It’s Monday afternoon. Drew has taken our son off for a walk around the lake, and I’m watching them from my bedroom window. It’s a beautiful day, cool and thinly clouded, a soft breeze stirring patterns of light into the leaves over their heads. Drew is gesturing about how you have to be careful crossing the street, he’s pointing out the playgrounds and the wetlands that border our community. Beside him, my son looks so small, the nape of his neck heartbreakingly bare, hands in his pockets as he lifts his chin to take a cautious look around.

We are here, we three. Our family unit has shrunk. My head feels light now, as after a major haircut, when you forget you no longer have to push your hair aside on the pillow or take such a big handful of shampoo. At the grocery store, I found myself reaching for a second gallon of milk, a container of cream cheese, an extra tube of toothpaste–things I used to buy for the teenagers, things we no longer need. I’m not sure how to feel about that. I’m lighter. Much, much lighter. But I miss the weight of my children.

Still, for all the sadness of goodbye, our new home is wonderful. Every morning is Christmas, with the scent of excitement in the air–and so much to unwrap! Our possessions are blooming in the empty space, easing into the edges and corners. Here are my cookbooks, the copper pitcher I bought in Germany, my grandmother’s paintings. Everett’s stuffed monkey, a conch shell from California. The picture of my mother and me, taken when I was three. All our keepsakes, the snarled detritus (goddamned power cords), the pots and pans and shoes and sheets and lamps, piano and desk, computers, flower pots, spoons and sweaters and photographs. I wish we were filming the unpacking in time-lapse photography. It would be like watching a seed erupt from the soil.

I’ve wanted to write before now, and tell you about the trip through the desert. Already the landscape is like an apocalyptic dream, dust rising as smoke from the ashy sand, desiccated pools of salt where nothing grows for miles, and ahead of me the trundling van containing everything we own. Like following an amiable Cerberus out of the underworld and into the clouds.

Definitely into the clouds.

Listen, do you hear that? A far-off choir of angels is singing: Portlaaaand, Portlaa-aaa-nd . . .

We have arrived!

Where are you?

Photograph by Ellen Von Unwerth

56 responses

  1. First, this is one beautiful post. Your language … *swoon*

    As for me, I’m in paradise. The honeysuckle outside my sliding doors have finally bloomed, and last night a cool breeze picked up and blew it right in.

    Welcome to the coast, Averil.

  2. Oh Averil, the weight you no longer bear, I have all of them – plus friends – and I am cooking bowls of pasta and finding there are no beers and still washing ski stuff. Love the bit about a too-big blob of shampoo. Enjoy the unfurling of everything and your son’s sweet youth. Me? I am watering plants and collecting mosquito bites, too edgy with school enrolments to write. Argh! Xcat

    • The photo of your pasta is mouthwatering. Gimme!

      Drew made a beer run the other night, and was also trying to buy me some gin and tonic. But the grocery stores don’t sell it here (?!) and the liquor stores were closed.

      Something tells me we’re not in Vegas anymore. . . .

  3. Lovely, lovely. I feel your ‘lightness’ without your teenagers. When mine were first gone to college, I had hours awake at night because they were out of my reach, out of my range to fix whatever was wrong. But they thrived and eventually so did I. Where am I? Hibernating inside here in Texas now that the 100 degree days have come. Even the dogs won’t go outdoors until the sun goes down. Texas summers are a bitch.

    • Oh, the misery. It was 110 degrees on moving day in Vegas. Now I’m dressing in layers and my feet are cold. (How’s that for rubbing it in?)

  4. Welcome home! This is such a beautiful introduction to your new place in the world.

    I’m light years from where I used to be. I’m in a well-lit, air-conditioned office with the sounds of anxious pilots buzzing around, men-in-waiting as the union members vote on the new contract. I’m organizing spaces that long-time employees can’t think about anymore (other duties assigned to myself because my OCD has kicked in), putting out the occasional fire and listening to spotify while I take a break and kick off my pumps.

    And I just got back from looking out the 8th floor window at Air Force One where it’s depositing the President and his detail for a day in Atlanta.

    My house is full of kids and the full weight of them won’t touch me until I’m back there this evening. Nope – I spoke too soon. There’s a text message from someone.

