The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Garden Sky Boy July 21, 2013

This summer will mark the longest time I have been apart from my son in his entire ten years. And in my fifty years. And as of tonite, if fellow mothers may believe it, it’s been a week since I’ve heard his voice. As his father went to Chile for a few days (with not more than a couple days’ notice given to mom), Elihu spent the time with grandpa and girlfriend. But now where is he? Finally, after some unsuccessful calls I check Fareed’s site, and see he’s in Indianapolis (which always gives me pause, as that’s where outside baby #2 – the one I quite honestly have to thank for our new life here – was conceived. Ouch.) So, it’s an organ trio thing. Not exactly the forum for an add-on djembe player. So where’s the kid? I remember Elihu telling me a story about a ghost he once saw at this club (others have also seen the same apparition, apparently), and I wonder if he’s summoned his courage and is walking about, actively seeking a re-encounter as dad swings his thing on stage. Hmm. No clue. Or has he been left with the drummer’s girlfriend in a nearby hotel room? Such are the questions that I, as Fareed’s ex, must ask. I don’t panic. Cuz no news is good news. I think. It’s not the landscape of most post-divorce parenting plans, but it’s the one I have to live with. So I try to push it aside, put it out of my mind, and I keep busy. Which is not really difficult. But still….

In my son’s absence things have changed, both good and bad. How to tell him, when my own heart sank to my knees, that the deer have effectively chomped off every single blessed tendril and stem of our promised bounty – that his beloved sunflowers came so close, only to be clipped short of their blooms… I could weep, only I can’t. I suck it up, plan to lay out some serious 9 gauge frames and massive swaths of remay in hopes of one more shot this year… I’ll keep this one to myself for now, don’t need to break his heart too. Might still save something… At least the new pond and perennial garden will be here to take the sting off of the failed (maybe not quite yet!) garden.

Everything I do in the soil is for us; for Elihu and me. I do love to work outside, and as I work, I hold those visions of this magical property that I hope to create one day; I try to imagine how it might look twenty years hence if I can just somehow manage to get it all done…. Yeah, I work for those faraway goals, but also I work for us, for now. For my son and me, that we might live in a place of beauty (and, of course, an excess of vegetables). Cuz I’m lucky to have a child for whom beauty is important. And lovely things are made lovlier still when they can be shared. But for right now it’s just me, the chickens and Maximus. They’re sweet company, but it is kinda quiet. I really do miss my son. But then I think of how thrilled he’ll be to come home at the end of a long summer away to find a pond with fish, frogs and flowers…  My little nature boy, my singer of songs, my aviator…

As I tidy my computer, tuck away files and make long overdue backups to far-away clouds, I stall a bit, and waste a few moments on a photograph of my baby, just a year ago, maybe just two years ago. Where is my tiny boy now? It seems he’s almost a teenager. Still not quite. He’s still a little boy, and I am grateful, grateful. I only wish that I could hold him just once – to ‘check in’ as he and I say in our own language – then send him back to his father again. But we’ve hardly even reached the halfway point of his summer away. So much longer to go. The photographs help, but they also make progress at my desk difficult. I miss him a lot.

Then I find a piece of Elihu’s writing from the Spring, and I smile. Is he taking after me? I flatter myself. This is nature, not nurture. Well, maybe. Either way, in my head I can hear his voice, reading his newest writing aloud, and he seems a bit closer…

The engine starts, and the propellor whirls around. The cockpit of your spitfire slides into place. Gripping the stick tightly you move across the tarmack of the aircraft carrier. A man waves you on, telling you it’s safe to take off. That is just what you do; revving the engine you speed across the runway of the large boat, you feel your front wheels begin to lift off as you pull back on the stick. You pull up quickly as you reach the end of the boat – and you are in the air. Circling around the boat once you slow down to fly right in front of the boat and make sure you are across from the other fighter planes. Checking on the radio to make sure the other fighters are going to do the same thing as you, you speed off into the clouds, ready for whatever adventures the skies hold for you.

 

Departure February 1, 2013

My heart sunk down to my knees and my body went cold. The kiosk where our Turkish friends sold helicopters at the mall was gone. Gone. In its place a wide expanse of hallway. As if it had never even been there at all. For almost the past two years this place had been mecca for my son. His young life has revolved around his chickens and his helicopters. This is the place he learned to fly. This is the place where he’d test pilot a variety of machines for hours on end while I waited nearby, reading. The two young men who ran the stand always showed Elihu such kindness. At Christmas one even gave him his choice of helicopter – just like that. “Which one do you like?” the man asked. Elihu showed him, and the man handed it over with a smile. No doubt Elihu had probably been responsible for a handful of sales – even so, this was truly an unexpected and sweet gesture. The men would share snacks with Elihu, they’d even leave the stand for a few minutes, trusting Elihu to keep watch in their absence. Truly, this had become an important part of our lives. The kind of place we kinda always thought would be there. And now, it wasn’t.

Thankfully, we’d been there just a few days before. We knew they were concluding their seven year business and moving on. The mall overall wasn’t doing well, their numbers were declining – plus they were getting burnt out on it. We understood. And yet somehow, we couldn’t really believe it. “Come back Friday” they told us, as they’d been working on getting one of Elihu’s helicopters fixed. Not sure why I gave them our info the last time we saw them, but I’m glad I did. It gives us both hope that they might stay in touch… Still, there’s no real closure here, and it’s upsetting. Elihu was so excited about getting his old helicopter back fixed too. Each morning the past two weeks he would count down the days until he picked it up. (I myself was never so confident that they’d been able to help – it seemed to me they were stalling because they didn’t want to disappoint him!) But it wasn’t the loss of his toy that saddened him. It was the loss of his friends, of this joyful oasis in his life for which there was no substitute. But they were just one day short… why? We couldn’t understand it, so I began to search for the story. 

We visited a shopkeeper across the way who I knew to be a fan of Elihu’s. He would stand outside his store, watching Elihu fly, smiling the whole time. He knew us by sight, and thankfully, he was able to fill us in. It seems he’d been witness to their final moments there. Turns out they’d planned on being here Friday. We were not stood up (I didn’t think so, but it was still nice to hear.) There’d been a fight with the mall manager. They’d asked for three extra days, but the manager wouldn’t let them pay a prorated rent, and instead challenged them to pay him half a month’s rent for three more days. Our friends had no choice but to leave. I can imagine they were disappointed to know that Elihu would be let down, that they would not be here for him – either to return his toy or to say goodbye. It wasn’t the ending either party would have chosen. But little we could do. 

I’m proud of Elihu. He didn’t cry, even though it would have been entirely understandable. (Hell, I wanted to!) But he did keep staring at the space, walking back and forth over the spot again and again and repeating “I just can’t believe it…” In the end, we ended up making friends with the store owner, and he said he thought he had the Turkish fellows’ number at home – that he’d bring it in for us. So that made us feel a little better. And we both reminded ourselves that we never know what’s ahead. That sometimes big – and often sad – changes have to happen before something new and different and good can happen. Yeah, we both know that stuff. But it didn’t really make it any less sad. Just a bit more tolerable. 

Time will take the edge off our loss. We’ve both learned a lot from this chapter in our lives, we’re grateful for it, and now it’s reached its conclusion. Some new chapter will begin soon and we’ll learn new things and meet new friends. In time it’ll all sort itself out. After all we both know it’s true; every arrival depends upon a departure…