All Bound Up in Tears

If Lisa would have opened the door to the garage 10 minutes ago, she would have stumbled upon a grown (overgrown?) man with big ole tears dripping off his frigid cheeks onto the dusty floor.  Today is “Say Goodbye Day” and if Part II is anywhere near as painful as Part I, there’s going to be a lot of stares at the Blue Nile Restaurant tonight in Ann Arbor.

My daughter Caitlin and her husband Dave (along with the dogs, cats, and whatever other parts of the menagerie that inhabit their place) are taking off for Florida in a few days…and not just for spring break.  They’ve found a house near St. Augustine with a real yard and a 10-minute drive to the ocean.  Caitlin can’t be more excited, and I can’t be more excited for her.  When you see a child take a chance to do something they have long wanted to do, you have to be happy for them.  Behind the outward signs of joy on their behalf, of course, is the hidden fear and sadness of separation that a parent cannot avoid…no matter how old that “child” might be.   So tonight we meet in Ann Arbor for dinner at her favorite restaurant…even if that fondness is far more driven by nostalgia than the food.  

I am sure if she reads this that she’ll be puzzled by my fear and sadness.  I know she has never understood just how much I have rooted for her during the various phases of her life.  That’s almost certainly because I never bothered to tell her…or at least not enough.  But it’s hard for me to do that.  My expectations for my kids have always exceeded the expectations I have had for myself.  As much joy as I have felt for the things they have done, a part of me always felt that if I praised them too much, they would think I felt they had reached their potential and they could settle into the lives that Thoreau would describe as “quiet desperation.”  So my reserved emotions have undoubtedly been interpreted as disinterest or ennui. 

As the evening winds down tonight, I probably won’t be able to hold back the tears.  Caitlin might even remember the day we were preparing to end a visit with Keenan who was attending the University of Chicago.  As we stood in the parking lot, I just busted out the tears and she stood there kind of shocked.  She asked later about it, and because she wasn’t used to seeing the display of emotion that often was churning inside of me, I had to explain that the mixture of pride and the pain of separation don’t always allow a person to end a visit with a hug and cliche blabbering of well wishes. 

We shall see.

The tears in the garage, however, were not consciously a foreshadowing of the evening (I think).  Caitlin and I have always shared some pretty awesome experiences reading.  I have been giving all my children books each Christmas for as long as I can remember (which surely isn’t long enough.)  But Caitlin and I have always had the closest bond sharing books and one year we even took an English class together at the community college.  That was a special few months that introduced us to a couple of authors we have continued to read over the last 20 years.  

I have always kept my books.  Lisa doesn’t get it.  But Caitlin does.   I’ve written about this before.

When we moved into our new house, there simply wasn’t room to display my library.  So for the past couple of years, they’ve been hiding out in the garage in tubs and boxes that have gathered an unspeakable amount of dust and decaying yard debris that has dared to blow through the door.  I told my children some time ago that I was going to get rid of my books, because keeping them in the garage was too sad.  I told them I would split them up, and they could take what they wanted, and the rest I would give to a used book store.  But I didn’t.  Because I didn’t mean it.

It’s always been Lisa’s idea that it was way better to hand them over BEFORE I died, so that they wouldn’t have to go through the presumably painful process of sorting out “dad’s stuff”.  As Lisa is always right, I committed to the idea, but there was always something more pressing to deal with…watching paint dry, peeling bananas, etc.

When Caitlin announced her sudden move to Florida, however, I gave in and decided to send a couple of crates of books with her.  If she coveted my books in the way she had often expressed she did, this would be an ideal house warming present.  I planned to go into the garage and from the 20+ bins and boxes, I would select the books I thought she would most like.  In the 10 days since that idea finally crested, I spent exactly zero minutes actually doing it.  So much paint.  So many bananas.

Realizing just hours before we were heading to dinner, I knew I could delay no longer.  I headed to the garage with some towels to clean the bins, and I stepped right up to the fiction section.  Don’t ask.   As I opened each bin and pulled out my John Irvings, my TC Boyles, by Pat Conroys, my John Updikes, my J.M. Coetzees, my Carl Hiassons, etc., I was nearly paralyzed.  Was I really giving these away?  

Caitlin will find that she didn’t get the entire collection.  Some of those books just aren’t going anywhere.  Each of those authors played huge roles in pivotal moments in my life, and some of those books help define me.  Some of them brought back important memories of my kids or of Lisa.  I know my love for Lisa grew immensely as we read Irving’s “Until I Find You” together.   No one gets that book.  Coetzee’s “Disgrace” was the book that brought Caitlin and I together back during that college class.  I get to keep that one too.  

So, yeah, there were tears…and there’ll be more tonight.   At least I’m alive to witness my library shrinking.  That’s something.

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One Comment on “All Bound Up in Tears”

  1. Marcia February 27, 2022 at 8:01 pm #

    I loved the column as I always do! congrats to Caitlin, but Florida! yikes, what an effed up state to move to….oh well, I am sure she will love it as long as she is with her husband and animal babies! good luck to her and to you as you mourn your loss!

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