    • You really are light years from flopping about in slippers all day, scrubbing the sink for the fourth time since breakfast. Now you’re wearing pumps, living amongst the grown-ups, watching Air Force One touch down. Look at you, mama. Living large!

  5. Lighter? Well, you still have me (though I am on a diet). It just struck me that your little one is now an only child, at least on one level. He has you all to himself.

    I am on the other coast, looking forward to a walk on the beach later, to see the aftermath of tropical storm Debby on the coastline.

    Beautiful post. I knew it would be.

    • I’ve lost track of current events over the past week. A storm swept through your hometown, Lisa’s got the President in Atlanta for a visit. I feel as if I’ve been overseas. Lots of catching up to do.

      • It’s been the same old story, pursuit of love and glory, a case of do and die. You ain’t missed nothin’. As I used to tell my son when he was little, “If it’s really important it’ll happen right here. Otherwise, it’s just entertainment.”

  6. Like when my kids went off to college and I didn’t think I could bear being without them at home. (I had four in college at one time.) But I was amazed how quickly that became my new normal. Amazed. And then they’d come home and the house would be noisy, the laundry backed up, the groceries disappearing, and so on.

    Believe me, you’ll quickly get used to it.

    I’m back from my trip East, working for the man and sitting in a windowless cubicle. But I did manage to get down to my cabin in the woods last weekend, which is like my reward for being good. I’m glad you’re finding some bliss there in Oregon.

    • Seriously. You will get used to it. Last weekend, when I was bitching about how I hated houseguests, my husband said, “But Babe, they’re not houseguests. They’re our kids.” And they’re not even totally gone yet, either. It’s amazing how seductive the semi-empty nest is!

      I’m so happy you’ve arrived. I’m on the other coast, wearing layers, too. Do you have a little writing area yet? I love that every morning is Christmas for you. Soak up all that lush, cool greenery and enjoy!

      • I’ll definitely get used to the easier life. Less housework, a bit of money left in the bank, etc. But those big warm hugs are hard to leave behind.

        I had to give up the writing nook I had planned, due to the configuration of the rooms and the fact that my husband’s day revolves around the TV. However, my desk and chairs are in the front room next to a window, surrounded by bookcases, so I’ll be very comfortable. I’ll snap some photos once it’s all put together. (The pins are missing from my shelves, so Drew can’t put them up yet. Where the fuck did that plastic baggie go?)

      • Oh, that writing space sounds perfect! Can’t wait to see pics of where the magic happens. And yes, the hugs are to be missed. I keep wondering if that daughter of yours might just show up one day… Mine are that way. They want their freedom, but they also want their mum. You really never know how they’ll surprise you.

  7. Beautiful words. They are heavy and hopeful at once. I remember that conch shell. I”m anticipating that bittersweet feeling of lightness with you.
    (I’m buried under kids for the summer as usual. Can’t reclaim my thoughts or actions until after Labor Day.)

  8. My second wife’s mother raised six kids. She popped ’em out over seven years, like a Catholic baby factory fully staffed on every shift. Their collective adolescence was so pantry traumatic, she kept enough food on hand for the whole squad long after the last of them left home.

    • I don’t know how those mamas do it. Keeping just three of them fully clothed and fed and hosed down every day was exhausting in the early years. Six children in seven years would have put me in the ground.

    • It does feel like that. But also a bit like I’ve reached a fork in the road, a place to rest and regroup before moving on. To what, I don’t know.

  9. Yay you! I’m so happy for you guys.

    I remember getting used to the lightness of my girl living someplace else. It felt wrong to me until it didn’t. I know that part of the move will ease up for you. I’m glad you’ve got the sound of those angels to help. I wish there was film, too. The blooming sounds magnificent.

    I’m getting ready for a free Thrillist shindig tonight. It’s hard trying to look cute on so little sleep, but I got a friend on the list with me, so I can’t chicken out. I’m sure I’ll be more excited about it as I wake up. The last time I was on “the list” I got a free cd and inspiration to write. Tonight I’ll be happy if I can just have a little fun.

      • They found my email address a couple of years ago and put me on the list for a party with finger food, drinks, and the band Augustana performing a show. They sent each of us home with a copy of their album, the one with Dust on it. The writer/singer sent a chill through me when he sang that one, It sent me home determined to really begin my blog, and I did. It’s a good memory.

