Thursday, May 19, 2016

Seven Weeks In

The dryer's humming. In the bedroom, another load of whites and one of colors is only half folded. The guys are in bed, surely not asleep yet, but in bed. Mike called to say he was okay at camp, that he cleaned toilets again in preparation for the training he'll do tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday. No one else wanted to do the toilets, he said. I've cleaned those toilets. I can imagine the quiet work he did today. There would be spiders, the smell of Ajax, worn sponges, and rubber gloves.

That was the only peaceful part of my day, imagining Mike cleaning toilets. Humbling, I texted him. Meditative.

I'm not managing meditative actions on my own. Nicki told me she could tell I was agitated today, distracted, chattering on and on. I heard myself, barely pausing for a breath, not quite staying connected to our conversation, switching from one subject to another. I felt like a discarded grocery bag being blown in circles in the wind, only hoping for a chain link fence at the back of the parking lot to hold me still for a moment.

Four or five times, I've felt a fluttering under my ribs as if I were about to give a speech or walk a crowded aisle in very high heels and a very short skirt. Do you remember those days? I do. I was not an easy girl. Being pretty was a mortification all its own. I was not clumsy, but I never carried it off, the heels and short skirts. It was all about confidence, my friends told me. Own it, they told me. I did not own the heels and short skirts or any eyes that followed me then. Heels and short skirts made my heart flutter.

That fluttering came back into me as I sat still and on my own in my house today. It came yesterday afternoon when the house was still empty for just a few minutes longer in the afternoon. It came this morning like that spring the poor male robin thrashed against the window over and over until he was exhausted. I haven't washed my windows since. The rival mirroring his aggressive movements in that clean window never quite made contact he could smell but battered him still. The fluttering is there now, inside my ribs, battering itself in its own reflection.

I could blame my busy schedule, Mike's absence, Nick's mild virus. But I have to add my lack of privacy in my own home, the way my nephew walks silently into a room in an attempt to be quiet. He ends up unnerving me further. Who walks through a house without turning on the lights? Someone who feels bad about existing in my space, someone who's trying to be as invisible as he can. The unwanted child trying not to be a bother.

Oh, he's only a kid. He's a big kid, but he's a kid, not ready to move away from the ones he knows, not quite happy staying put. Our house is a waypoint for him, a lake in the middle of his migration, a thousand miles from home, but not completely unfamiliar. I see it now the way I didn't see it before.

It won't help. It won't keep me from startling when I walk into the living room and find him already sitting there. It won't make me stop wondering where he is when I go into the shower knowing full well that the cat can so easily open the bathroom door and often does. I imagine that quiet boy walking past then and how we would both be so mortified.

It doesn't stop me from being embarrassed when something inappropriate comes on the television when we two are the last ones watching at night. All of this is an exercise in shame.

I remember when my nephew was a boy, bigger than his older brother but two years younger. He was five. One day during a visit, we walked under wisteria growing over an awning over my brother's deck. His mother, my sister, was still in the house, no doubt wrangling a toddler and a seven year old. As I stepped down onto my brother's stone steps, my nephew yelled, "Tie my shoes!" I'm not sure he even remembered my name then. He'd put his shoes on, but the laces dangled from either sides of his feet. "Tie my shoes now!" I remember the way I tucked my chin and looked at him over the top of my glasses.

"Tie your own shoes," I'd replied and I walked away. I didn't have kids then. I had expected that a small boy would use the word please because I'd heard his mother use it often. I had expected that a five year old would be practicing with his laces, trying, at least.

He looked at me then, so lost, so angry, and confused at the same time. I wasn't, in fact, as easy as his mother. I looked like her. Shouldn't I act like her too, all soft and comforting and compliant? My sister doesn't like confrontation. My sister is the nurturing one.

I seemed to have been given all the fight and none of the mothering when DNA was handed out.

And I am still that same aunt, not as nurturing, not anticipating my nephew's needs. I didn't see that he was an adult who wasn't quite ready to be on his own. I was supposed to give him the backup nest, the home away from home for when he was really ready to move into his own place and wash his own dishes and make his own meals. At five, he didn't want to be old enough to tie his own shoes. Didn't I understand that? Don't I understand it now?

The fluttering in my chest says I do. I do. I do.

Thank you for listening, jb

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