Fear, Guilt, Love

They leave at 11:05 this morning. I know it’s 11:05 because I look at the mantel clock to see how many years, months, weeks and hours since the last time I was in my house overnight alone. It’s a quick tally as I realize: never.

Sure there was Girls’ Weekend in Vegas in 2008 when I fell apart crying as my best friend backed us out of my driveway, my son in the window. There was a solo trip to Arizona, I cannot remember what town, in 2010, booked on Expedia ten days after my daughter weaned herself. I lay by the pool reading Eat, Pray, Love–perhaps the only circumstance under which I could have focused on a book with no pictures.

But these 28 hours alone in my house, in my own habitat. This is new. And brought to me by my dear husband who sensed that I needed some time to myself agreed that my staying home this weekend was cheaper than another trip to the American Southwest.

“Good-bye, good-bye, I love you,” I call as they back down the driveway. As much as I’ve looked forward to this, as they enter our street I think, “What have I done?” My whole life is in that car, and they’re about to hurtle down the interstate. Watching their little arms wave, I pray once again to the God I have to believe in, one that can keep rain from making the road wet, that can make drunk drivers stop in their tracks and say, wait a minute, this is dangerous. Standing in my slippers in the driveway, it’s all I have: bring them home safe bring them home safe bring them home safe.




Now, how can I have these two feelings at the same time? The ache to hold my babies and the giddiness that they’re not here?

Giddy starts to gain ground. I step back inside, take off my slippers. Inside is quiet, like church on a Monday. I can’t believe I’m alone. I shake my head and chuckle like I just opened a letter with good news, like I forgot an old bank account with four thousand dollars, like there was a typo on my birth certificate and I’m actually six years younger.

I feel like I don’t want them to come home. How could a mother think that? What kind of self-centered degenerate am I? I just want to be, to breathe, to read a poem, think a thought. I want to say, “Hello, self,” and see if anyone answers, if anyone else is still there, under all this momness.

And I want to get a ton done! I have great plans for these 28 hours alone:

Clean out the front closet
Organize the closet in the office (all those yearbooks) (and a bag of yarn)
Vacuum the upstairs especially under the beds
Take all the stuff to Goodwill, after recording it for tax purposes
Clean out the refrigerator (how long does tofu keep?)
Bleach the shower curtain liner
Read a book
Finish my screenplay
After I finish the screenplay, take a bath
Scrub the bathtub marker off the bath (this should come before that last one)
Work out
Remember my locker combination (this should also come before that last one)
Return four emails
Write thank you notes from my birthday
Watch a romantic comedy my husband would willingly sit through but it’s not the same when the other person isn’t moved by Hugh Grant.
Pack away the train set, Erector Set, race track, Legos, the other Legos, train station, barn animals, tow truck, fire truck, doll house, doll bed, doll stroller, doll wagon, doll clothes, tea set, easel, scissors, magnets, crayons and markers, three sizes of drawing pad, wooden blocks, bristle blocks, ABC blocks, trampoline and Sit and Spin and see if the kids notice.

By lunch time my throat is dry. I haven’t spoken a word. Not a “Whaaa-aaat?” or a “Just a seccccc-ond” or “I’m commmmmm-ing.” (We do a lot of shouting between rooms.) I’ve texted and emailed two people, I’ve crawled in bed to read two chapters in If Walls Could Talk and taken a twelve minute nap. (No reflection on the book which is quite interesting if you like historical stuff.) I heat up a bowl of soup and say, out loud, “I’m so happy” because I am. I don’t want them to come back.

I’m so relieved to be alone that I wash the lunch dishes smiling. I laugh, at nothing. I twirl from one end of the kitchen to the other, arms out wide. I march like a mouse in the Nutcracker. I’ve found my self and she is apparently in kindergarten. I don’t want them to come back. I want to carry a basket of clean laundry from the basement to the upstairs without being flagged down to make waffles, read Maisy, or find Edward’s tender. Without someone shouting “Wait!” and wanting to come upstairs with me so I stand halfway on the stairs holding the laundry basket and then they don’t want to come upstairs anymore but every time I take one more step upstairs they shout “Wait!” again but they won’t move. I want to go up my stairs. I don’t want them to come back.