        The party tonight seems to be all about the vodka, but I don’t care because it’s free and it’s still cool outside. I don’t know how I feel about the writing now, but here’s the link to what I wrote about it back then, if you want to see:

        I’m off now to have some fun. Oh, how I hope…

  10. Gorgeous, Averil! I can feel you whirling around in joy and cool green freedom.

    Meanwhile, I’m in the library . . .

    • Suzy says our new hometown has a fabulous library. I haven’t been there yet, but I’ll be sure to scope it out and report back. They’d better have copies of all my friends’ books, or they’ll be hearing from me. (Erhm, nicely. As in, Please could you acquire these?)

  11. A wonderful post.
    Where am I? Still in the Great White North, missing my wife and dog, but still writing. 5 more days.

    • I hope you’ll be coming out of there with a draft in hand, Joe. I have to admit that 30 days might have been a bit on the long side for me–I’d be running on fumes at day 14. Good on you for sticking with it.

  12. I gave that plastic baggie of pins to Drew and I remember telling him they were very important and to put them in his pocket but in the heat of battle he apparently did not follow instructions! I have been waiting for your first post. You sound thrilled with everything, seeing everything with fresh eyes. I am presently having the gin and tonic you were unable to obtain in your new world (they don’t sell gin at the grocery store)? Shocker! Hug the small mister (and the big one too) and tell him to get busy and take some pictures with his camera. Love, Mom XXXXOOOOO

    • He did put them in his pocket, but of course had to unload them at some point. They were last spotted in ‘a plastic bin’. Oof.

      We’re making a trip to the beach this Friday, so the little guy can begin his next career as a photographer. (He was looking at one of my cameras recently, and told me he was impressed with me for knowing what all the numbers meant. Score one for the chick in the household.)

  13. Ellen Von U kind of let me down with that one. Not as posed as her usual, perhaps?

    • Yeah, not one of her finest. Some photographers don’t know what to do with a moving subject. But a naked ass shot just seemed wrong today, somehow.

  14. You’re here, and I’m not. Wahhh.. I so wanted to greet you with a neighborly pie or something. Completely understand missing the weight of children. The extra twigs you don’t need for the new nest. Breathing should be more fluid, but somehow it isn’t right after the chicks have flown.

    Where am I? Following the trail of my beloved, narcissistic Empress through her family’s various castles–carrying my laptop around like a divining rod looking for wi-fi. Drinking beer with the hub, and trying not to get taken out by errant bicyclists.

    Last night I gave in and took an Ambien. Even an empress-appropriator needs a little shut-eye now and again.

    • When we were in Germany, it seemed that all we did for entertainment was tour the castles. Which was great fun, except that they’re always at the top of a hill and I was as pregnant as it’s possible to be. Nothing like being at the end of a trail with no bathroom in sight, and a small person doing somersaults on your bladder.

      This Saturday I’m off in search of a farmer’s market, and maybe a swap meet if I can find one. Wish you were here!

  15. Yay, you. I can’t believe this day has actually come. You did it! You really did it. I wish I could string words together like you to express how happy I am for you and how proud. Give Drew a big hug from me. He done good, too.

  16. I envy you this falling-in-love time. Even 22 years later, I remember every day discovering Portland–pushing my babies around in their all-terrain stroller up and down the hills, around the abandoned warehouses, even in the malls.

    You can visit a different green space every day for months! Enjoy it, savor it, even in the rain.

    Me? I’m in Bad Ischl, Austria about to spend the day roaming museums and wandering the coleus-studded parks.

    • Oh, you’re having such fun. You’ll be so full of your royal adventure, I’ll have to serve you off a silver charger when you come over for dinner.

      Today we discovered some farmers markets. We came away with a flat of berries, some new potatoes, thyme and tomatoes and wild honey. I’ve got a pot of clam chowder on the stove and a loaf of crusty bread to dunk in it. Wish you were here!

  17. Where am I? What a good fucking question. All signs indicate that I am all over the place. I recently began playing the cello, and my teacher had me buy a book of graded studies, and she assigned me the first on during my last lesson. She says, “Oh, these are great. They will order your mind.” I thought, “Thank god. I so need that.”

    • The cello! My favorite instrument, and apparently with the side benefit of encouraging orderly thoughts. You’ll also need strong fingers, I would imagine.


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