with a face on the tip. And reaches tentatively, to climb the metal rail beneath my arm but can’t. And winds its way around the edge of the table repeating the same task as though it’s forgotten, or thinks this time it can make the leap, to climb to my seat. How writing (or any leap of faith) can feel that way: like setting off from the comfort of the known into a space with no ceiling or floor, just belief in the unknowing. How frail that belief can feel. And yet it decides everything for us, for however much space we choose to cross in our lifetimes.

How the dog and cat sit looking at our new neighbors, as if they’re a threat to us: and I feel that way, too.

The fact that with no fences between us, our pets can roam free range across their back yard, the dog likely peeing and sometimes crapping: the cat, hunting and sometimes beheading small mammals. How they squeak like bath toys when they’re caught, and I have to intervene.

The neighbor kids are toddlers with imaginary dialogues and cartoon voices, and the dad is bent over a squealing power tool that stops just long enough you can imagine how quiet it would be without the sound, before resuming. The power tool is a beast pausing to catch its breath, to reload. It is a shrill, dry sound of blade cutting against rock. The tool shrieks and stops for a time, and far away a dog barks, a tree limb snaps, the dog stirs from her spot beneath the bush and you can hear the sound of bird song once more: the long collapse of day in rueful, joyous tones. The kids are laughing and rolling on a plastic moving thing, you can tell by the sound of the wheels lurching against the pavement, sometimes snagging, sometimes getting stuck. It is the sound of growing up in small increments and frames. The kids are out with their plastic shovels making it a play thing, beside dad and his power tool: like somehow they can all be together and coexist like that in a joyful, family balance. And it makes me miss my own.

Staying out back on the chaise lounge until the tops of the tall trees turn gold, the time when the sky turns pink. Playing old Fleetwood Mac and reminiscing about the Rosé we used to buy in France, the one that only cost 10 French Francs for five liters and came in plastic cubes with grape patterns; filling them like growlers at the local wine shop.

I stayed up until the bats came out and the clouds circled in, and put the patio pillows under the eaves in case it rained. The wind kicked up and the leaves sounded like applause and soon, I knew, it would be getting dark. Perhaps it was just the knowledge of it turning that made me feel cold.

That sense when the kids are gone that I can still hear them upstairs, a phantom nerve feeling like an amputee’s, the same as when Dawn and I would be away on a date but still feel their presence in the back seat: how much our kids define us, and help us reconcile our real, selfish selves: and maybe teach us how to be more than ourselves in the process, to leave ourselves behind.


Categories: identity, Memoir, parenting, prose, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. A lot of beauty in this one, like a still evening close sitting on the grass, no chair or blanket.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You’ve managed such big strides in a little space, everything working so well with transition/transformation, quite a trip from the ill-favored realities of daily life, gumming/mid-suck/shit/litter/puke, unmanageable adolescence, sounds of power tools & animals dying — carrying us along to something reflective and beautiful. Really excellent.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Robert! Happy summer to you and not sure how I missed this, was offline a few days visiting a friend. Wow, super kind observations here and thank you. Have been in a writing slump and it’s this kind of encouragement from you that keeps me going. Thank you my friend! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I get depressed when my kids are away too.


  4. …always joy threaded through with melancholy, and melancholy woven with joy in your writings. It’s a delicate balance. Such a pleasure to read your blog, Bill.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Bill.
    A slump, eh? Nothing visible here except a fine flow of life and reflection. I felt like the leaves; gentle applause for such beautiful writing.
    – Bruce

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a deep well you dipped into there Bill. Really beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

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