Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dichotomy of Home

The phone rang late Friday night. Well, 9:30PM is late at my parents’ house. Mom was napping in the living room and Dad had been in bed for over an hour. I, super-cool person that I am, was just beginning to drift to sleep in the back bedroom when I scurried down the hall to stop the ringing.

“Can I talk to [Dad]?” A man asked and I frowned a bit. Anyone who knows my father is aware that he goes to bed quite early.

“I’m afraid he’s asleep.” I offered, polite, but cool. “May I take a message?”

“Oh, this is Chris LastName.” He said apologetically. “We were just talking and I thought I’d call to see how he was. But don’t wake him – it’s not a big deal.”

I recognized the name, though I couldn’t place the man. But after a moment my brain pieced together the voice and the name and realized he was an old friend of Dad’s. I immediately warmed my tone.

“Oh, Chris.” I said. “I’m sure he’ll want to speak to you. Does he have your number? I could write it down.”

“I can try to call another time.” He said. “It really wasn’t important.”

“It’s just that he goes to work really early during the week, so he’s in the habit of sleeping before it gets too late. I could try to wake him up.” I said. Then I interrupted his protest to offer that Mom was going down the hall.

“Mom?” He repeated. “Who’s this?”

“Oh.” I said, smiling. “This is his daughter – I’m visiting for Mother’s Day. I sound a lot like my mom.”

“You sound old.” He replied and I laughed a bit.

“Well, I am.” I said lightly, offering my age when he asked.

“Wow.” He breathed. “Twenty-eight? I remember when you were just starting to talk!”

I sighed, then said that Brother was nearly 24 and expecting his second child, as if deflecting attention would make the years that exist between now and then somehow fewer. Then I heard Dad talking to Mom and took the phone down the hall. I finished a Quiznos salad at the dining room table – a place the four of us gathered every night to share dinner and stories. Now it’s just Mom and Dad that eat there, save the occasions where Little One or Brother or Brother’s wife is around. Dad spoke to several friends while he laid in bed down the hall in the room that used to be mine. He bragged about my PhD and Brother’s children, listened to stories of other kids who are no longer as young as he remembers them being, and caught up with several old friends.

It is strangely familiar and foreign to stay at my parents’ house as I space my visits further and further apart. I’m finding that the memories of how things used to be are seeming older, perhaps a bit more faded. And though I don’t necessarily want to go back, I’m a bit startled at how different life sometimes seems. As if it shouldn’t change at all while I’m away, though I know it must and does.

“Wasn’t there something outside before?” Dad asked on Saturday evening as we watched Little One, Little Cousin, and Boy Cousin play on the playground to one side of the church. We went there for a dinner and gathered at one end of a lengthy table. After standing in line for supper, eating, clearing our plates and getting cake, the kids made their way to the tiny plastic slides and teeter totter. I followed to take some pictures. “You did go to preschool here.”

“I honestly don’t remember, Dad.” I said, frowning to focus. “There might have been something, but that was a long time ago.”

I do remember Grandma, I thought. There are steps leading to the preschool classrooms in the basement of the church. When I didn’t want to go, she took my hand and walked those steps with me. When I was scared to stay alone, she’d coax me into the classroom then wait outside the door on those stairs. I’d peek out to make sure she was waiting – keeping me safe and loved and ready to take me home if I needed to escape the colorful confines of preschool. But I don’t recall what – if anything – used to lie outside those particular doors. And the woman who sat on those uncomfortable steps every day has been gone for far too long.

I’m almost 30, I thought with dismay. And I really don’t feel I should be. Where did the time go between when I lived with these people in that house? When we talked every night and knew each other so well? How did things change so much?

Yet there are constants at home. I slept in on Saturday morning, walking down the hall at the late hour of 7:30, my steps making a hollow sound on the floor above our full basement. Dad says Mom and I walk too hard – we apparently sound like a herd of elephants. I rather like the noise though and have made no attempt to alter the weight of my steps. By 7:00, they’d both been in the guest room twice. Dad to open a window since it was so cool outside. Mom to cover me up in case I got too cold. Dad to come in to see if I was awake yet and wanted coffee he made. Mom again to see if I was ready to get up and plant flowers. Each time, I’d feel them look at me as I swam slowly toward full consciousness. Then they’d wander back down the hall to tell the other I wasn’t awake yet.

We did plant flowers on Saturday, drank coffee, went shopping, dealt with cable internet, had dinner at church. It was rather lovely.

