New in Town
“Jacob! Isaac! Outside now before you destroy the rest of the house!” My twin five-year-olds trip over each other, squealing, racing to see who can escape mommy’s wrath first. I blow out all my breath in frustration and take in the havoc they’d wrecked on my already tumultuous living room. Moving boxes still lined the walls, some of them half-opened and beginning to spew their contents. Blue tape clinging to spots on the floor where I’d been too lazy to remove it after painting the baseboard. Speaking of paint - there’s a large splatter of it on the floor right inside the door. Because, of course, I’d set the paint tray on the floor and, of course, the boys had decided that it was time to play blind tag. A lot of elbow grease will probably take most of the paint out. But due to a shortage, I’m rationing my elbow grease.
The door slams behind the boys and I stand frozen in the middle of the room, finger still pointing towards the door I just sent them out of. I draw a ragged breath and let my arm slap loudly against my thigh, closing my eyes and trying to calm the swirl of anxiety in my stomach. I turn to one of the boxes and flip open the top. Books. Perfect, the bookshelf isn’t assembled yet. Where’s my screwdriver? Abandoning that box, I wander to the next one. Kitchen utensils. Not putting those away until I line the drawers because the last person who lived here used the drawers as a receptacle for vomit after a night a of crazy partying. At least, that’s what it looks like. And smells like.
I moan and sink to the floor, crossing my legs and letting my head fall into my hands. I need to make another run to Home Depot. I need something to eat. I need a nap.
I need my old life back.
Two months ago, I never pictured that I would soon be chasing my boys out of a crappy house in an East Texas town that’s so tiny that it’s not on most maps. I never pictured that I would be making frustrated calls to the one internet provider in the area, trying to convince them to run their lines just a little further so I could get internet out here without having to pay for satellite. I never pictured that I would have to drive an hour if I wanted to shop somewhere other than Wal-Mart. I never pictured that I would be scrambling to enroll my kids in a public school, or that my choices for fast food would be reduced to DQ, Sonic and that one Mexican place that changes owners (and hence, names) every other month.
It’s not the being alone part that is taking me so long to wrap my mind around. I adjusted to that two years ago when Sam had deployed. And I’d accepted that being alone was going to be my reality for the foreseeable future when an IED under his Humvee made the call that he was never going to come back to me. I’d struggled to make ends meet with my sporadic freelance editor’s earnings. But we’d bought the house in Dallas with Sam’s paycheck in mind. Two months ago, standing in the lawyers’ office in downtown Dallas after my mom’s funeral (cancer, but my brother hadn’t bothered to tell me she was even sick until after she was gone), I’d sat in stunned silence as my brother was handed the keys to my mom’s suburban castle and I was handed the keys to a rural duplex she’d bought on a dare from a friend.
“Are you going to keep or sell?” My brother had asked, wiping his new key against a monogrammed handkerchief. Either he was eager to make it glitter enough to make a passerby jealous or he was anxious to remove any residue from lower life-forms that may have soiled his precious inheritance. Either option fit him.
“I’m about to foreclose. Maybe I’ll move in and rent out the second unit.”
He’d stifled a pretentious snigger. “Have you seen the property?”
“No. It’s a place to live that’s paid for. Unlike you, it doesn’t matter to me that my favorite sushi place won’t be within walking distance.”
He’s snorted. “You may want to prepare yourself for a step down. A big one.” He’d pocketed his key and the handkerchief. “Even for you.”
I’d kept my expectations low, and I’d tried to lower them even further as my phone instructed me to turn on to every street that I instinctively wanted to avoid. But my jaw had still dropped when I’d seen it in all it’s 1970s-tan and baby-blue glory. Someone had gone to the trouble of planting a rigid line of artificial flowers across the front. I’d picked my way up the front steps, striding wide to miss the middle one that had been snapped in half and was sagging in a V on the ground. I’d fumbled with the key, and shoved it in the lock, yelling over my shoulder for the boys to stay close. The door had finally swung open and the boys had darted around me and inside, shouting, “Wow! Wow!”