Campfire Story

This is thought number 1052

It’s been a while, a while since I’ve published my thoughts.  I still set them down in straight lines, but they sit waiting for release in my draft folder.  This is thought number 1052. Everything is normal, the weekdays have gone by so quickly I am surprised its Friday tomorrow.  I am sore and tired, my body complains.  My knees, in particular, remind me I am getting older, in their weird cracked Morse code.  I ignore them, they are always nagging.  It has been a hard day, I dump my bags on the bench and head for the coffee machine, then pop two thick pieces of fruit loaf into the toaster.  My children are home, there is mess everywhere, the TV is on.  My son is on the sofa.

I feel irritated as I watch him, and then there it is, the new heavy, dark thing I need to convert into straight lines.   It pushes behind my eyes.  I do not want to cry so I shake my head.

My son looks up from the sofa, he is curled around his beautiful girlfriend, the sound of the coffee machine has mildly interested him. They both welcome me home, he puts an arm up and I think it is a coffee request. I am grumpy and tell him to make his own coffee.  They laugh, my mistake, it is her arm in his old sweatshirt, moved to allow for him to readjust.  They are young and happy and free, their knees only sing and ask for more movement.  They are all snugly in a knitted stripped blanket.

I feel ambushed by this feeling. It’s in my chest now, beating demanding to be set free.  I am not ready; so force it back into my stomach where it has been sitting for a while.

I was distracted, my toast smells as if it has burnt.  I  curse and moan, my son says I should know where to put the dial for the perfect shade of brown. I lift the cages from the heat, they are perfect and I wave them in victory.  I know where to put the dial.  My daughter makes frustrated noises and tells me I drive her crazy. I have put a whole file in Google Docs or my Google Drive, or somewhere it should not be, I am half-listening as I butter my toast.  I try to explain that I wanted the file there, but no matter, I am still old and out of touch to my children.  I smile.  They will see.

I feel happy, the normal sounds of my family home keep everything equal, everything is as it should be.  I know how very lucky I am and pay no mind to the dark thing and I also let the grumpy go.

I had expected to make two cups of coffee, but my husband is not here.  I had noticed his lapel pin on the kitchen bench among the days crumbs when I came home and I look at it now as I take my cup and plate back.  I pick it up and turn it over, a tiny silver dragonfly sits in the palm of my hand.  I wonder why he took it off, I wonder where he is.  My son and his girl jump up, rummage around and are off.  “Bye” I call they do not hear.  My daughter has fixed my document and tells me she has marked it final copy and I am not to touch it.  I promise not to, which makes me want to play around with it just a bit!  She goes to her room and tells me not to cook dinner, she can rustle up risotto for us.  I am alone.  I open my laptop and start to write down thought number 1052.  ……It’s been a while……..

I feel nothing, I need to let go of this weight, expel it to paper but I know once I do, I will not be able to put it back, so I fight it again.

I do not write but I look through the window instead, into the pale blue oranging sky.  The liquid amber is naked, I watch the Rosellas come and go, it feels like it should be warm outside. I get up and fold the discarded blanket, it is heavy and still warm. I think about my day, the work I have tomorrow, what I need to buy at the supermarket, how dark it has suddenly become. I set the sofa straight, then sit down pushing all the setting aside. My phone rings.  My husband reminds me he has a meeting in town and then drinks.  He will be home later, the wind steals his words so I am not sure when, he must go but he loves me and will see me later he promises. The bathroom door shuts, my daughter should have started dinner by now I muse.  My feet are cold, and it is totally dark now. I jump up, pull the blinds down, and switch the lights on.  I have written little. An image of my husband helping to unwrap birthday presents for two excited preschool children, before he puts on his suit jacket and rushes off to work, runs through my mind like a scratchy videotape.

It feels like something is ending without my permission.  A tension is building a selfish pulling that I know must break.  I should be happy but feel something else.

I seem to have lost the battle, my feelings now seep out in a weird deconstructed way.  I have no control so am happy, proud, sad at inappropriate times. I flip the lid to my laptop down.  The door opens and my son is back.  I tell him I have not started dinner, he tells me not to bother.  I open the fridge and look at the chicken anyway.  I will make the risotto.  Things are normal, I prep the onion, garlic, chicken, make the stock, check the rice level in the pantry.  The smell of food brings a wail from the hall that I cannot hear, the extraction fan is sucking everything away.  I stir the rice, things are changing.  “Mum, mum I told you not to cook, but as you are what is it?” the manchild steals some onion from the board.  I make to growl at him, then stop.  I look at him, I have five more weekends before he leaves for University in America and because of Covid I have no idea when I will be able to hug him again. That is what I need to feel, to write, instead I let him steal my prep. I try to write again while the risotto absorbs. …….everything is normal……I think about the essays, the exams, the sacrifices he has made I cannot concentrate so leave it again and write about spring instead.

