After a two-hour drive from the Cape back to Boston and a six-hour flight home, I didn’t know exactly what to expect of how I would feel upon entering a house without a child. I mean, sure, she’d gone to summer camp for the past few summers but certainly this would feel different. More hollow. More... permanent. Maybe the house would suddenly smell of mothballs and gin. I wondered if I should let Daniel walk the luggage inside and come back and get me, in case I fell apart crossing the threshold. Or in consideration of his potential feelings, we should carry the luggage to the door, open the door and then support one another as we fell apart.
[Or fell apart after carefully closing the door behind us as I can’t imagine grieving is any more pleasant if you’re trying to coax the cats back inside. Crying or wielding a laser pointer, not both.]
Somehow in the chaos of keys and luggage and hushing the dog from the yard, we got inside. I did what I always do immediately upon returning from a trip, I started a load of laundry. The pets behaved so obnoxiously they got what I knew full well was a second dinner. Daniel asked if I wanted to see the most recent episode of “EPISODES.”
This I did. It was an excellent half-hour.
This morning, I woke to the sound of an idiot complaining. We have two cats. Sisters. Squeakers and Diana. Squea prefers me. Diana is fixated on the kid. This is the only quality about Diana I can describe because, candidly, she is the most stupid cat I have ever lived with. If she ambles into the space between an open door and the wall behind it, she cries until someone saves her because she hsn't figured out how to either back up or turn around. But this morning she was having her annual idea and making such a racket I had to go determine what she needed and either give it to her or eat her.
Everyone had warned us how the child’s bedroom will be a bottomless pool of nostalgia, to be entered only if you are willing to book out a half-day for sobbing and watching home movies in the den with the drapes closed. With this in mind, we had closed the kid’s door before we left. The noise I was hearing was Diana running head-first into the door and then meowing, either because she was thwarted or because her head hurt. I felt badly for her. Daniel and I could text with the kid. Diana could not. Whatever pain the sight of my daughter’s childhood bedroom caused me was worth returning Diana to her familiar sights and smells. Also, the sound was terrible and Diana appeared to be learning nothing. Tentatively, I opened the door. Diana dashed in, jumped on the bed, crowed in triumph and trash-talked her tail for a while. I glanced in.
Then, I looked in a bit longer.
Finally I stood in the doorway.
My feelings were deep, pure and sincere.
“My God,” I said, “This room is a disaster.”
The Program had provided a detailed list of what to bring. The kid was adamant we not help her, it was her list, her life, and SHE’S NEARLY AN ADULT AND THE ONLY PERSON IN THE HOUSE WHO CAN GO ON SNAPCHAT WITHOUT CAUSING AN INCIDENT. Her father and I, benumbed by getting things notarized were aware she was days away from needing to make decisions on her own, so we didn’t put up a fight. The luggage we had taken to the airport was of such immense weight and volume I never really thought about what she left behind. I certainly hadn’t considered everything she left behind might be strewn about her bedroom. It was like Dr. Moreau had created a combination of a tornado and a drag queen. I felt pain, but not like what I was promised.
My eye rested upon something on the ground. Workout leggings. She’s much taller than I am, but leggings are leggings. With all my obsessive walking, I go through workout clothes at a clip. We'd just spent a ton of money getting her to Europe so it seemed only fair these pants — which, it must also be noted, I had paid for — get some wear. I grabbed that pair, and then another pair I spied under the bed.
Fashion insiders have a term, “Shopping your closet,” meaning to find new ways to use things you already own. For twenty glorious minutes, I shopped the kid’s room with all the emotional investment of a coroner in a morgue. I spotted a children’s book she and I had loved dearly which I casually moved to the side because I thought I saw a really nice hoodie tucked underneath.
We put her on the plane a week ago today. I’ve cried three times since she left. I’m still pretty certain my brain has decided this is just her three-week trip to sleepaway camp and on day twenty-two I am going to seal up her bedroom door and that idiot cat had better be on the right side of it. But for those people not here yet, I must admit I've felt far worse about far less consequential things and right now, I am kind of excited to see what comes next.