Last night I roamed the house at 3:20 in the morning, despite the Benadryl I popped at midnight. I reviewed lists, dug through piles and made new piles. I tossed a jumbo-sized bottle of ibuprofen in a canvas tote bag along with a second fan, just in case the first one were to stop working and added a box of straws for good measure. I checked the household supply of paper towels, laundry detergent, toilet paper and toothpaste and crossed that off my list. I added clean out refrigerator, order light bulbs from Amazon and find gray sweatshirt.
This behavior is nothing new. I did the same thing before each of my babies were born, before going under the knife for my multiple surgeries, and always before the last day of school when a summer full of a houseful of children was imminent. My pattern of obsessive nesting seems to surface when I’m about to embark on an adventure or anti-adventure from which I’m afraid I won’t recover. In the past month, I cleaned cabinets and closets. Dusted blinds and shook out curtains. Cleaned under beds and wiped shelves. Scrubbed bathrooms and weeded gardens.
And made more lists. These lists include must-dos that I must do before I depart, must-dos that they must do while I’m away and must-dos that I must do from afar. My lists, originally confined to a brand-new notebook, have spilled out to post-it notes, scribbles on the back of receipts and spoken reminders from Siri.
For the past three years, Sister Nancy and I have spent our summers, in varied amounts of time, serving gourmet grub on a food truck at horse show in East Dorset, Vermont. Sister Nancy’s best buddy from Charleston brought us on board for our bubbly personalities, loyal companionship and because, despite our many handicaps, she knows that we keep our hands out of the till. This year, I’m going for six full weeks.
I haven’t been away from home for this long since college. And college can hardly count because all that entailed was fueling up the Ford Pinto, patting the family dog on the head and waving goodbye to the parents who would simply shut my bedroom door and keep it shut until I returned home at the next holiday.
I had nothing and no one to take care of but myself.
My youngest, the recent Philosophy-major graduate will be with me in Vermont, serving up healthy green drinks and less-healthy candy-coated milkshakes while reflecting on the meaning of life. And money.
But that leaves the middle son, the dang dawg, the ever-loving spouse and The Daughter to fend for themselves for six, long weeks.
The Daughter is en route from New Orleans, moving back home to save money as she starts a new career in the big city. She is transitioning in while I’m safely out.
Which is why last night’s mind spin began in the attic. The attic, which served as a bedroom for The Daughter before she left for college eight years ago. Since that time, it has become a playroom, complete with a very big and un-fold-up-able ping pong table, a speakeasy gone dry and a recording studio, with sound-proof foam squares velcroed to the closet walls, floor and ceiling. It has also become a very serious dumping ground. I cleaned it all.
And, as I did, I thought of the year when a family of squirrels moved into the eaves. The same eaves where a crumbled heap of hangered clothes resided until I painstakingly unheaped, sorted and relegated them to Goodwill last week. Will The Daughter know to barricade the easily-pushed-open eave doors if she hears the pitter-patter of tiny feet? Will she call our favorite handyman? Will she move out on the spot? Or will she simply turn the music up louder?
Will she turn off the attic air conditioner when she goes to work every day?
Will she flush unflushable items down the toilet? And if she does and the ancient plumbing can’t hack it, will she at least wait to call Roto-Rooter in the morning when emergency rates no longer apply?
I hope someone lets the dog out before bed and watches to make sure he pees, because sometimes he fakes it, just to get his treat. And if he does fake it and has an incontinence episode, will it be properly treated?
I think about how they roll their eyes when I tell them to turn the fan on in the bathroom while taking their hot and steamy showers. And how, after weeks of not running the fan, they’ll be grossed out by the inevitable, encroaching mold and have no idea how to get rid of it. Or maybe, they won’t see it at all.
I fear that they won’t take the trash and the compost scraps out before they start smelling and breeding fruit flies. And maggots.
I picture overflowing recycle bins swarming with bees, sucking the last sweetness out of the partially empty soda cans.
I see flowers withered and weeds gone wild.
I fret about the washing machine being overloaded with dog-haired blankets. I see the motor burning out and in an attempt to not be berated for blatant rule-breakage, they decide to replace it before I get home. With a front-loader. That I can’t return.
I worry that the ice maker will break in my new refrigerator while I’m gone and the weeks of inactivity and/or frozen water lines will make it irreparable. And then I’ll be back to manually making eight ice cube trays a day.
I’m certain that the mail will get soaked with torrential rains when it’s been forgotten in the partially-protected mailbox for days on end. And one of those letters will be the one with the Clearinghouse Sweepstakes check.
They will surely forget to turn the stove off after a frozen pizza frenzy and will discover it just when the pizza box, sitting on top of the hot stove, begins to smolder.
I know the dog hair will be left until the very last day, at which time it will be so abundant that it will clog my brand-new vacuum cleaner.
I picture lights left lit, Chinese food containers left out, and doors left open. I see leftovers abandoned, pre-prepared meals ignored and Uber Eats frequented. I hear water dripping into the kitchen from the upstairs shower, the garden hose saturating the house’s foundation and the sewer line choking until it vomits into the basement.
I imagine a drip-dry household, a toothpaste-spattered bathroom sink and perpetually musty-smelling bath towels. I envision misplaced car keys, disconnected WiFi and cracked phone screens. That I only find out about when I happen to check the latest AT&T bill. That should have three less phone lines on it than it does.
As my friend, Claire, always tells me, it’s the getting there that’s the tough part. And she’s right. Once I’m 200 miles and a lifestyle away, I’ll stop thinking about the loved ones I deserted. I won’t wonder if the house is still standing. Or if the poor children had dinner. Instead, I’ll transfer my obsessions to whether Lisa’s over-easy eggs are over cooked, if Paige has to wait too long for her BLT or if I remembered to add the lemonade to Eric’s Arnold Palmer.
I’ll serve with a smile and work like a dog and stop borrowing trouble. I’ll just sit back and wait for the panicked calls from home.
Which only led to further panic, as I thought of the worst case scenario.
What if the calls don’t come?
What if my grown children and middle-aged spouse are actually capable of living without me? Without my obsessions. Without my nagging. Without my lists. Without my constant where are you going, what are you doings?
It’s what I’ve long dreamed of.
And perhaps what I’ve feared, most of all.