I feel pathetic and indulgent. It is ridiculous to feel this way. This is what parenting is, I tell myself, we let go because we have taught them all we can.  It does not help.

Everything is normal.  Life hours have passed, I now have three more weekends with my boy. I can hear the television on and my husband laughing and talking to my daughter.  I am downstairs in the cool, gathering my thoughts, cursor blinking, waiting.   I remember my son when he was born, I made room in my hospital bed and he stayed with me all night. I had hated the thought of him being in a plastic tray on wheels and had rescued him as soon as the lights were switched off.  I had fallen asleep in the very last of night’s hours; the nurses had gently woken me, then told me off for taking him out of the plastic tray. It was very dangerous they said. There he had slept, my new-born son, in his NHS nest of sheets and I had kept him safe and warm. The cursor blinks waiting……I think about his determined study, the results, the choices the applications, the rejections.  I remember a moment when things fell apart and my son and I cried as his dream was crushed. I add nothing to the page.

I feel resigned and calm.  I have argued and reasoned with my emotions and we have reached an impasse.  I am happy to be on neutral ground.

Things have changed quickly.  Covid 19 has forced our hand and I have three hours left with my son before he flys away from his home.  It is all a bit shocking.  The party, cake, long farewells, and the time to adjust have all been cancelled.  We have been busy with packing and phone calls, arrangements, and double-checks.  Yesterday the last times started. We played cards and watched old videos, walked, talked, and took pictures and said goodnight for the last time in the same ways we have done since forever.  My son is off to follow his dreams and I am unbelievably proud and happy for him.  I have not been able to understand the heavy feeling and have fought hard with it. I wonder now if that is why I have been unable to write about it.  I have not been able to name it.  Now as the minutes tick down, I have 1 hour 12 mins left, I finally see. My family will not be the same.  My relationship with my son has shifted, my position in the family matrix is unclear.  Something has ended and for that, I must grieve.  The heavy dark thing is grief.

I feel so conflicted.  This is everything I had hoped for when I watched over my son on his first night.  I am happy, it is natural, normal, the way of things, and yet there it is.  Grief.

I watch my son and his beautiful girlfriend.  Their hugs are slightly longer, they are both so determined not to lose what they have found. It’s time to leave our home and so I put my laptop down, I can hear my husband packing the car.  Out of habit I check his bedroom for anything left and remind my son, in these virus filled times, to keep safe.  “Yes mum” he rolls his eyes.  I need not have done either.  The car journey is silent.  I look back over my shoulder and have a sudden image of my son swallowed by his car seat, wearing a soft floppy too big elf hat.  We were on our way home from the hospital nearly 19 years ago. I cry for the first time and realise that we have no tissues.  My son laughs and says “first one down”.  My daughter sniffs and dries her tears behind me.  She hates her brother because he is thoughtless and annoying, but like all big sisters, she loves him really. It is a night flight and the neon beats patterns on my jeans as we all travel forward.  I stare ahead, my husband puts his hand on my knee then back onto the wheel, his eyes never leaving the road.

I feel powerless and numb.   I am happy, proud, sad, excited, worried.  I laugh to keep the tears at bay, I feel I must be strong, for just a little while longer.

We say goodbye in the car park, I turn away when my son holds his girlfriend for the last time, it is just too heartbreaking to watch them. We take photos and load the trolley, my daughter goes in for a last hug.  We all watch him go, not allowed in the airport building, we shiver on the concrete waiting for the security guards to clear him and the new friend he is starting this adventure with.  Back in the car we trade photos and make Facebook posts while we wait to make sure he has cleared customs.  We all agree that was the hardest part and somehow all feel a little lighter.

I feel relieved.  I am writing the final few sentences, because now I can.  I have allowed myself to cry a little now too, not the big sobs of grief, just the soft gentle kind you use for weddings.  I am so lucky.

I put a few more books into a box and sit on the striped back bed.  I will do some more tomorrow.  I look at the piles of abandoned belongings.  I am thinking that I will probably paint the walls a pale grey, I check my phone, it is time to start dinner. I am 16 hours ahead of my son so he will be asleep now.  I woke up this morning to a message

I just woke up, I will be leaving soon on a huge day with lots of adventures

I wrote back

make the most of it son, take it all in, live your life to the full.  I love you. Use the sanitizer.

I close the door to my son’s old room.  Everything is the new normal.

I’m ready

2 thoughts on “Campfire Story

  1. Reading this brought back memories of your father and I bidding you a sad farewell at Heathrow, some 13 years ago, as you left for a new life in NZ. Bitter sweet. Gut achingly sad to lose you but happy that a wonderful new life awaited you. But David will be back home before you know it! I share in your pride of having such a gifted son, my grandson, You still have the beautiful and talented Helena to brighten your days. I love you all so much.


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