A quiet moment emerges, a rare stretch of minutes when the children do not bicker or whine or remind me what I already know, that we are out of milk and cheese and apples, which reminds me of ten errands necessary, which reminds me of the state of our end-of-summer bank account, which reminds me of too much everyday reality… I’ve been avoiding everyday reality, or taking it so slowly that the impact seems less. I’ve been sleeping and sleeping, with my waking hours filled as Brendan practices his new finger-snapping skills (I worry about neural pathways, and whether he will snap through every stressful or boring moment of his life, surely bringing the rest of the family to our very last nerve… or maybe it’s just me.)
Nonetheless a quiet moment emerges (see me now untangle and tame those frayed edges) and I rush to the laptop—can I write? I know, I know that writing and sleeping are not conducive to interruption, that it’s better not to start at all if I will only be stopped a few minutes in. She is at a friend’s house. He is working with tiny plastic beads that melt when a hot iron is applied, crafting pieces of plastic trash with nice designs—who invents these things? Weave me a lanyard anytime, but decorative bits of carefully arranged plastic?
The naked footpads slap the hallway, as he brings his amazing double-snapping fingers in to show me, asking if I can also snap both sets of fingers without stopping. His dark-bright eyes throw merriness directly at me. His smile exposes several half-grown teeth, interspersed with several gaps where teeth are still “lost.” Corn is an impossible meal this summer, apples must be sliced. How, how did he ever get so pretty, this boy? He snaps his way out of the room, happy to get back to the un-ironed beads.
I arrived home in the wee small hours of Tuesday morning, and in the dark I didn’t even look at the window boxes on the porch—I knew the plants were all dead, knew I’d forgotten to leave instructions to water. Still in the dark I found myself staring at a spatter painting held onto the refrigerator with magnets, adoring a vase of wildflowers left for me with a note, sleepwalking into their bedroom to smell them, to turn off Brendan’s radio headset and stroke his face. I stared out the window at the fishing boats as the clock turned to 4 a.m.
I love this place and these people, love my friends and my church and many of my neighbors. And I’m not ready to be back. My head and heart whir with the conversations, stirrings, tears, landscapes of the past fortnight, which seems like a month or a year instead of just a two weeks. I’ve been traveling.
Reading a book called Bewildered Travel: The Sacred Quest for Confusion. Perhaps my extended state of disorientation is related to my reading…
Emily’s bracelet still graces my wrist, and each time I glance at it I mouth the word “sentimental” with a little edge to it. (“Sentimental” is an insult in the world of writing, believe it or not.) The coming year requires hard work, and likely I will lean hard on my closest writing-friends from this MFA program. I don’t know when I’ll see Emily again, or two other irreplaceable friends who write, who critique and help and pray for me to see beneath the surface of my writing. But I listen to their words and critiques because my attachment is sentimental first, then solid, then life-changing, as good friendship is. I can’t wonder too much when I’ll see them next—I’m too close to tears already.
The bare feet slap my way again, without finger-snapping—he’s built “a rainbow circle,” and he wants to show me, where I sit typing on the edge of my bed. I will find the iron, I say, if he can make just one more project and find me the instructions, so I don’t destroy my iron. He promises he will, as he carefully carries his plastic collection back to his work space. He places the plastic project down flat, then snaps both fingers while whistling and dancing to The Star-Spangled Banner.
We’ve been full of sleepy kisses and hugs since my return, these children and I. They are bored and fussy just like every other child in mid-August, but they missed me, missed my cooking and my craft projects and my singing along to the stereo. Last night they asked me to pick lullaby music and sing while they drifted to sleep. In my more cynical moments I’ve hoped beyond hope that they don’t think of me only as a grouch, as a boss, as the person who makes them pick up their things and hurry up. I’ve hoped they hear more than my hypersensitive hiss “I need quiet to think, you two! Let me hear my own thoughts and stop talking!” I’ve hoped they remember me singing, dancing while chopping vegetables, kissing the tops of their heads, sprinkling cinnamon into the sauce for salmon. And for a joke, I bought a little pouch with a cowgirl on it that reads “The Boss Lady Says So.”
Today I will need to find the car keys (here somewhere, I know) and take Brendan out to the bank, and maybe for a scone at the tea shop. I’ve not left the neighborhood parking lot since I arrived home from Santa Fe. I suppose I can’t put it off forever. Perhaps I’ll also open the mailbox, another traveling adventure, and maybe even buy some milk. After we iron the plastic. After I unpack five or six more things, slowly. If I unpack my suitcases, will I be forced to arrive? Maybe I should read my book instead, while he hums and arranges bright colors, before he asks me for “an-dult super-bision” with the iron.
Thank you, dear friends and readers, lest I forget this is a letter to you. I would not be in an MFA program, nor believe myself a writer, without your encouragement. Ask me questions if you’d like. I’m still a little dazed, but the more I write about this amazing experience of grad school, the more I sort it out and emerge from the fog of what seems to be a double life. I’ll need your support in the coming year—I’ll need everything everyone can give me.
Another cool rain, this one with thunder. Time to find the iron. Oh-- he's found it already. "Okay, mom," he says and plugs it in. The breeze scrubs us all clean as the thing heats up.