My wife and sons drove back to Illinois this week to visit, leaving me to finish my book. We’ve been in Louisiana a year, and the kids really needed to see family, friends, and the old special places. I’ve anticipated their trip for months, since I’m the boys’ main caregiver during summers and holidays, and it’s sometimes hard to work.
In the last days before it came to pass, my wife finished at her job while I took the kids to the Houston aquarium to feed the rays and ride the Ferris wheel. We swam in the hotel pool and ate well. I was feeling a little guilty about them leaving. I know this because I spent 15 dollars on the dart toss to make sure they each got their desired plush-toy squids.
I’ve worked well since everyone left, often 12 or more hours a day in revision. But that first night I got a little drunk on freedom and Snapple Lemon Tea and stayed up until three a.m., reading things I’d bookmarked for the future, watching YouTube, and scrolling through Facebook. When the dogs woke me at 7:30, confused and hurt that they hadn’t eaten or been out yet, I made some coffee and sat wondering how long it had been since I’d done that, spent six hours doing nothing and staying up late to do it.
My life in the last decade has been almost exclusively about my children, my job, and my work, mostly in that order. It hasn’t left much time for other things, such as going out to high-end restaurants, watching movies of a non-Pixar nature, or always taking my medication as needed. Also: Sleep; hygiene; sanity.
This new situation—being alone to do with every minute as only I see fit—hasn’t occurred in…well. At first I thought it must have been a couple of months, when I took some time to drive around the Gulf rim to do research. But not really, since my friend and I were constantly on the move, always in search of something, and necessarily sharing resources. To have freedom is to have a house of one’s own.
Then I thought maybe it was when I’ve gone to West Virginia. That was nice and productive, but there were always tasks to be done in addition to writing—chopping wood, fixing up the house, driving an hour in hopes of finding a common ingredient for a recipe—and whatever work was being done stopped at dinnertime for a shared meal. I had to get to bed at a reasonable hour to be at breakfast and start again.
I guessed it must have been before my first son was born, then, 11 years ago. That caught me off guard. I mean, that sounds bad. Right? Is this normal? I haven’t had complete and total discretionary freedom for 11 years? Of course when school is in session both kids are away from the house, and my wife has often been at work, but that’s when I teach or grade, and generally I pick up the boys or meet them at the bus. I always start dinner early enough to have it ready at a reasonable time, and there are always things to be done for the next day.
So…before kids there was just my wife and me, but when you live with someone you’re never left completely to your own devices, if you have any courtesy for your partner. I strained to see into that dim dawn before marriage. A roommate, and before that, other relationships.
Ah: That place I had alone in college as an undergrad--two rooms, the former library and porch in a house with a defunct fireplace and a long bank of windows. That one summer there everyone else I knew had left campus, and I had solitude and choice. Nope: painting crew, long days of work alongside transients and drug addicts. And the other residents in the rooming house: the ex-con named Lucky who was a killing floor technician and loved his work.
Before that, the army. Before that, I lived at home. Maybe this is why I’ve always walked so much, to find a way to be alone and think.
So how have I used the rest of my total freedom? Let me explain the purity of my situation. I usually work in bed, and over the last week have really only gotten up to eat and hit the bathroom. Yesterday I showered for the first time in three days. The dogs and cats are puzzled. I treated myself to an expensive frozen pizza (awful) and a box of frozen Natchitoches meat pies (decent, but probably better fried). Anyway, enough self-indulgence. Best to stick with carrots, apples, a small steak, a few leaves of lettuce. Pushups and crunches to ward off atrophy. Get the job done, in order to start the fall semester’s work. Freedom will come another day, one day, soon.