Last night I was sitting on the couch knitting the never ending sweater (Cielo, this is cool because, since I started at the top, technically I could just keep going on the body until it either reaches my ankles or I run out of wool) which is what I do when the house is dead quiet and a lot of times what I do when I need to make it dead quiet in my head. I'd just come back from spending forty minutes with the unbearably lonely dog up the street (which is generally Elizabeth's job when the neighbor is away) and I just wasn't right. The sweater was just fine.
(I've got five inches to go before there's any chance of going rogue with this thing)
There were a hundred things I wanted to tell her, twenty-seven things I needed to just yell down the hall, and fourteen things backed up in the text message queue except they were going to stay in the queue because her phone was twelve feet from my head and off. It was Sunday night and I expected her home sometime between seven and nine at the very latest because it was a school night. I'm like a dog crossing its legs at 7:15, full bladder or not because it always goes out at 7. Except not really because I was like this on Saturday night when she generally wouldn't have been here and I probably wouldn't have sent any sort of text (but I could have) and Friday night was a wash in terms of sleep. I stared at the ceiling until 3 tracking her progress from Norwalk to Laguardia to ticketing to security and then proceeded to tangle myself in the sheets until 6 when I gave up, staggered down the hall toward coffee, and realized she was finally in the air. Things got ugly when she left the country.
When Lucia was twenty I put her in her father's car - didn't even see her off at JFK - with her 4200 cubic inch pack stuffed with everything she probably needed, her first iPhone (because messages between iPhones are supposed to be free no matter where you are - uh, no), her passport and a ticket with an eleven week window that we both knew was going to extend to thirteen. I had strict instructions (just short of bodily harm) from my brother to let her fall on her face (he swore he'd pull her out of the swamp if she got in real trouble but it couldn't be me) and oddly enough I was mostly OK with that. I think the cat was more freaked out then I was. The day she left he went on a five day walkabout which was just long enough I was pretty sure he wasn't coming back. I had no intention of sharing this information. (Dear Lucia, you left and so did your cat. He has either found a new home, gone native in the back woods, or thrown himself in front of a truck on highway 57.)
Lucia returned after thirteen weeks, landed at JFK, showered, repacked, and moved into her dorm in under twenty-four hours. We missed her. It took some getting used to. Her room remained a disaster until just recently (she will be twenty-six in August and I took possession of her room several months ago). She did not leave a hole. She exited as you might expect from an existential womb, the gap closing behind her with a neat little pop. Each time she returns to the house she is less here and more there. It won't be long now before I'll be able to paint over the graffiti on her bedroom walls (it isn't her objection stopping me).
I sent all my children away as soon as possible. Unfortunately I sent all three of them away later than I would have liked because neither of their fathers were sent away at all and oddly enough (to me) were hugely resistant to sending kids out of the house. Lucia and Mikes' father had time to gain perspective because it took a while before I could afford it. If I'd been able, they'd have been sent to overnight camp for at least a week by the time they were ten, if not nine. I managed long weekends which was a start. Elizabeth's father was simply worn down in the end but he passed on his fear so that when she finally went she cried at the cabin door and my heart just broke. I had images of her anti-social sister at the same age refusing to speak to anyone for the first three days at Y camp and wondered if this one was going to crawl under the cabin and refuse to come out. I hyperventilated on the bumpy way out but managed to pull it together by the time I got home. She did just fine. She did better than fine. I found her in the most open state I'd ever seen her or have seen her since.
There is an Elizabeth shaped hole in this house right now and it has nothing to do with just being away for a week. Part of it is that phone on the shelf in the off position but she's never taken a phone to camp. She's been off with her grandfather and S for a week or two but communication has been minimal. I've been able to reach her but haven't felt the need. There are live video feeds starting to show up from Nicaragua and eventually my daughter's face is going to pop up in one or more of them. I don't think that's going to help all that much although I catch myself watching the feeds from another location, breathless and teary as if one of those hats in the background might be hers. Are those my boots? Is that the shape of her back and neck? It's so far away, why is it so far away? Please move that camera closer. Eventually her site pops up but I can't find her until the very end when someone calls her name and I realize the camera has panned across her from a distance a dozen times - she has a shovel in her hands, moving dirt where a floor will go and I don't recognize this woman behind the sunglasses and under the hat. She turns, smiles, and waves for just a moment and then goes back to work. There are two tribes on this worksite. The tribe that loves the camera and the tribe with eyes only on the work. I don't think she's going to let up.
There is an Elizabeth shaped hole in this house right now. She has gone two thousand miles away by air and nearly four thousand miles by ground to loosen the dirt in the earth and she has disconnected.
I think it must be because she's the end of the baby train. Or maybe it's more than that. I didn't notice so much when Lucia and Mike were still in the house or when it was still Lucia and Elizabeth but once Lucia was gone for a while, Elizabeth became an only child and the dynamic changed. I think when they're close together, no more than a few years apart, four or five years at the very most, they go down and out like dominos and you don't have so much time to notice until it's over. When there are nine years between the second to last and the last, you notice.
It was much easier to let go, to push, to risk, to turn away even, because there was always so much time. Even when I was aware of time passing too quickly, and with Mike, I started to notice when he was fourteen shortly after Elizabeth was born, there was always another one or two coming up behind. I've been a mother with a minor child in the house for more than thirty years and it's almost over.
More than thirty years.
What the hell happened?!
There's an Elizabeth shaped hole in the house and there's nothing I can do about it except sit on the couch with my knitting and ache. Or write and ache. Or hike and cry. Or go down the street and cry into that big silly understanding chocolate lab's neck (my dog just doesn't get it). Or go to Bikram and let it go during savasana.
There's an Elizabeth shaped hole in the house which is probably indicative of having done a reasonably decent job of something or other. Which doesn't make it any easier. I wonder what will have changed when she comes back.
The fact that I can get a screen shot off what was a live streaming video (I'd have to stare at Facebook 24/7 if I wanted to catch the damn things live) is oddly comforting.