It’s been a weird time around here. I am at the end of a three-month hiatus from work. I am fortunate to work for an employer–as part of a union–that allowed me to take a leave to take care of my mental health. I am aware of how few people have such an opportunity and I know I am lucky. I also know I am smart, productive, creative, and diligent; three months in seven years seems a reasonable time to ask to keep myself from imploding. I wonder how many people simply fall away from the world because no one wants to give them that time, or because no one wants to hear it. It does us all a disservice.
A lot of things have happened in the last three months (aside from the internal ones which I suspect are mostly only fascinating to me). C and I have spent an increasing amount of time at the house, which has been nothing short of incredible. At the beginning, I was self-medicating with manual labour. (I can’t recommend it enough.) We two set ourselves to cleaning up the property. We have put in all kinds of new plantings and cleared out a whole lot of weeds. We began the gargantuan task of reclaiming the vegetable garden space that was ignored for years. I, personally, am beginning to learn to distinguish weeds from not-weeds, and my nails have never been filthier.
And dad came to visit. That was huge.
My father left this place two years ago, not because he wanted to but because he could no longer manage it alone. Since then he’s had two hip replacements and things are much better for him physically, though he’ll never be as steady as he was. But while we kept him up on the renos, I think he and I both thought a visit too perilous. We worried he’d be unable to handle the changes: he, because his longing to “come home” would overwhelm him and I, because I worried our changes would offend him. He cannot fathom why I want to scale things back, get rid of the big furniture, and uncover the old floors and plaster. It is, of course, because he grew up with nothing and I grew up with everything. Magic hovers around the things we don’t understand.
But eventually, his curiosity and longing trumped his anxiety. He found some way (no one quite knows how) to climb up into my brother’s pick-up truck and the two of them came and had coffee and cake with us on the porch. Then, a few weeks later, he let C pick him up at his apartment. In another unprecedented act of sheer will he managed to climb up onto his tractor/mower. He couldn’t lift his foot high enough to reach the gas pedal, but he could press the arm that was only an inch or so off the platform. He drove all around the property with C walking at his side, looking at what we’d done and pointing out the things he’d meant to do. When they came back dad was exhausted, but he looked so happy. And last weekend, when my sister and her husband came to visit from the UK, he joined the whole family (SOs included) for an afternoon barbecue.
The first time he came, and came inside, he was taken aback. We’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff (lordy this house was full of stuff), and stripped all the walls, and painted. We tore out almost all the downstairs carpets. He walked from room to room with his cane, saying things like, “Where’s my corner shelf?” and “What did you do with the freezer?” I followed, responding, “I made those curtains myself,” and “Don’t you love our new sink?” It was a negotiation. Later, he said, “You’ve really done a lot of work, haven’t you?” It was his acknowledgement of our effort. Not approval, exactly, but something very like it.
I forget, sometimes, how hard things must be for him. He was always active, capable. It makes him impossibly sad he can’t do all the things he dreams. Especially since his dreams are hardly ambitious. He misses his flower beds and shrubs and trees. He misses having sharp eyes and steady hands, “puttering,” and the pleasure of solitude without inconvenience. And he misses my mother and his home. He can be difficult and demanding, but he’s also done a hell of a lot of internal work to get up every day and breathe and eat and move beyond the things he’s lost. I love him so.
In other news, C and I had a tandem job interview. A private school is opening just a few miles from the house and we submitted applications–he for a teaching position and I for office secretary. The couple who are opening the place emailed us together and asked us to come in together. I assumed they’d each interview one of us and perhaps switch halfway through. But no, they interviewed us together. Strangely enough, it was very pleasant. Having C next to me made me feel more self-assured. And when one of us was overly modest, the other could step in and play cheerleader without anyone coming off braggy. I feel, overall, things went well. Though even just typing that brings out all my superstitions. Knock on wood.
Here’s the crazy thing, though: the school is in the building that used to be my very own elementary school.
I am seriously considering turning this whole adventure into a memoir called “Do-Over.” Is it any wonder I question the linear nature of time?
Life is bonkers.