The Sappy Departure
“Why are you crying, Mom?” Kyle asked this morning as I pulled away from my next-door neighbor’s hug. “Are you sad or happy?”
I thought about what had unleashed the tears: the final walk through our bedroom, where the hardwood floors echoed from emptiness because nearly everything is in storage. Then the last good-byes. It hit me that I will miss our home and neighborhood terribly. It also hit me that everything we had planned during the past six months had come down to this moment, and all the work and difficult decisions had made us ready to go — and we really, finally were ready to go — so I was crying tears of relief. And also, I was indeed happy that at this crossroads in our lives, when a great deal is transitioning personally and professionally, we had chosen to go in a direction that Morgan and I believe will keep changing us for the better even after the trip is over.
“Both,” I finally answered.
“Well,” Kyle said, “if you’re sad and happy, that makes you sappy.”
I am sappy, so much so that the family began mocking my sentimentality last week. “This is the last time we’re going to Crogan’s,” I said the other night as we approached a favorite pub. “Awww,” said Colly, her voice dripping with pity, “and this is the last time we’re touching this crosswalk button!”
“The last time” became a running joke until Morgan got the last word on our final morning at home. He marched to the bathroom after coffee and Cheerios and proclaimed, “This is the last dump!”
I cleaned out every closet and drawer, handled the logistics of turning the house over to tenants, and made final decisions about what to pack and how to make it fit. The kids bounced around friends’ homes and perhaps wondered why Mom was letting them eat so much ice cream, watch so much TV and play so much Wii (on their friends’ Wiis, that is. We don’t have one. My philosophy last week: Let them enjoy time with friends to the fullest, and the more they can take care of themselves, the better.)
We’re planning to go away for just 11 months, more or less, and yet … who knows? Anything can happen, which is why tears of anxiety contributed to the crying. Allow me to linger and prolong this goodbye once more by digressing to something that might seem a tad off topic. Let’s talk about the subjunctive tense in Spanish, okay? I like the subjunctive because it acknowledges the inherent uncertainty of circumstances. If you use the subjunctive when you’re supposed to (as is the case when you ask someone to do something, or you express a hope or desire), then you’re essentially admitting that you don’t have control over a situation. You’d like it to be a certain way, and you think it might likely happen that way, but you really can’t say for sure. Cuando ( “when”) triggers the use of the subjunctive, as in, Cuando volvamos a Piedmont … ( “When we return to Piedmont …”). Changing just one vowel (volvamos instead of volvemos) speaks volumes. It means we can’t be sure of our return.
So we pulled out of the driveway and headed toward Colorado (first to my brother’s in Telluride, then to Boulder), where we’ll be until we go abroad in early October. I had anticipated a potentially awkward silence in the car, as the four of us worked through feelings. (Perhaps I should say “five of us” since Teddy the dog, who’s traveling with us until we go to Argentina, seemed extra clingy and concerned). I purposely held back from trying to fill the silence, and I refrained from suggesting that the kids do anything in particular. I vowed, starting today, to be more of an equal and less of a manager in our foursome.
We had gone scarcely a half hour, over the Benicia Bridge, when Kyle asked how far we had to go. I stopped myself from telling him the answer, passed a map to the back seat and said, “Here, see if you can find where we are now, and then find Highway 80 to 50.” Colly and Kyle unfolded the paper and became confused but started laughing, as if they couldn’t fathom the inefficiency and antiquity of tangled lines on folded paper in an age of Google maps. Again, I stopped myself from “helping.” I listened to them work together to figure it out, and as I closed my eyes while Morgan drove, I thought, “This is going to be good.”
I knew our first stop could set the tone for the first leg of the trip by virtue of it being the first stop. The old debate re-emerged: Taco Bell or McDonald’s? I didn’t chime in because to object would make them want it more. Kyle said he felt carsick. Morgan said he’d pull off at the next exit. We got off in Newcastle (just south of Auburn) and hung a left at a tricky intersection, inadvertently passing the cluster of gas stations and fast food. We got on a side street headed who knows where. And then we arrived on Main Street, where a line of 19th-century fruit packing sheds stood near the railroad tracks. The long rectangular buildings looked like giant boarded-up chicken coops with weathered wooden sidewalks. There was a junk emporium (its sign really advertised “Junk!”) that conveyed unwarranted cheerfulness, and a shuttered gelato stand that expressed dashed optimism. In between them stood the Newcastle Cheese Shop & Deli, “Home of the Rat Trap Sandwich.” Eat there? Hell, yes!
We did not order The Rat Trap (a sandwich with a sampling of every kind of meat and cheese). But we did get some of the freshest, largest, most satisfying deli sandwiches on crusty bread that I have tasted in recent memory. I closed my eyes again as Morgan drove and thought once more, “This is going to be good.”
Now we’re in Fallon, Nevada, at a dog-friendly Holiday Inn Express. We didn’t want to drive very far the first day because nobody felt up for it. We plan to take Hwy 50 to Colorado and arrive in Telluride on Monday.
One final thought: What helped make the past couple of weeks manageable and so memorable were certain friends who took time out of their routines to cook us dinner, have us over for lunch, watch our kids and run favorite trails with me. You know who you are, and I’ll miss you!