This morning, I woke at 6:30. I was ready to be awake, but aware that my head had bothered me all night. Rather than taking Advil and nipping the problem early, I’d allowed the pain to build into a migraine. Upon getting upright, I realized I had a large problem and grabbed Advil before proceeding to the living room.

“My head hurts.” I announced as I flopped on one corner of the couch. Mom looked up with an expression of concern from her armchair. Dad asked why I hadn’t seen more doctors as he perused the paper from his recliner in the corner. I ended up going back to bed after sipping coffee Dad proudly brought to me. I got up again to ask for a Tylenol – the headache was growing and throbbing and I wanted it to ease.

“You shouldn’t mix medicine.” Dad advised, but Mom got her pill bottle and offered me a red capsule.

“Are you OK?” She asked softly. “Can I get you anything?” I shook my head, took the pill, then headed to the bathroom. I turned on the tub so I could listen to the water run – it soothes me – and patted the dog as she sat next to me in the room. I felt myself gag a bit and moaned. I hate throwing up. I very rarely do it because I fight the impulse so very hard. It’s awful for me – always has been. I just hate it.

So it was with some shock that I found I was going to do so this morning. Chienne panicked and started to cry. She made a grateful escape when the bathroom door opened. As she always has, Mom turned off the water in the tub and wet a washcloth in the sink. She reached around me to flush the toilet and wiped my face after I finished, then rubbed my back as I rested my cheek on her shoulder and hugged.

“I don’t like throwing up.” I told her.

“I know.” She said, voice soothing. “You never did.”

We walked down to the back bedroom together – the room that Brother used to have growing up, still painted a peach color – and I settled on the trundle bed. She sat in the red rocking chair she used when Brother and I were babies. After a moment, I stopped trembling from the nausea and scooted to the edge of the bed. She immediately stopped rocking and nudged the chair closer and rubbed my head.

When I started to sleep, she rose and quietly left the room. She and Chienne went outside to plant more flowers. Mom likes to have a row of flowers and vegetables around the edge of the fenced in yard. It’s rather silly, I think. She has sunflowers along the back of the fence, tomatoes in the corner, squash and pumpkins toward one side, peas and beans along the other side fence. Brother and I tease her, but she continues to plant her odd little garden every year. I heard her come in and out, the screen door making its distinctive sound in its tracks as she checked on me.

I woke an hour later and felt much better. Loved and comfortable and home. Things do change and will continue to do so even as I search for a way to live closer to my family. But the depth and certainty of our love for and knowledge of each other commands confidence that there’s always a home waiting for me when I need it.

So the weekend – even with its odd tugs of regret that I’m aging – was lovely. Filled with plants and their rich, earthy smell and delicate blossoms, playgrounds with bright colors and toddlers’ laughter, voices that were infinitely familiar even as they told stories I hadn’t heard before. I miss them already, even as I’m pleased and comfortable to be back in my own house.


repressed librarian said...

"But the depth and certainty of our love for and knowledge of each other commands confidence that there’s always a home waiting for me when I need it."

This is a lovely post, and that is a powerful statement, something I envy you for and am grateful you have.

Anonymous said...

“You sound old.” He replied and I laughed a bit.

“Well, I am.” I said lightly, offering my age when he asked.

“Wow.” He breathed. “Twenty-eight?”

You remind me a lot of myself when I was that young, though fortunately my dissertation defense weirdness wasn't as bad as yours. Working as a postdoc is really stressful, especially if you're an overly responsible perfectionist who compares herself to the best instead of to those around her.

I've been there, and I must confess I'm still there in many ways. However, while I remember thinking I was old at 28, looking back from a mere decade later, I can't believe how young I was then and how I failed to recognize the advantages of age. Unfortunately, many of the advantages are qualities you can't understand without having them yourself. I will say though that I'm no longer depressed and that I've got a much better sense of perspective (which helps a lot with reducing stress) than I had in my 20's. In short, there's hope. My 30's have been a lot better than my 20's, and a close friend keeps telling me that her 40's are much better than her 30's.

rented life said...

Someone once said my mom and I looked like sisters, another said twins. I was mortified. I mean, good for mom for looking so young but how much I look? I've also been mistaken for her on the phone...even by dad!!

I feel the same way you do about throwing up. I'd rather be any other kind of sick.

post-doc said...

Thank you - you're always very kind.

I really do get your point. I feel like I'm at the odd point where I'm not yet comfortable being a true adult, yet realizing that I'm no longer even remotely a child. I do believe that time will improve that feeling, so I appreciate the comment.

Rented Life-
I do sound a tremendous amount like my mom, so I'm not overly bothered when people point it out, though it is funny. I'm glad it's not just me that has that happen though. :)

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