Telling: Altars & Artifacts


coming home

We had an 8:30 am flight out of Albuquerque, which meant leaving Santa Fe about 6:30. I packed long past the other's sleeping. It's easier that way, all that empty space around me, no one else's energy making wakes. In the morning, all the bags were packed and stacked at the door. The boy's travel clothes laid out and a laundry bag ready for their night clothes. Gus and Jake woke and changed groggily, but lifted by the anticipation of travel. Tucker I dressed in his sleep and carried shoeless to the car. The sky was just paling as we drove off, my father at the wheel, my mom riding shotgun, the boys quiet in their seats. I felt proud of myself for pulling it all together. Content and happy with my boys and my parents and the vacation itself. About 20 minutes out of Santa Fe I began running over what would happen when we arrived at the airport. I wondered if I had enough small bills to tip the man who checked our bags at the curb. In that instant I remembered putting my wallet beneath the seat in Will's car the night before. Remembered thinking, "I can't forget and leave this here," which of course is what I did. For a moment I thought I'd just have to borrow some cash from my mom, then I realized I'd have to show my id to check in, so there was no going on.

My father pulled into a gas station and telephoned my brother, waking him. Will checked his car and came up with the wallet. They arranged a rendez-vous point and we turned the car around and raced back the way we'd come. We arrived at the rendez-vous simultaneously, which, even in my state of high tension, made me laugh with pleasure. Will stuck his arm out the window, Pop turned the car so Mom could reach out her window and take the wallet, like some elaborate baton transfer. And off we raced again towards Albuquerque. I kept checking my watch and calculating how late would be too late. As we neared the airport I woke Tucker and explained that he'd have to go into the airport with Mikaela and Gus and Jake and that I would meet them at the gate after checking the bags. He agreed, but I was worried he would balk when the time came to go off without me. He didn't. The boys whisked off with Mom. Pop and I unloaded the bags at the end of a long curbside baggage check line. It was 7:45. At about 8, they called for anyone on the flight to Chicago to come to the head of the line. We dragged all nine bags up, showed my id. The man gave me my gate number and told me to go. I took off, stopped, turned to see my father overseeing the tagging of my bags. I waved, though he didn't see me. I was already gone, and running as I needed to, but wishing I had gotten a last hug, knowing he'd never make it to the gate to say goodbye. All the emotion of the last two weeks ballooned, as I ran, carrying the image of him bending over my luggage, taking care, minding the rear. I raced through the security check, happy to have decided to leave the powerbook in sleep mode so I didn't have to wait for a complete start up. The plane was in the late stages of boarding when I got to the gate. Mom had talked to the counter agent who had our boarding passes waiting for me. Our seats were 3 and 1; Gus again at the front while Tucker Jake and I sat in the back near the bathrooms. Not the best, but certainly managable. I hugged my mom and thanked her, and asked her to thank Pop, then the boys streamed around me down the walkway into the plane. Easy. No sweat.

Watt was at the gate to meet us, the boys jumping and pulling at him. So happy. Everybody happy. We gathered our bags and carried them out to the sidewalk. Watt went to get the car and all the boys went with him, so I stood alone awhile in the muggy air and traffic, feeling calm. After about 20 minutes, Watt pulled up to the curb and jumped from the car saying, "You load up. I'm going to find Gus." and took off down the sidewalk. "Wait," I hollared, making him stop. "What do you mean, 'find Gus'. Where is he? Where's Gus?"

Watt gestured back over the sidewalk impatient to be off and incapbable of speech. "What did you do with Gus?" I persisted.

"I let him out to find you. I didn't realize how long this strip was. Then I didn't see him when I drove on. I've got to go back and find him. You drive around again and pick us up."

So I let him go and loaded up the car, slowly, watching over my shoulder, hoping at any moment they'd appear. They didn't. So I pulled away and drove back around to the beginning of the "Arrivals" section, for the second time that day, my body flooded with adrenaline, not a quick burst, but a sustained flood. Watt and Gus were easy to spot. We stopped and took them in. I looked at Watt. He looked at me. There wasn't any point in saying anything. I closed my eyes, bowed my head and laughed. And Watt laughed. And Gus. I don't know if Gus was laughing. "Well, guys." I said, "We're home."

On the drive home I asked Watt if there were workers at the house. He said, "No, it's Sunday."

