That feeling you get when you turn down your street, and you are relieved to know where you are going. That tree is in the right spot. This pothole is exactly where it is supposed to be. It is where the pie is. It is the apple of your eye. It is HOME. The place that reminds you of who you are, and lets you be that person, unapologetically. You belong there.
Days of Suburbia
Home is where you are forgiven.
He watched the black spread across his mouth, sinking in and outlining each crooked tooth. It looked like he was brushing his teeth with a broken fountain pen. Kinda scary. Kinda cool. Activated charcoal toothpaste was introduced to him by the lovely Patty. It was supposed to whiten the teeth naturally. Since charcoal trapped toxins and cleansed everything from the air, to the water from the tap, why would he say no to it when trying to brighten his smile? Not that Patty ever complained about his smile. She gazed at him with adoration and made him feel like so visible, so heard, and respected. She was always open to new ideas. Being around her made even the most mundane things, like brushing your teeth, feel fresh and new again.
When had the excitement waned from his marriage? Maybe it was even before they had walked down the aisle and exchanged rings. By that point, He and Sara had already been together for ten years. The wedding had simply been a party. An excuse to dress up and drink champagne. Now, ten years married, and it felt the same. They had less and less reasons to dress up and smile at each other, and more reasons to sigh with disappointment.
“Aren’t you done already?” Sara’s irritated voice came through the door. He could hear her fiddling with the vacuum cleaner. Soon, she’d want in to the bathroom to vacuum the baseboards. Every Saturday was like a multitasking race.
Start the coffee machine.
While that is working, throw the clothes in the wash.
While that is washing, eat breakfast.
Throw the clean clothes into the dryer.
While they are drying, throw breakfast dishes into the dishwasher.
While that is washing, vacuum and shower.
Put clean laundry away and yell at kids to get ready.
Dash out of the house.
Drop the boys to baseball practice.
While they are at practice, do the grocery shopping.
And on and on it went until it was Monday, and they would have the respite of their cubicles in their offices on opposite sides of town, where they could tap the work day away on their keyboards, forgetting about things like cleaning out the lint trap, pressure washing the driveway, and wondering if the caulk around the tub should be redone. He tried to forget, but Sara was always reminding him how he forgot, and that he was a failure for forgetting. She was excellent at reminding him that he wasn’t helping enough, or wasn’t caring enough. This had the amazing effect of erasing his libido, but once or twice a year, he’d wake up on a Sunday and feel a surge of love for Sara, and he’d want to put his arms around her. After a short emotionless love-making session, she’d puff up and prickle like a porcupine, complaining that they were now off schedule. She’d huff that they were going to be late to church, or that there wasn’t enough time to bake those muffins for the brunch book club get-together. Life was nothing more than a tedious schedule and he was ready to get out.
He knew he only had a few seconds left of solitude before Sara’s next demand would be thrust upon him. He rinsed his mouth, imagining that it was squid ink he was expelling, watching the solution dilute from black to grey, and swirl down the drain. Sara burst in and started yelling over the loud whine of the vacuum, “The only reason why you think your teeth look whiter is because you’ve made them black first. Don’t forget to wipe up all that splatter. The other day I leaned against the counter and your frickin’ black toothpaste got all over my favorite t-shirt.” She jabbed at the corners where the walls met the floor as if they had offended her. He slowly wiped down the sink. For almost 20 years, his toothbrush had lived next to Sara’s, in a cup with the floss. There was no space in that cup for this new tube of activated charcoal, and he had brought in an additional cup to house his new, but same, routine.
Looking at how separate the two cups seemed on the bathroom counter, he thought that maybe it was time to stop living his double life and finally move on to build a true life with Patty. The other day, he and Patty had gone to Bed Bath and Beyond and picked out pillows and sheets for her new apartment. It was so energizing, this idea of building a nest together, stamping a bit of your identity on a place. So sweet to make it a shared identity. Even better that she agreed to the soft gray linen that he had suggested, instead of going for the pure white. Every time he went to Patty’s, even though it was mostly empty at the moment, it felt so warm and comfortable. There, a cheesy selfie of the two of them hung by a magnet on the fridge. Inside the cabinet were two wine glasses. Even though only a few of his shirts hung in her closet, and one pair of pants, it was all he needed. He couldn’t wait to get back there, as it was the one place where he felt he could truly be himself, and be loved for being himself. It wasn’t really about the things. Just being next to Patty felt like home. It was time to tell Sara about Patty.
