Elihu has flown the coop. He’s gone off to college and left me alone with the chickens.
I’ve certainly known this was coming, I’ve prepared my heart for weeks, for months. Years, really. This is the happy ending of a success story, right? All is as it should be. And yet, somehow things here still feel a bit off. Empty, and unresolved in some way. The house feels quieter than I’d thought it would. It certainly isn’t the first time I’ve been alone here, but this time it’s different. I can feel the absence of his energy. And my days are no longer structured around my son. Instead, my days must now be created in service to this new life of mine – one which I’ve yet to figure out.
There is no schedule to adhere to anymore. There are no mandatory breakfasts being cooked at sunrise, there are no shuttles running to and from school each day, nor to after-school clubs or rehearsals. There are no quick runs to the soccer field to make videos of a new craft. There are no appointments, no lessons, no trips to the hardware store for building materials, no kids meeting up after school at the downtown coffee shop, and there is no driving of friends home afterward. And – there is no dinner to prepare. This is what leaves the biggest hole of all. Each evening it’s just me and the TV. I suppose this is how much of the world’s lone-dwellers spend their evenings, but it’s not ideal. It certainly falls far short of the wonderful meals we shared each day which were always full of thoughtful conversation, imaginative philosophising, and of course, all-out mirth. (Doing some casual calculations I figure Elihu and I have shared some 8,000 meals at this table over the past thirteen years here!)
At the end of the school day when my piano students arrive, there is no big kid swinging through to show off a new parlor flyer or to bring a friendly rooster inside the house for an up-close visit. I catch myself beginning to tell a student an anecdote about my son, but then midway it begins to feel like a ‘you shoulda been there’ tale. A pointless rambling about the old days told by the backwoods piano teacher with all those chickens running around her yard. (‘Crazy cat lady’ comes too close for comfort these days.) So I resist the urge to bring in this extra character, because he’s just not relevant now. There is no house bassist anymore whom I can summon from his basement workshop to accompany impromptu jams, there is no tubist on the premises who’ll happily sit in for a few bars during a lesson. It’s just us now. We’re on our own now, the chickens and me.
The somewhat dingy image that accompanies this post is, sadly, the only photo I have of the canvas illustration which hung over my bed from the time I was five years old until the time I left the house. That image – of a young woman with a baby boy in her arms, cat and bird on her head, flowers all around – was deeply familiar to me. I saw it every day of my life as I was growing up. I had always adored the saturated pink and orange colors, and the picture’s charming sense of whimsy further endeared me to it. The image always made me feel like I was home. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I began to associate myself with the woman, but at that time I couldn’t imagine what my relationship to the child was. As the neighborhood’s babysitter, it seemed fitting that the young boy could easily be thought of as my charge. Many years later, after we’d moved to upstate New York, I’d found a photocopy of the long-since gone artwork and tacked it to the wall of my office. It comforted me to have a version of the piece still with me. But here in our new home – after our big change, our separation from life as a family of three and our having now become a family of two (plus the cat) – I realized that the picture represented me and my boy. This was also Mina, our cat, and the bird on the top, well, that was every bird that Elihu ever saw and loved.
The image represents so simply and beautifully the experience that we two have shared over the past thirteen years here at the Hillhouse. We have learned about more subjects than either of us will ever be able to recall. But more important than any academic knowledge was the experiential learning that took place on this very special homestead.
Because of our unexpected life, my son is a nature boy and I am a country woman, and we are both so much wiser, and our lives so much richer for it.
On occasion life seems to perfectly scripted, doesn’t it? In spite of twists and turns – or maybe precisely because of those twists and turns – things often work out in a strangely correct way. Wonderful outcomes can appear in the wake of chaos and disastrous events. Not always, but thankfully, sometimes.
This was definitely one of those times.
You may visit my ongoing life here.