Samantha, the third among our four children in a hyphenated family, departed yesterday for six months abroad—in South America. She’s been there before; the mosaic of Mapuche cultures, the agrarian hills and low-lying villages, the Polynesian footprints, the vineyards, the quad-gods and mingled human-animal cosmology, the textiles and silverwork, the mystical biodiversity—all these are known and intriguing for this serious and probing twenty-one year old.
A moment of reckoning laden with colliding feelings of emptiness and a certain guilty sense of liberation.
Austin, 18, the youngest and only male in the blended quartet, left for college just a couple of weeks ago and is happily ensconced in the wet and luscious green glory of the Puget Sound area. A flash-of-an-eye ago, he was this awkward, sullen, ill-fitting boy with a worrisome tendency towards hermitic intervals. Like a ginger-haired rocket sporting an appealing discipline with friends and a voracious interest in science and social life, he has emerged into this tall, laid-back, lean success story of brains and promise.
These two are my stepchildren gone mature now and they inhabit indelible corners of my heart that has cheerfully expanded with their addition to my own two daughters. Sari and Debra are both in their thirties, interesting women with professional achievements, well-traveled, skilled, acutely literate and justice-minded, and armed with ready wit and irony. These two: one lives in Brooklyn and the other in Tel Aviv.
There is suddenly nobody home but my wife Audrey and me and a kinetic Dalmatian who at this moment is decidedly confused, wailing, and needy. He will not lack for attention and the fallout of our own irretrievable proclivity for overcompensation.
For Audrey, this is a moment of reckoning laden with colliding feelings of emptiness and a certain guilty sense of liberation. It would be so dismissive, so insensitive of me to declare something to the effect of “Been there before” (not that I haven’t done exactly that). But I do know something of what burdens her soul; I walked away from two college dormitories years ago, each time leaving behind a trembling, vulnerable teenage daughter who, at once, needed me to linger but more so needed me to leave.
So, though it was a bit out of sequence, Samantha left and now “the nest is empty.” Gone are the blaring squeals of the kitchen juicer as she blended her healthy smoothies and then made me a grocery list of all the correct foods we need and how we need them now.
Gone are the heaps of wool and threads and the pounding of her sewing machine; put away are the photos and letters and tapestries that she left out (per space issues) of a neatly compressed scrapbook of memories and loved ones and recipes and personal psalms and that is the scroll of a young woman who knows about love.
Gone for now is Samantha, so suddenly a woman who enjoys popcorn, Pandora, and the wheat beers that had been materializing in our refrigerator—like bottles of adolescence harvested with the foam of adulthood. Gone is the focused, systematized Samantha, economical with words, who nonetheless unfailingly bellowed to us, when she finished packing: “OK, what am I missing?”
Your mother and I are consoling ourselves that what you are missing is us, Sammy.