"Since you said they worked yesterday, I didn't know. I thought maybe."

"No." he said.

We've been waiting on a permit for our rehab project for months and months. We applied for the permit in January. By March we figured we were days from receiving it, so we went ahead with demolition. Tore out all the walls and ceilings in the first floor, down to 2X4's and the insides of the outside walls. No plaster or drywall left, a grey and dingy place. The electrical work and plumbing got done, but then nothing more could happen till the inspector came and the inspector wouldn't come till the permit was issued and the permit was caught in a Kafka-esque beaurocratic maze. So we've waited. And lived and worked the five of us in four rooms. The couch and tv is in our bedroom, Watt and mine. The "kitchen" is in what used to be Jake's room. We have a table, a microwave, a coffeemaker, a refridgerator the size of a 2-drawer filing cabinet, but not so deep, and a drawerfull of carryout menus. The dishes get washed in the tub. I have given in to paper plates, but papercups repel me and disposable utensils are unthinkable. So, dishes get washed in the bathtub. What used to be Tucker's room is crammed full of all the things that used to populate the first floor. And also, by the smell of it, quite a few happy mice. I will deal with that later. There is no room to deal with it now. That's the second floor. The boys sleep and play in one room on the third floor. I work in the other. When the weather got really hot, the third floor was uninhabitable. All the boys slept in our room, Jake and Tucker on the floor, Gus on the couch, with three fans blowing over us. After about 2 weeks of heat, I gave in and purchased an airconditioner for the third floor. A neighbor who helped me install the airconditioner, turned up an old one from his basement which he donated to our cause, installing it in our bedroom. It's very old, but takes the edge off and we're grateful for it. Even I. The problem now is that the working parts of the second floor are covered by one electircal circuit. We can't run the microwave with the airconditioner going. It can be hard to remember. There've been days I've had to go down to the basement and flip the circuit breaker 3 or 4 times. It's been a long, crowded summer. I try to keep my sense of humor about it. And I think we've all managed quite well. Though each of us have reached moments of such intense claustrophobia that it seems impossible to continue, we have, in fact, carried on.

While we were in Colorado, the permit actually came through and the day before our return the drywallers had come. I was very excited to see it. When I turned the corner onto our street I experienced the familiar rush of seeing that, even after an extended absence, my house still exists. But then I saw that our front door was standing wide open. There had been three burglaries on our block the week before we left town, all taking place during the day. An unusual circumstance that had had all the neighbors talking. Now here was my door standing wide and my stomach clenched up with foreboding. There was no parking spot till the end of the block, and I hurried from it, back towards the house, leaving all the luggage in the car.

As I approached my neighbor's house, she hurried out to intersect me. She didn't say, "How was your trip?", or "Welcome back." or even "Hello." She said, "I have to talk to you."

"My door's wide open." I answered, not breaking stride. "I have to see about my house."

"Listen," she persisted, keeping pace with me, "Lupe's going to tell you some bad news. Don't tell her that I told you, but she lost your dog."

That stopped me. I turned and looked at her, her boney, toothless face and teased-up hair. "What?" was all I could muster.

Sandy nodded, satisfied. "She lost Odojo. Four days ago, I think it was. I just wanted you to have time to prepare."

Lupe had been keeping Odojo at her house as she has done whenever we leave town. "How do you know?"

"She was here. She told my Mom. I thought you should know."

"Great." I said, turning away, furious at this tactless, intrusive woman. Thinking, "Kill the messenger," as I fled up my frontsteps and into my dim, dusty front hall. I was confronted there by a plaster-spattered man with a broad, friendly face. The drywall taper. "Hi." he said, "I hope you don't mind me coming today. I know you've been waiting a long time and I thought it would be good to get going on this." I made some noises at him and hurried on past, up the stairs to the sanctuary of my room. I dialed Lupe's number but there was no answer. I tied up Gus's rollerblades so he could go play street hockey with the Taper's boys. Jake and Tucker stripped off their shirts and shoes and got down to digging holes in the yard. I lay my body down on my bed. The music from the Taper's radio rose up to me, and all the sounds of children, and the voices of Sandy and a friend of hers as they stood in my front hall discussing my house. I got up and closed my bedroom door and lay back down. Watt lay down beside me. "Welcome home," he said.

A Mother's Journal

field notes from
1997 - 1999