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There’s something about preparing your house for your own departure that never feels good. I cancel the paper and stop buying fresh fruit—try to eat up what’s in the fridge—and the heaviness of absence starts hanging around. The leaves on my plants droop and I water the plants, promising to return in a week. I clean the bathrooms for my own return, and start gathering my travel clothes, doing a special load because I haven’t worn those clothes in a year. I make a list of things to do and when to do them for the same man who has been house-sitting and cat-sitting for me for five years. Every year I download this list, update it, and print it out. Every year I come home and my cats are fine.
My cats know me so well that they sense my apprehension about leaving—of course. The suitcases aren’t out yet so the hard evidence isn’t present, but they know. Right now we’re playing the Sophie’s Choice game: who does Mom love most, who can irritate her the most but still find love, and who is demonstrating calm and collected love, not hysterical love. I just cleaned their entire bedroom (yes, they have their own) and witnessed the battle of the wills when it came to who could sit closest to the vacuum cleaner without running like a screaming mimi away first. Mom was making it noisy; could it be that bad? Had either of them ever suffered physical consequences from Mom running the vacuum? Noooo. But Lucy bailed first, no surprise. She’s no pin-up like Sara. She’s not cool like that.
I’m heading to Minnesota. The regular family questions have already trickled down here to Arizona: How many kids do we have on Christmas Eve? How much noise will Dad be able to stand? Did you get presents for everybody or not? I didn’t either…good. Do you think So-and-So will be able to make it, you know, despite the troubles? Are you bringing food? Are you going to church? No. Me either. Good. You know Mom wants us all to go. I know.
It’s just not me anymore.
I pack my thick cotton Minnesota lounging clothes and know they’ll get me through an unexpected storm, an unexpected two or three nights snowed in, and a mass I didn’t want to attend in the first place. There I’ll be on Christmas Day, warm and cozy at my parents’ house, setting out the smoked salmon and the herring, cutting up the cheese, waiting alone for the more disciplined members of my party to return.