There is silence, scented with bergamot, and a cup of tea that more than one friend has told me whose leaves smell "more like a big sweaty guy named Earl than some proper English tea called Earl Grey."
In the past month, the angle of the sun has changed enough that the guest bedroom now sees bright slats of midafternoon light. For the sixth autumn straight, the cats have made it a point to sunbathe and drowse amidst the motes. They doze in tangles of brotherly paws and tails, kitty-snoring into each others' ears amidst the fresh-folded laundry.
The cats are six years old now, a fact unintentionally reinforced by the yearly vet visit. I think Dr. Namie must have just recently started his veterinary practice when we brought our new kittens to him, but in the six years that we have visited him, his hair has turned from reddish-blond to silvery red as our Humane Society adoptees have turned from two-pound kittens to truly enormous bringers of fangbreath.
"And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself - well … how did I get here?"
— Talking Heads, "Once In A Lifetime"
Time passes, and I have become twenty-nine. My mother is sixty-two. My grandmother is eighty-five.
When we were picked up at the airport on Thursday, the passage of time struck a square, clean blow. Stephanie had told me quietly, privately, that Dan would look a little different than the last time I had seen him, and I had spent several minutes after her statement trying to imagine exactly what she meant. When I saw, I understood; the change was as thorough as it was indescribable. I had known a teenager; this was a man.
While different in every instance, lives fully lived develop a semblance of trajectory, of path, of periods containing elements and events that hold a great deal of commonality no matter whose individual experience they are. Our awareness fades in amidst schooling, and deepens through our first major life choices. There are no clear boundaries, but most of us have moved past initial schooling into stable marriages and jobs. We've begun the process of marrying, birthing, and burying in earnest; the time of adulthood often brings all three at once, in no particular order.
That first night of our visit, we sprawled ourselves out over various bits of furniture, in a barely-unpacked living room, and the question came up, as I knew it would: when had we last seen each other? I knew the answer, had thought about it countless times on the flight up to Detroit, but could not bring myself to say the words, even though I knew Jeff remembered it as well as I did.
"We spent Saturday in Nashville with Dan, who was in from Michigan to help the UMich lacrosse team out (he videotapes their games). We spent an absolutely wonderful day there with him, and drove back in the early evening.
When we arrived home at ten p.m., there was a message on the machine from my grandmother, letting me know that Dad had begun to have trouble breathing in the middle of the afternoon, and that his blood oxygen saturation levels had dropped to around 68 percent. Dad was transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital, and was transferred to the cancer ward at Baptist in Little Rock as soon as a bed became available.
After speaking with my grandmother, my sister called me from a pay phone.
'Come home. Now. Dad probably will not live through the night.'"
- "Comfort care, a matter of time." (18 March 2002)
The answer is deceptively simple: the day I last saw Dan was the last one before my adulthood was undeniable, even to me. I would have asked if I looked as different to them as they do to me now, but I know the answer: trajectories are as subtle as they are undeniable, and indeed, I have changed.
Yet the core is still the same: the spark, the indefinable central point that defines a personality. We were changed, but not unrecognizable. Our hands are squarer, more solid; our chins have rounded and, in some cases, multiplied cheerfully in captivity. We bash the vagaries of mortgages with the same cheerful abandon we once reserved for fraternity brothers and collegiate foibles.
In comparison, my cats know sunbeams and the sure comfort of warm laundry. Simplicity, not richness. They have no stories of the joy of discovering Lebanese bakeries or the maddening frustration of Utica U-turns. They sleep, they purr, they groom, with catlike certainty that tomorrow will be exactly like today.
We know better.
It had been four years since I had seen Stephanie, and three since I'd seen Dan. I remember hugging them, feeling their solidity and their friendship, and thinking, "Amy, you are a moron; why did you wait so long?"
There are no answers, but there is tea. It will have to suffice.
Music: Underworld, "Sola Sistim."