Ghost Town

It was always going to be a hard time.

In some way I’m enjoying the quiet in the aftermath of a week of family and home repair projects, in the wake of my little sister’s surprise visit, card game marathons, second Christmas, the rooster sacrifice, and an evening of honkeytonkin’.

Now there are no overtired children, no waiting for a pause to shove a word in edgewise, no searching through the new fridge wondering who ate what and when and whose turn it is to cook next. No waiting in line for the bathroom and no hiding there, staring down at the new floor, taking a breath of escape in order to recharge.

The moonshine went away with my daddy’s toolbox, and Zwarte Piet left his hat in its place.

I was never good at saying goodbye. Even as a kid. Mom used to tell me every time, “But if they don’t leave, Honey, they can never come back.” I never understood how that was supposed to make any sense. Saying goodbye still sucks.

Better to say that they’re gone but they haven’t left: Sami and Charles arrived safely at his grandparents’ house, and I’ll hear from Mom and Dad on the road today.

And its certainly not that I’m lacking for things to do — whenever I feel at odds, there is a list of projects I need to finish (and writing to be done if any of those seems particularly evil). I know Mom will hound me until I get those bookshelves painted, and she’s right to do so. The trim in the bathroom will probably wait. Until New Year’s, anyway.

Everywhere I look, I still see them. The fridge and my pantry are still bursting with food. There’s still sawdust on the back porch, and a ton of drop cloths that will have to wait until the next garbage run to be tossed. There are clothes in the dryer, a bag for Goodwill, and some hardware to be returned to Lowe’s.

They gave me all these tangible things…but the memories mean so much more.

I will never forget the sight of Charles holding that little blue CD player and Sami with her tambourine, framed by the open front door and singing the Chipmunks’ Christmas song at the top of their lungs. I will never forget the best way to pluck a chicken, or how trying to dress a rooster with dull knives is — according to my father — “like trying to knock down the Great Wall of China with a rubber mallet.” I may be almost 32 years old, but my mother still gave me a kiss every night before I went to bed.

She reminded me — they all did — that the correct response to “I love you” is never “As it should be.”

Yesterday morning, I took my 2007 calendar off the wall in the kitchen and tore it into tiny little pieces. I wrote on the new one three lines, three lines that were my mantra almost ten years ago when I escaped from another bad time in my life.

I am free
I am loved
And I will do great things.

I wish every one of you a very safe and wonderful New Year, full of all the happiness you deserve.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some painting to finish…