You know that half groan, half-shriek the gears make when you thought you were shifting your car into second and you hit reverse instead? Or, forgot to punch the clutch all the way to the floor before trying to go forward?
Oh, you never did that? Fine. I bet you still know what I’m talking about.
It’s the sound you want to make when you come home after being away. That’s when the after-glow of encounters with family, fellow travelers, and desert vistas dissolves in the face of the laundry, the lingering odor of the mouse that died in your wall, along with every leaky toilet, burned-out light bulb, and squeaky door you completely forgot about until it greeted you upon arrival.
And somehow the chair that used to welcome your butt every morning right after breakfast feels foreign, uncomfortable, like it wants you to feel the rejection it has endured in the nearly four weeks you’ve been gone.
Even if you can bring yourself to sit still it doesn’t do any good. All those words that came to you with such clarity in the car as you hurtled west on I-70 while the dog slept or when your son invited you to follow him around his burgeoning garden have gone underground. The notes you took look like the scribblings of an exhausted four-year-old.
A sense of failure descends and is compounded when you pick up the mail which has been held at the post office. In the bundle of envelopes bound by rubber bands is a large white one fat with the detailed critiques of the judges who have found your submission to a writing contest wanting.
This doesn’t make sitting in the chair any easier.
Instead of writing, instead of doing anything productive, you find yourself thinking you never should have left while simultaneously deciding that you never should have come home.
Your mate makes soothing sounds and tells you that you know what this is, it happens every time you leave and come back again: re-entry.
He pauses and in that pause, you realize that he is reminding you that it is your great good fortune to be able to go see people you love and let them stir emotions that are sometimes easier to leave sleeping. It is great luck to be able to have seen the desert at dawn and to sip margaritas poolside in Las Vegas with your mother and sisters while you are all healthy. If you had stayed home, you would not have climbed onto a tractor and made everyone laugh as you drove it a short distance on the “farm” your son, The Distiller, and his beautiful partner bought last winter. You wouldn’t have sprung for a birthday pedicure with your stepdaughter who lent you some sparkly aqua flip flops to wear afterwards.
As you begin to remember all the things you would have missed if you had never interrupted your routine, the gears stop grinding a bit. A feeling of peace nudges frustration and the sense of failure to the fringes where, hopefully, they will plummet to their death.
You give yourself one task, one of those writing exercises Anne Lamott calls a “short assignment.” And it’s not great but it helps. It works. It brings you the rest of the way home.