But not right now.
Today he had volunteered to take the boys to baseball and do the household shopping so Sara could spend a few hours by herself to get a massage. Afterwards, he was going to take the boys to dinner and a movie (a movie which Patty would be attending as well) and Sara had plans to catch up with her girlfriends. It was his gift to her, so he could buy a few hours to himself this weekend. Instead of being relaxed, Sara seemed more wound up. Almost angry. Eager to be away from her vortex of anxiety, he rounded up his boys and drove out into the Saturday sunshine. Freedom, at last!
The boys won their game. Dinner was sushi. He was proud that his boys were not so squeamish to reject raw fish. The day had been beautiful up until the point where the movie had started and Patty still hadn’t appeared. He checked his phone constantly for a text from her, but nothing came. He started to worry and simultaneously feel angry. The extra ticket in his pocket and the large bucket of popcorn seemed to be mocking him. Not able to do anything except stay put, he settled in and watched the movie. An hour later, his phone started vibrating. He ran to the lobby to answer. It was an unknown number, but he picked up anyway, sure it must be Patty.
“Is this Caleb?” A soft wavering female voice spoke. She sounded like she either had terrible allergies, or that she had been crying.
“Yes. That’s me.”
The woman explained that she was Emily, or maybe she had said, Amelie. She claimed she was Patty’s sister-in-law. He had forgotten that Patty had a family. His world with her had been a strong population: 2.
“No one wanted to tell you, because it is a bit of an embarrassment, Patty dating and hanging around a married man. I just thought you should know, she passed away this afternoon. A car accident on the expressway. They said she died instantly.”
He didn’t want to believe what he was hearing. A flood of questions poured out of him, as if answers could somehow bring her back to life, back to him.
“I’m sorry. I can’t talk now, and really I don’t need to talk to you. You’re nobody to the family, and are definitely not welcome to the funeral. I hope you understand. Goodbye.”
The click of the phone was like a swift cut through his gut. Funny how the compartmentalized heart knows how to calculate. His sons still had about one hour remaining to the movie, and in that time frame, right there in the lobby of the movie theater, he let all the emotions rip through him. He crumpled to the floor and rocked back and forth with shock, guilt, sadness, fury. He wanted more than anything to tell Patty’s family how much he had loved her. It was true. Such a true love. He had not been a black spot on her lovely existence, but a bright one! Patty would’ve said the same, right? But there was nothing he could do. No one he could ask. No one he could tell.
An hour later, his sons found the husk of their dad standing by the side of a vending machine, and ran up to tell him what a cool movie he had missed. He nodded and was able to pass off being a somewhat recognizable facsimile of their dad. When they piled back in the car, he asked them where they wanted to go.
“Home,” they said in unison.
His brain was on autopilot, but the coordinates for “home” were so ingrained that getting there didn’t need much thought. Twenty minutes later, the boys were bouncing on the couch. Sara was yelling that they calm down and get ready for bed. She commanded him to make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their lunch tomorrow while she saw to their bath water. Suddenly there were two sandwiches before him, but he didn’t know how they came to be.
The next week went by in much the same way. Things got done. He went to work. He ate food. He paid bills. The following week slipped by in much the same way. It seemed so unfair that a blow to his universe could happen, yet the world went on without missing a beat. The third week he started to focus on home improvement projects, just to keep his mind busy. Grieving for Patty in solitude was driving him crazy, so instead he had to drive some nails. He installed a new screen door. He put up new shelves in the laundry room for Sara. He mowed the grass and hung a swing for his boys in the backyard. The more he fixed up things around the house, the more he wanted to stay in it. The more he stuck around, the softer Sara became towards him. Sometimes, they laughed the way they did back when they were simply dating, and this made him feel less like an enemy and more like a teammate. It never reached the beautiful tingly laugh that he had shared with Patty, but it was comforting and real, and familiar in only the ways 20 years spent together can be. Patty was never far from his thoughts, and he knew he was trying to respect Patty’s life by living with kindness and generosity, the way she had shown him.
