I understood my daughter would leave, at least in the abstract. I really did. I knew it was coming, and I prepared myself. I read all the blogs, and I knew enough to be ready to pick up a couple of hobbies afterwards. For example, I started stringing beads. It has become a big thing again, I’m telling you. People take classes and all that, but I opted for going it alone. The beading hobby took me to Somerville and Lexington, to craft shops with cute names on out-of-the-way side streets I had to hunt for on MapQuest. I found jeweler’s glue and .5-millimeter clear stretch elastic. It took time to find the beads, and time to string them, and time to get help hiding the little knots. It added up. Hours passed. Then, after I cleaned out the closet in my study one afternoon, I found a few old skeins of Merino wool—multi-colored, so whatever you knit looks flecked when you are through—and just like that, I remembered that I knew how to knit.
I got to work and knitted a scarf out of that wool on plastic number-nine needles. It was pretty soothing, in its way. The clack-clack-clack of it, like voices. More like an imitation of a hobby than a real one, but still. I liked knitting while I watched reruns of crime shows. My favorite was the one about missing people. I liked how hard the detectives worked, without even a little coffee break here or there. So focused on their united quest. Two hours missing. Six. Then eight. The narrative always veered off in predictable little juts, so you knew the first two or three suspects would prove to be mere distractions. The hulking mechanic with the stovepipe. The creep next door. The real dangers were still out there, not to be revealed until forty or fifty minutes in. By that point, I’d have a good swath of wool going. A stripe of warmth to guard against the cold.
I had time now for things I hadn’t done in years. People had told me I would, after she left, and it was true. Reading the newspaper, for instance. I liked the classifieds. Man With A Van! Bulldog pups, wormed, eyes checked. $800 each. Writing desk, Queen Anne style, orig. cond. Must be seen! Each ad a miniature elegy of replacement and disavowal. How does it happen, that moment of decision? You have a thing hanging around and then wham, you decide, let’s sell this fucker!
The classifieds gave me an idea. I decided it was time to sell my mother’s breakfront. Actually, I didn’t even know it was called that until I decided to get rid of it. Then I looked it up online. A piece of furniture broken by a change in angle or design. It was a big, hulking thing, oddly ornate, with faux Tudor doors on it—a mishmash of styles. My mother, who died years and years back when my daughter was still a baby, had moved it around quite a bit herself. It made a person feel guilty. You didn’t feel right about giving up on it. Breakfront. What a name, I thought, squinting at it in the dim light of our living room. It had to go.
I had plans. I would self-edit, starting with this room. Take out this one piece of furniture, and a whole world could change. Why not? Other things could go next. Fear of highways. Disinterest in politics. What you leave out is as important as what stays. Only, I couldn’t sell it. So it stayed there, sitting in its spot like a reminder: not everyone can just get up and go. What’s that old saying about needing roots as well as wings?