Category Archives: estrangement

Cold feet

             My in-laws have a shoes-on house, but old habits die hard and Zachary and I usually take our shoes off anyway.  Benjamin, my little nudist, is in good shape if he’s wearing pants, so footwear is pretty much shooting for the moon.

            One evening, as J bathed the kids, I emptied the diaper pail.  We emptied it every night as a courtesy to the noses of our hosts.  I went down to the garage and stepped out onto the cold concrete floor.

            The memory was vague and elusive, yet it was as strong as it was instantaneous.  Something about that cold concrete floor came from long ago, that other time, that other house, that other life when I was the child but there were not any parents.

            That was all the memory I got that time – just the recognition of cold concrete on bare soles.

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            We are having a heat wave in Los Angeles.  My laundry, hung out at two in the afternoon, is folded and put away by four o’clock.  (That’s a lie; it sits in the basket for at least five hours, and when I put it away, I mostly shove it unfolded into drawers.  But, I pull the dry clothes in by 3:20, crisply baked from the sun.)  I keep the blinds closed and even resort to the air conditioner.

            Lilah, sniffling from the cold her grandfather shared, sleeps hard in the afternoon and then nurses with gusto.  Her brothers sound disconcertingly friendly in their play, and when I come out from feeding her, it is clear they need to get out of the house.  It is too hot for a playground, and I am not brave enough to take all three anywhere else on my own.

            The mall is three blocks away, and there is a soft play area on the third floor.  If we use the double stroller so the boys alternate riding and walking, we can make it there with little risk of dehydration.  I pack a cup just in case.

            I try to make sure Benjamin is riding and Zach is walking when we cross Pico and Overland.  Ben has a dangerous habit of looking anywhere except where he is going, and the intersection is too busy for him to be on foot unless I can grasp him firmly by the hand.  Zach, obedient child that he is, will hold onto the stroller as we cross.

            As we cross, I urge him to go faster.  The lights are quick here, and we need to make it across in time for the next light or we may all get sun stroke waiting for the next WALK signal.  His skinny legs hustle.

            This time, the memory is more detailed.  The combination of thin legs, oppressive heat, and the mother urging the little child to run faster.  I hear my stepmother on her bike, forcing me to run faster, feel the heat of the summer in my lungs, the desperation of a child who cannot go any faster but has to.

            Zachary has my body; looking at him sometimes evokes the abuses meted out on my thin limbs.  Benjamin’s body is so different from my own, and I relish the sturdiness that seems unassailable. 

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            Lilah has my sister’s eyes, and something about her sweetness reminds me of my sister.  Maybe my sister looked at our mother this way, pausing from her nursing to touch the face always just above her own.

            Looking at her, I see my sister.  I cannot decide if the emotion I feel is poignant loss or another chance.

            These are my children.  They are the next generation, touched by family tragedy but one generation removed, as if Faulkner had created a whole new batch of Quentins.

On the road again

            The movers came for the first shipment of children’s books, wooden trains, and t-shirts, the items we deemed essential for our stay in temporary housing when we get to Los Angeles in just a couple of weeks.  It did not take them long, as we necessarily tried to limit what we set aside for this shipment.  We will be in a small, furnished two-bedroom apartment until we find a house, and there will not be room for tents with tunnels or oversized dolls’ houses.  This shipment went air, so I kept fuel economy in mind with each item I set aside.

            The next shipment will be packed up in just two weeks, our last day in London, as we scurry about attending Zachary’s Easter Hat parade and fitting in nap time.  And then, the children will wake to an empty house, and we will head to an airport hotel for the night before our departure.

            I have seen my life disassembled like this time and time again.  When I was younger, I packed and moved everything myself, hoodwinking friends into lending me vans and taking one end of the box spring down three flights of stairs.  Now, with the relative luxury of a corporate move, others come in and pack for me.  It is a nice perk, having someone else do the packing, although I cannot imagine they could get people to move this often any other way.

            In the past, moves have been towards school or towards jobs – Philadelphia, Washington, Chapel Hill.  When we moved back to Philadelphia, I was following J’s career, for the first time moving to a city for no reason other than someone else.  I had no job waiting, although I found one as I finished graduate school.  But, I was returning to a city I had lived in for six years before, and Philadelphia had a stronger pull on me than any other place.

            Then we moved to London, a great adventure, a two-year foray into another land.  And now, we move to Los Angeles, returning not to Philadelphia, but to yet another new city.  Again, we will broaden, we will grow.

            Yet, I wonder to myself.  If something (heaven forbid) happened to my husband, where would I go?  Not to Massachusetts, a place that lost its hold on me the day I no longer needed someone else’s roof or food.  Not Los Angeles, which pulls us only through the force of J’s work.  Not Philadelphia, where we have sold our house.  My friends are scattered about the country, a few in each place I have lived but even more in places I have never been as they themselves have moved.

            The truth is, I have no career right now.  I could build one up again rather quickly, but I could build it anywhere.  This has been a great asset with all the moving about.  I have no family to speak of, or at least none that speaks to me.  Moving to London has loosened many of my friendships, too many time zones and too few visits.  And, the children are so young that they have no real ties anywhere.  The only thing that anchors us is my husband’s work.

            I am a woman defined by my husband’s work.

            I am from nowhere and I have nowhere to go.  I have no family beckoning.  I have no career.  My children are not in schools.  We are, all four of us, easily transferable.

            And I am, I fear, easily erasable.  For, beyond the walls of wherever we are currently calling home, there is no place for me in the world.

            I usually end on a hopeful note, because I am, for reasons no one has ever quite been able to figure out, an optimist.  Today, however, my optimism is tired.  I have grown out and up many, many times.  I want to spread roots down.