It was when he finally got around to re-doing the caulk in the bathroom that he focused again on the two cups on the counter. The charcoal toothpaste had run out months ago. He placed his toothbrush back next to Sara’s and removed the extra cup. One cup on the counter looked less cluttered. When Sara came in to see his work, she loved the new cleaned up look. “Like a brand new slate,” she had said. Later that night in bed she squeezed his hand and threw her leg over him, like she used to do when they were younger.
“Thank you for coming back to me,” she said.
Startled, he turned to her.
She touched his face and continued, “I know you had someone else for a while. I don’t want to know the details, but I can feel that you’re back home with us. And maybe I don’t tell you how much I appreciate you, but I do.”
Her forgiveness unlocked a small box in his chest. One he had forgotten about for a very long time. Looking into Sara’s eyes, he remembered the first moment he saw her. The reason why he proposed to her. He remembered why they chose to buy that house. Why there are two butter dishes, one on the counter and one in the fridge. He remembered all their little compromises and decisions together and why it all added up to this very moment. Even in the midst of his emotional storm, he realized that the new caulk in the bathroom wouldn’t have made as fresh of an impact if the baseboards had been gunked up with dust. Sara had always been on his team. And then he cried, letting the grief empty out, and the gratitude and love fill him up. This woman. This family. This was where he truly belonged.
“I’m not worthy of you, Sara,” he choked. “But thank you for building a home with me. No. For building a home FOR me. Thank you for loving all of me, even the terrible parts.”
They made love, with much more emotion than they had in years, and although it felt like a huge shift had happened in the middle of the night, in the morning it was back to the same grind. The rush of milk and cereal. Orange juice and toast. The constant nagging to get the boys moving faster so they wouldn’t miss the bus. Dashing out the door, he tripped over his sons’ sneakers. Usually he would have cursed and yelled at them to stop leaving their shoes out front. This time, he leaned down and organized them in a row. His wife’s sandals, his older boy’s Chuck Taylor’s, and his youngest son’s velcro Nike’s. Seeing them lined up like that made him smile.
“See you tonight!” He called, and off he went into the day.
Eat Your Emotions: Homefulness - Apple TartPrint This
- 4 medium sized apples, peeled and cored, cut into halves
- Your favorite pie crust recipe, or store bought frozen pie crust.
- Your favorite apple jelly.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 egg, beaten thoroughly to use as eggwash.
- Turbinado sugar for finishing.
- Any flavors you would like to use to infuse your simple syrup.
- Using Earl Grey tea, an orange rind, various herbs, or a vanilla bean would work great!
Tips for success:
- This is a super easy and simple way to enjoy apples!
- Use firm apples that are good for baking. I love using HoneyCrisp, or Pink Ladies.
- Line a sheet pan with a silicon baking mat or parchment paper.
- Prepare your simple syrup. In a pot, combine your sugar and your water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add in any of your flavorings. Cover and let it cool to room temperature. Strain. It is now ready to use, or store it covered in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
- Slice your halved-apples into thin slices lengthwise, keeping the shape of the half apple intact.
- Cut your dough into rounds that match the shape of your apples. You can cut out stems and leaves if you wish.
- Place each dough round on your prepared sheet pan.
- Spread Apple Jelly in the center of each round, going only as wide as your apples. Keep edges of dough round clear. About 1 tsp of jelly per round, but more if apples are large.
- Place one sliced half-apple over each round of dough. Put your stems and leaves in place.
- Eggwash the edges of the rounds and any stems and leaves. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
- Brush simple syrup generously over the apples, letting it sink into the slices.
- Chill at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Brush simple syrup over the apples again.
- Bake about 15 minutes or until edges are nicely browned.
- Serve warm with ice cream!