On Monday morning, we removed the last piece of furniture from our house in Wilmington: Jack’s baby bed. It had held him as a crib and then as a toddler bed. And now he’s as long as the mattress. He has to sleep diagonally to fit all the way on. So while I distracted Jack with his breakfast, Brian disassembled the little bed and took it and its torn mattress to the curb. When Jack first saw his empty room, he howled. Squatted on the hallway carpet and sobbed, his mouth downturned and open, like a tragedy mask. The emptiness terrified and wounded him.
I get that. Man, do I get that. We had a few friends over two nights earlier, and each guest had the same response to the empty house. Before I saw any of them, I heard their wailing voices. Oh, no! Oh, no! It’s so empty! they cried. We huddled together in a few camp chairs and told funny stories and laughed, but underneath the mirth was a yawning sadness, like a hole under a covering tarp. It reminded me of the party we had at my dad’s house right after his funeral. Most of the furniture was gone, and we just had overhead lights. The stink bugs hovered and circled and darted as we told stories about my difficult funny old dad. His old empty house haunts me now in the one I leave behind by the sea.
Emptiness is an issue with me. I don’t like admitting having lost something I can never replace. I try to fill myself against the loss, like insulation. Literally. Since my mother’s death, I’ve gained about 60 pounds: 20 after she died, 20 when I got married, 20 when my dad died. I could blame pregnancy, but I gained the normal amount there and lost it right away. Jack is not to blame for my recent plus-size purchases because the old gym shorts have gotten too small, too. To be fair, I was about ten pounds underweight when Mom died, thanks to stress and a strict vegetarian diet. So that leaves me with a net 50 pounds.
I struggle with this, of course. A dear friend has talked to me about her success with Overeaters Anonymous. Another friend has agreed to try Weight Watchers online with me. I read a really great blog my friend Becky and her sister Laura keep, about making Good Choices.
But there are miles to go before I sleep. There’s a minefield of emotional and psychological baggage to go along with the physical. I have a lot of work to do on a lot of different levels. Grieve my parents, admit I can’t do some things, admit to the sadness and loss that I feel like radio static in the back of my heart every day. I believe this work will help me be a better mom for Jack, so that my old neuroses don’t run me anymore. So that I can stop battling with him at the dinner table. Food does not in fact solve every problem. Truly, it solves only one problem: hunger. But sadness, boredom, anxiety, not so much.
I will never get my mother back, and nothing ever, ever will fill the void in her absence. I will never, ever get my father back, and no one will ever be him. No one will ever call me peanut or sport again. No one will ever make me laugh like he did, or exasperated like he did. No one will ever look at Jack the way he did as a new grandparent. I will never get that back, and with all of the good in my life, I have to face that reality. That sucks. And it will never not suck, no matter how many successes and joys my life is filled with.
We have left Wilmington, and for the first day or two, we comforted ourselves with the bizarre illusion that we were just going for a jaunt, that we would see these miles of highway (over 1100!) in reverse on our way back “home.” But we’re not going back. We will never go back there. Perhaps to visit, but not like we’ve left it. Not with the cars packed full and a sedated cat in the carrier and all of Jack’s toys in the trunk. We have friends there, still, whom we love. We will see them again, I hope. But our friendships with them must change, change or end.
I’ve recently discovered that my old calculus teacher from high school now lives in Fort Collins with his wife. He tells me that they moved the day after he left his teaching job and retired. I haven’t seen him in a long time, but he was one of my favorite people from those years, kind and funny and smart. His kids are all about my age, with kids of their own now. When I taught at my old high school, for two years after graduating from college, he was one of the few former teachers who accepted me as a colleague. I’m sure that must have been hard for him to do. I was only twenty-two, and I thought I knew everything. But he welcomed me, left me cartoons in my mailbox, offered to help if I had questions. I’ll never forget his kindness. He’s not my dad, but maybe one of those friends who can change along with me.
I keep hoping that living in Colorado will naturally make me exercise more and eat a more healthy diet. There’s always the online Weight Watchers plan, too. And there are gyms, for the snowy months. I hope that the emptiness will make room for us to find and create a new life, a new adventure. When we arrived tonight in our hotel, I ordered a new twin bed for Jack, with a mattress and a sheet set covered in stars and planets. They’ll be there when we get home on Friday.