Is there anyone out there? Or to be more specific, is there anyone out there who, like me, was once part of a busy, noisy, thriving family, tangled up in all its inevitable joys and woes, and who now suddenly finds themselves alone? If you are out there, then you’ll understand how I feel as I try to express my fragmented thoughts on this poignant autumnal day, an Indian summer’s afternoon at its finest. Babie lato, as they say here in Poland.
Fragmented. Yes, that’s the word. It’s how you feel when you reach a certain crossroads in life; a certain set of circumstances – some of them nature’s course, some of them not – and find that all those you loved are no longer living with you. Of course they’re still with you in spirit, that goes without saying. And of course there are the phone calls and Skype chats and WhatsApp messages and all the rest, but …
But. That’s the trouble. There’s always that dreaded, dangerous word lurking out there in the background, threatening to strike just when you’ve managed to convince yourself that things aren’t all that bad. But. We, the solitary ones, know the full import of that word. We all know it means that nothing can compare to what it once was. That all the best has already happened, and now it’s a matter of trying to make the best of a second best. This is not a self-pitying statement. It’s a fact. It’s what but means, once you’re alone.
Since having bid farewell to my last and youngest child, now grown up; and having done the same to my other two children, now even more grown up; and to my philosopher-hubby, now estranged, I’ve found myself reflecting on the tumbling years when we all lived together as a big family. I’ve found myself thinking of all the things I would now give anything to have once again in the palm of my hand.
Little routines that you take for granted while you’re in the midst of them. Little and big things that go conjointly with family life, when you and your partner and your children and pets are still a physical part of your world, all of them filling the house with their various needs and habits and nuisances and noises (or silences, when one or the other of them happens to be sulking); all of them pulling either at your heartstrings or your patience. Things that are part of the fabric of your life – an existence you somehow believed would last forever, bounding along into a future that you can’t see and wouldn’t particularly want to see, if you were given the chance. Those specious years should have come with an invisible warning label to remind you that it doesn’t last forever. Because even though we kind of know this obvious fact, we don’t really know it. Not until it happens. When the ‘forever’ bit comes to an end.
So what things do you miss once your family has fluttered away, dispatched to various locations and homes that are no longer your home? No longer the family home. Here are some, for a start.
- The hustle and bustle of it all – the very thing you at times groaned about, longed to be free of, when the hecticness and decibel level just got a bit too much. And now, as you sit alone in your solitary kitchen, half typing at your laptop, half staring out of the window at the autumnal colours of the empty garden, you remember summers gone by, wishing for an ACTION REPLAY.
- The smells of cooking, even the groans emanating from fussier members of the clan who grumbled about whatever was being served.
- Having brunch together on Saturdays and Sundays, the only time of the week when you all managed to sit down and eat together at the kitchen table rather than having fractured rounds of mealtimes. (Still better than eating alone.)
- Sitting in front of the TV, trying to watch films suitable for all, but constantly being interrupted by chatter, questions, laughter, sharing of thoughts, the occasional irritated Shhhh!
- Sitting at the kitchen table (ah, that kitchen table! – surely not designed just for one inhabitant?), helping the children with homework when they were still young enough to need help.
- Family shopping trips on the weekends, followed by fast-food lunches and Kinder eggs surprises for the youngest.
- Regrouping in the late afternoons, after coming home from school and work …
And then the smaller, ongoing background details:
– the gush of the kettle being filled for Hubby’s first cuppa of the day;
– the arguments about whose turn it is to take the dog on a walk (hah, at least no arguments about that anymore – it’s always my turn now, twice a day, every day);
– the fond sight of hubby standing by the window gazing out at the river as he rolls a cigarette;
– the plaintive calling of: Mummy ….! trailing out of the youngest one’s bedroom;
– the reverberations of bass guitar thrumming out of the study;
– the ethnic strands of charango and panpipes sailing up from the basement;
– the monotonous mantra of piano scales …
I could go on and on, capturing memories both distant and recent. I mean, it’s AGES since all five of us used to go on our big shopping excursions, but it’s only two years since my estranged husband used to roll his cigarette while gazing out of the window. It’s only two weeks since my youngest daughter was still with me, here in our large, decrepit family home, now practically empty. Okay, so there’s still the same back garden that hosted a wealth of BBQ parties over the catapulting years, still the same river flowing past our home together with the seasons, bringing ice flows and swans in the toe-numbing winter months, and ferries and canoes in the cricket-filled summer evenings; still the same bricks and mortar, the same number of rooms (way too many now) … but only with one remaining member of the family clan still dwelling within the space that now harbours silent memories rather than exultant noise.
And sadly, at the time it was all going on, when it was just a normal, taken-for-granted part of this entire thing we call life, I didn’t know I had it so good.
At least there’s one positive thing about being alone: I now have plenty of time to concentrate on my writing in unadulterated, uninterrupted bliss. But the trouble is …
There we go again. That dangerous word. But.
But seriously, the trouble is now that all children and hubbies have flown the nest, my inspiration seems to have followed suit and fluttered away with them, somewhere out there in the Great Beyond, caught on a capricious autumn breeze and now merely waving to me in fond memory.
I know I should be grateful for all that I still have. I should thank God for my life and health and a roof over my head and all the rest.