Up until this trip I have been home recovering from a concussion, as I've said, and after weeks of me reading and writing and nesting relatively complaint-free in my bedroom cave, my husband Mark said I needed to get out every day. I hated the thought, because as my recent attempt to order for three people at Subway showed, I get easily overwhelmed. On that day, I thought I might need a tranquilizer to recover.
His points, if I can remember correctly, are that while I may be lonely when I'm away, and fight his requests that I go to the bookstore or library or coffee shop of my choice everyday, I am overwhelmed when I am home, I'm becoming afraid of the world, so getting out is therefore good for me.
He's right, of course. Like a kindergartner sent off for those few, important hours each day despite the fearful looks to the front door from the bus stop, I do forget the separation once I'm engaged in reading and writing, mostly. I am not an entirely social creature, at least not with the hordes who aren't my family or close friends, but I get by. People see me as friendly. I hold doors, I enjoy the sunshine, I engage with the world.
And then I come home and, after the first moments of relief, of the welcoming chords of my lovely, vibrant home, it starts to get to me.
It's really the lack of needed peace. When I have a headache, a bad one, there is no place I want to be, nee no place that I will allow myself to be, other than in the chair or couch or bed in my room. And yet, no matter what the signs on the door say, the parade begins as soon as my presence is felt--Mom can I have some money for camp, tape for my posters, a ride to Steffi's, something else for dinner, my uniform cleaned, your tv remote, company--the universal clamoring of children for the attention and assistance of their parent. But it gets to me especially quickly, and I yell "WHAT??" at about the dozenth knock in an hour, usually sending poor little Ava fleeing in tears.
So, Mark sends me away each day for everyone's benefit, and I bounce between being lonely but peaceful in the company of strangers, and being comforted but overwhelmed in the confines of my home.
All of this is exaggerated by the vulnerability I feel from the head injury, the child-like dependence at times, the confusion, the lostness, but it was there all along too. When I went off to college in Providence I was so homesick I looked into transferring to UConn by my second semester, then to Hamilton my fourth because my brother had started there, then I took my fifth semester off because I couldn't leave to go back to school after the summer. My dean, I still remember, was almost bitterly disappointed in me because I had an RA slot in the hardest freshman dorm, he said I could handle anything and what was he to do now? I said I would take whomever's spot was vacated by spring, and I did, in that same dorm as some other sophomore decided being there was entirely unworth the tuition break. I finished college and actually stayed in Rhode Island for seventeen years with my husband and kids, but every other weekend, at least, I came home to my mother's house, van full of kids in tow.
I live next door to my mother now, naturally, but days go by without my seeing her because it's just the potential for company, and not the company itself that is needed. She cannot say the same for my kids who flock there all afternoon and early evening, looking for regular grandma things--snacks from her cabinets, help with homework, sewing of a hole in a favorite sweatshirt, attention. Or they are looking for their grandfather, for wheels to be inflated or fish tanks to be discussed or a favorite toy to be repaired. My brother swings by and drops off his kids, or picks up mine, and gives me the temperature of his stressful life and, in that telling, takes it down a few degrees. Or he stays in the car and sends someone in to tell me why he's there and what he needs.
For me, it's enough that they're nearby, and as the kids move back and forth, giving messages from one of us to the other, and to the house on the other side, the Grazynski's, good friends for the past thirteen years or more, and to my brothers' house five minutes away. I don't really need to see them--the web is enough to hold me.
Last month I read Arcadia by Lauren Groff, and my first thought was that it was amazing how it could take a gifted author like her years to write a book that I could consume in less than a day, staying up late, getting up early, thirsty for the whole of it. Then, my second thought was about communes, one of which she creates in all its love and pain in a way that's stayed with me, and how we create that sense of wholeness, connectedness for ourselves.
I've had two main jobs in my life, one for sixteen years and the other for thirteen years now and counting, each in big, bustling hospitals with small, quiet circles of work and healing and it's suited me, having both, and working with the same people for many years. When I left the first it was wrenching, so much so I could barely look back. There is something about family that precludes such trauma--I can never be asked to leave, can I?--and though there are losses and separations and tiffs to bear, I can do so from within my pod of people in a way that I never could manage on my own. We have an everlasting commune that's called a big family.
So though it's hard for me to go out to the coffee shop, the library, and even to the Black Sea, I'll be fine. I actually love travel and adventures, as long as it's not too far or too long. Because like playing in summer when I was a kid and the streetlights turned on, at the end of the day I know I'm supposed to get home.