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Tomorrow, I leave for Minnesota. Today, I prepare my house for my absence, terrorizing it room by room.
I clean, straighten, scrub; I water plants and make hummingbird food. Doors slam, appliances run—my peaceful home becomes chaotic. I go outside to change the litter in the cats’ box, pouring out the used, holding my breath as the dust cloud of pee and poop rises up and settles in every moist crease I have.
My female Brazilian pepper tree gets the hose again, as long as I’m out there. She likes that once in awhile.
I leave the hose running and go to run errands, forgetting to set any kind of timer. Turn water off, turn water off, I think as I drive away. Hose hose hose. I hope my silent chant helps to prevent an accidental flood.
First stop: hardware store to make extra house keys because it seems prudent, though I’m not sure who’ll be getting one. My blood pressure and adrenaline level are both pushing their limits, so when the key-maker guy reads my t-shirt (“Pittsburgh Willy’s Gourmet Hotdogs” on the front, “Home of the Big Willy” on the back) and tells me how much he loves that place, I say, “I do too! The owner is great!” I’m friends with the owner, and have earned my t-shirt via a football bet.
This is a sign that I do have a life here in Arizona.
I get my keys and go to the check-out, where a woman named Joyce rings me up. “That’s my mom’s name!” I announce gleefully, wondering if this Joyce has a family who loves her, if she ever went camping with her family like my mom did, if she fished and hunted, like my mom.
“Thank you. Gotta go! See you next time!” I say, every one of my pores and hair follicles energized. I zoom out to my car and zoom to a favorite local restaurant to buy a gift certificate for the young man who will be watching my kitten, Leo, while I’m gone. Pores and follicles still singing, I drive to the bank, where I withdraw money to pay Nabe, who will be watching my two older babies, Sara and Lucy, and my house. And my mail. The birds and the plants.
These are other signs that most of my life is down here, in Arizona.
I get home quickly after taking shortcuts through the hood. It took six years to learn those, and sometimes I still get lost. Everything can look the same in Arizona.
I burst into the house with packages and good cheer: “Hi everybody! Mama’s home!” Everyone is hiding. I lure Lucy, slow fluffy Luce, to the couch, where I have hidden nail clippers under a blanket. I wrap her up like a burrito as I always do, kiss her nose, then coax her claws out. She endures this affront with grace. Sara scampers by, la la la, you got her but you didn’t get me, and soon falls prey to my cooing: no sharp claws for you either, Sara Monster. I use the nickname Nabe has given her.
With the big girls taken care of, some laundry folded, the hose turned off, the paper canceled, it’s noon. Lunchtime. I fold a tortilla around some lunchmeat and eat it on my way to Leo’s room. The door grunts open when I push it in, and there I see Leo sitting in the middle of the room, a tiny black statue. What took you so long, Mama? He careens around. He loves the warm bottle I bring, toys, my shoes, running in circles. Leo just loves. He knows nothing else.
I sit on the floor and bring him up to settle between my bent knees, bottle-feeding him like I have for five weeks. He sucks on the nipple aggressively at first, but after ten minutes, he’s just sucking for solace. I watch his tiny jaws work the bottle. I love him, but he bit my lip the other day when I was kissing him. I love him, but he peed on my hotdog shirt.
I love him.
The writing is on the wall: I’ll leave tomorrow and leave all of this. I’ll put my Arizona life on hold and hope that the people I know best here care for the tiny hearts I leave behind.
I tap the bridge of my nose to draw me out of a memory. Come here, come here, I say to myself. Remember that guy you dated in college for awhile, the really cute football player who tried to cuddle with you on the cushions you were calling a couch on your dorm room floor? Remember what he said: “Don’t you know how to hug?” I think you were trying too hard with him, too hard to be physical. He probably didn’t want Juice Newton at that given moment. He probably just wanted to cuddle with you and watch the show on your black and white.
I rearrange my feelings along with school paperwork and bills. I give the memory its due: Yes, I may have been too overtly physical when I was younger, but now I know that a lot can be accomplished just by loving. I know how to hug now, and am learning to be quiet so naps can take place. Sometimes I take one myself, though it still feels like stealing.
Tomorrow, my Minnesota: my parents, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, God’s country, the Liquor Here signs, stretches of trees, lakes that are still too cold to swim in, the fishing I want to do. I’ll be lucky to find my dad at the breakfast table.
I’ll be lucky to see my mom again, the greatest example-setter I know. Adoro a mi mama, as usual.