I want to open a drawer and put away the T-shirts and then close the drawer and open another one and put away the pants. I find it incredible that putting away one load of laundry can take me hours. I don’t like being a person who takes hours to put away one load of laundry. I used to be quite fast at it actually. I don’t want them to come back.

I talk to the kids on FaceTime, my husband holds up the phone to show me them dancing around their bedroom at Grandma’s. One in navy thermals, the other in green. Their freshly scrubbed faces are the faces of heaven. It hurts that I can’t touch them. They dance and shout and squeal. Are they always that loud? I know that they are. Happy kids. Happy, loud kids. Miracles. Happy, loud miracles.

I stay up late that night. I write with the door closed. It usually causes a disturbance when Mom closes a door, it shakes people up. They wonder why Mom would need to be alone and immediately knock on the door to see if she needs help finding something to do. I go to bed at 11 and read until almost 12. It is so quiet. I love reading in bed. I want to lie in bed and read and be quiet and not talk and not listen to anyone. I want it to stay like this. I miss this. I don’t want them to come back.

In the first episode of Downton Abbey, there is a sharp rap on housemaid Anna’s door, waking her to the dawn and the day’s work. She wakes wearily from sleep and says, “Just once I’d like to wake up natural.” I’ve been curious what time I would wake up naturally, would it still be 5:50am without the sound of a three year old singing out that she needs to go poop. The answer turns out to be ten minutes after nine. It’s light. I look at the clock and smile, stretch. This is like one long extended orgasm. This feels amazing. This is so, so good.

I don’t want them to come back. I assume and expect that this feeling will change, but I start to worry that it won’t. I get nervous. My husband calls again and we do FaceTime again. The kids have a show they want mommy to see: my son is sort of running in place with his arms pumping over his head. My daughter is circling an exercise ball while trying to bounce it. They each sing a song of their own invention. They have not worked out the melodies together.

“Honey?” I say, curious.

“Yeah?” He puts the phone to his ear.

Something has occurred to me and I just need a quick confirmation. “They’re always like this, aren’t they?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

I love them intensely. I don’t want them to come back. It’s almost noon on the second day. I’m really starting to worry. I am going to miss them at some point, right?

I take a shower and use up all the hot water because there’s no one to save it for. I give myself a facial. I read–I can’t believe it–the newspaper. This is my third cup of coffee drunk while still warm. I keep thinking of more things that are hard to do when the kids are here, like listening to Keb Mo instead of “Listen to Your Body When You Need to Go Potty.” (This sounds ungrateful, this has been a really helpful song.)

About two o’clock, the sun comes out. Light hits the leaves. Lipstick reds and fiery plums. I put on boots, coat, and head outside. It’s that simple. It takes thirty seconds between when I decide to go for a walk and when I am on the walk. I forget how simple things are.

I stop at nothing. I don’t look at ants on the sidewalk, I don’t jump in puddles. I don’t complain about the breeze on Claiborne and want to turn around. I don’t ask how manhole covers come off. I stop at stop signs. No one takes my hand. I don’t wonder anything, and I don’t forget anything.

Baltimore, Washington, New York. I remember other cities I have walked through. On Sunday fall afternoons like this one, alone, a family of one. I would walk and walk, for miles. I don’t know why exactly. I was younger and I think I thought I was absorbing life by walking through it, soaking up the collective urban experience. That I would learn the rhythms, take on the beats as my own. Or maybe that I would finally turn a corner and find my street, a strange place I would recognize instantly, and with a wave of relief I would finally, somewhere in this world, feel at home.

I want them to come back. I turn left and left again, along the park and then north toward my house. I know it’s going to be empty when I get there but I still want to get there. I know there will be only more hour on the couch by the fireplace, one more chapter of a book, one more cup of coffee. I’m tired of coffee. One more hour until they pull safely into the driveway. My son will enter first, asking if I’ve found his night vision goggles. My daughter will want me to jump with her “higher higher higher”. My husband will mention that the kids haven’t eaten. Within minutes there will be shrieks and whining and arguments about stuffed animals. Duffel bags sprouting dirty clothes.

I won’t love it. Say what you will. I still won’t love it. But I want them back. In an hour.

In a minute.

Watch the clock.


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