Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Sun Goes Down on Another Home

The boxes are packed and the truck comes tomorrow.  The sun goes down on our home in San Diego for the last time.  Tomorrow, all the things that made it our home will be gone in a truck and the place becomes just a house once again.  The regularity of moves in the military is a blessing and a penance in one as no good deal goes unpunished in this lash-up.

San Diego is particularly hard to leave.  The rolling, rocky hills, the moderate coastal weather, the foliage that alternates between the soft corduroy brown bleached under the summer sun and the lush green of the winter rains all remind me of the Mediterranean.  As the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said, "Unfortunately, it was paradise."

Our moves punctuate chapters in our life, their regularity keeping each chapter short, readable, rememberable.  Each one brings its set of lasts, added on top of all the lasts in between (the last night out, the last story read, the last kiss goodbye before deployment), that empty your emotions.  They remind you of the finite nature of our experiences, something we forget with the regularity of life:  I'll take time out to enjoy life, to spend time with my kids, my wife, tomorrow, next week, next month.  You check off a mini-bucket list when you know you're leaving.  You do things you'd otherwise put off again and again.  You soak up the experience, every little detail like a man dying of thirst when you know it is the last time.  I just went in my pool for the last time tonight.  I glided through the warm water, then laid back and looked into the sky toward the setting sun silhouetting the palm trees and illuminating the pine over the pool an iridescent green as the birds came in to roost for the night.  They made me think of the handful of mornings when I came down to make coffee and found a mallard duck in the pool a la Tony Soprano.

There are other little things about our home I will miss.  The tree that looks like a dragon at night from our bedroom window.  The lemon tree in the side yard.  My daughter loved to make lemonade from the lemons that sometimes grew like strange four- or five-legged octopuses.  The hallway that overlooks the living room where our tall Christmas tree was standing when I got back from Afghanistan, with the welcome home sign high on the wall.  The swingset in the back where my daughter would swing to music from her iPod.

The swingset came down this evening, before I went in the pool.  The scar in the grass where one side of it sat was already healing after I stacked the pieces on the cement.  The grass blades bent over where the wood had been, closing the gap.  In a few weeks, with some water, it will be like it had never been there.

Things... things.  My wife says that I have no emotional attachment to anything, when talking about thing.  Things captivate us, but it is memories, experiences, that we should count.  As we were going through my daughter's room, we found a drawing with the inscription, "Fun times should never end, but nothing really ends if you remember."  As she and my son get older, the moves feel like endings.  Saying goodbye to friends gets harder for them.  So, when I got into the pool for the last time, it was alone.  My son was at a friend's house.  My daughter playing with friends for a last few moments in front of the house.  This was the first summer I got to enjoy the pool.  Last summer I was in Afghanistan.  My favorite part of having a pool was playing with the kids, launching them as recklessly high as I dared with no one there to judge, blow whistles, or glare disapprovingly.  Over the past three years, I made zero first days of school and only one last day.  I was lucky in that I made all the Christmases, but missed several other holidays.  When I came back from Afghanistan this December, I found two kids that had grown far, far older than I thought they would have over such a short time.  They are at that point where life starts accelerating.  If you are gone, you miss a great deal.  I missed swathes of their early years, but this is different.  You come back and see that large scales of childhood have sloughed off, exposing something new beneath.  You know that your time with them is limited.

So, I sat in the pool and stared at the sky, the trees, the birds.  After a short while, I climbed out and headed upstairs to take a shower.  The shower is one of the other small joys this home held for me.  The shower had a window that looked out across a bougainvillea covered root, across the pool, and down the hill behind our lot.  A realtor that was showing the house a week ago said distastefully of the vine that rats like to live in them.  I don't mind the rats as long as they stay outside and I get to look at the neon red flowers outside the window.  In the summer, I like to take showers in the evening with the window open.  The hot flowing water draws the clean, cool air in.  I lean on the window sill and look out over my little domain.  When the sun sinks down toward the ocean and the rays scatter long over the trees, it sets the red flowers alight.  As the sun's descent makes the tree shadows grow, they creep up the vine.  The red flowers at the bottom take on a deeper hue, while the top of the vine shines reddish-orange, like the dual teardrop of a flame.  As I turned off the water, the flame went out as the shadows overcame the sun's last rays.

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