Today was meant to be a day out of the trenches; I had envisioned a leisurely morning watching “Charmed” reruns, maybe a little baking and laundry, and then reading the 2,700 newspapers lying on the coffee table. I would then collapse into a cozy and dreamless coma on the couch, with a dog at my feet and a cat snuggled against my chest. I could, I reasoned, put all serious problems on hold for a few hours. People do it all the time. I think.
It would appear, however, that the Cosmic Paver is not finished blanketing me with steaming tar, and then flattening me with the Steamroller of Worry. My dad got bad business-related news. My husband is getting incomplete and unhelpful health-related news. My son is weathering a series of Adolescent Torments. Those are my people, right there. They are all having a bad day. I can’t really lie around sipping Absinthe and watching the Folies Bergeres when they are suffering. (There is a hideously mixed metaphor coming, fasten your seatbelts). Dressed in my Absinthe-sipping finery I am covered with blackest tar and steamrolled until all that remains visible is a slight unevenness in the smooth black surface. Anxiety wins.
There is this Welsh word, “hiraeth,” that has no direct English translation. The best possible translation is” homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed.” It might be a longing for a real past, or even just the way the past seemed to be, the way it appears in dreams and slivers of memory with such frequency that there is no clear delineation between the cold currency of “reality” and the cotton candy of fantasy.
I was all about the hireath today, nostalgic for days when I was not responsible for anything but keeping my room clean and behaving myself, days when all tough decisions, bad news, and general darkness were kept from me by parents who seemed capable of anything and everything. In that life, on December 7th, my father would have given us the annual explanation of Pearl Harbor Day. We would be a week from getting a Christmas tree, and we would probably have our menorah on the mantle with a box of Manischewitz candles lying beside it. My Grammie Graham would be staying with us, and she would have made batch after batch of Chex Mix, filling the house with the smells of melting butter, Worcestershire sauce and toasting cashews. My most serious worry would have been whether I could finish reading By The Shores of Plum Creek before I was called to set the table for dinner.
I am home, but not in the home of my memories. This is my home now, and the hard truth is that there is no one here to protect me from life. I am the grownup, or at least one of them. The things that are messy, overdue, broken or unpleasant are mine to address; I have a partner, but that is not the same as having parents. These are the years of bucking up, the years when I take care of people older and younger, as well as my own bad self. If there is to be warmth, joy, Christmas, and family ritual, I need to create it. That other home, the one where I do the little that’s asked of me and reap rewards both abundant and magical, no longer exists.
And then, in the middle of an earnest conversation with my son about Big Issues, there are footsteps on the porch. It’s the UPS man, and Sam brings in the big, brown box with “this side up” arrows on all sides. It’s from Florida, from my friend Robert. I have never met him in real life, but he is, somehow, as real a friend as any whose warm hand I have ever clasped. Nestled in a nest of fresh-off-the-tree Florida citrus and pale pink bubble wrap is a tin. I know what’s in it; he’s done it before, but I didn’t expect him to do it again.
The tin is filled to the top with Chex Mix, and its smell makes me close my eyes so that I am ten again, home again, and safe. Through some olfactory/metaphysical magic, that smell melds the home that I long for and the home that I live in. Time buckles, and that 10-year-old girl is with me here, reading the dog-eared pages of her book as she haphazardly arranges glasses and forks with one hand.
And if she, bossy, confident, and imaginative is with me, I am neither lost nor alone. We will eat Chex Mix for dinner, take a deep breath and conquer the world.