After Honey left, I took the babies and a moving Pod filled with whatever would fit, and we drove back to my home state to live with my parents. Just 18 days after moving in, a four year battle with my parent’s mortgage company resulted in a notice of foreclosure. It took another year for the process to be complete, so that’s how long we lived with them until I could form a long term plan for the kids and I.
When Mom found out the bank would eventually be taking her house, nothing about her routine changed. The massive yard, which was far too large for one person to maintain, was still where she spent most of her time each day. Weeding, mowing, fertilizing, trimming rose bushes and hedges, you name it. She’d taken this massive yard and turned it into a lush paradise brimming with color and life. Gardening was, and had always been, her very favorite thing.
As the day to vacate drew near, she was eventually forced to divide her time between the weeding and trimming and the packing and sorting. The heat of the summer was relentless, and even a day or two of neglect in the yard meant dead patches of grass and flowers.
I recall her exasperation at not being able to maintain it in the same way she always had. She was especially frazzled one day when she found a new patch of crunchy grass that had succumbed to the searing summer sun. She was bone-tired and often suffered intense back pain, yet there I would find her day after day. I tried to soothe her, but it wasn’t working. Quietly, I said ‘Mom, the bank takes the house in a couple of weeks. Why don’t you just…let it go?’ She immediately shook her head, and with deep resolve, said ‘Well until they do, this is my job. I can’t just let the yard go. I’m the caretaker of this property.”
At the time, it seemed no different than if she’d just told me she was planning to wallpaper the kitchen while the house was on fire. There was a sort of sad futility there that I could see and sense and understand, but that appeared to be completely lost on her. Once the bank took the house, it would very likely sit vacant for a considerable length of time, and the colorful grounds would soon be nothing more than a sea of dead brown straw. Her efforts would all be in vain. Her years of hard word would be nothing more than chaff in the wind. Your job is over, mom. Put down the pruning shears and walk away.
But she couldn’t. And even though I didn’t get it then, I certainly do now.
I found a house for the kids and I to move into. And not just any house, THE house. I know that it was meant for us. I’m certain of it. It was as though this place had merely been waiting for us through oceans of time to come unlock the door and create magical new adventures inside. The funny thing was, in an insanely demanding rental market, I found it before it was even listed and it was ours for the asking. I now believe that’s because it was the plan all along. We were meant to find this place, and the story about how I found it is just as amazing as our instant love for it. That’ll be for another blog…
I thought for certain I’d be forced to find a one bedroom apartment, and that I’d be sleeping in the living room while the kids would share the bedroom. In this market and with our circumstances, a one bedroom apartment was really all we would have been able to afford. But then I found this place, and it had everything. 2 bedrooms, a huge kitchen, a giant yard, a garage, all in a safe neighborhood minutes from my mom and my sister and my job. Little Man’s school is just a block away. When Honey left, he decimated so many things, our sense of home and security being one of them. This place instantly brought back that long-forgotten feeling with an intensity that truly surprised me.
It’s an older place, but it’s adorable and incredibly well-maintained. There’s an energy of comfort and joy here I can’t explain. I’m ecstatic that this is where my children will grow up. A few days after moving in, I stood in the doorway overlooking the yard. There’s always a cool, gentle breeze going by, and there’s a perfect tree there. The sun comes down through the leaves of that tree in dappled patches like gold. It sparkles and shimmers all over the ground and the side of the house. Heaven.
I hung a swing for the kids in the perfect tree. I set some Adirondack chairs in the shade nearby. This is my healing place. This is home.
Soon after moving in, I began to tackle projects in the yard. I filled multiple trashcans with dead leaves and overgrown iceplant and weeds. I laid down new topsoil for some grass seed, yanked out all the dead growth and trimmed the hedges back into control, all while the kids explored every inch of their new yard with glee. I planted flowers and vines, and added landscape and security lighting. I bought a mitre saw to cut some donated pieces of wood into raised planter beds and to build a potting bench. Soon, I was planting seeds and amending soil and building a shade structure for the kids and then I thought…
…wait a minute. I’m…the caretaker here.
And because my mind works in ways that are utterly mysterious even to me, a million images and thoughts about the ramifications of that swirled and flew and gently settled in, like silent snow falling at night. All at once, time and space and pre-determinance and fate were all I could think about. More questions than answers arose where those topics are concerned, each persistently tugging at me as I absently raked the yard trimmings into a pile.
Was I always gonna be standing here at this moment with a rake in my hand? Was this the plan all along? I swallowed hard. I felt the familiar combination of exhilaration, ecstasy and terror as I contemplated how utterly insane it is to be a human being – living on a rock – floating in infinity.
And I don’t know about you, but there’s only one thing that ever comes to mind when I hear the word ‘caretaker’. That is, of course, Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
Picture this scene if you can: Jack’s headed full-bore towards his descent into madness when he attends the grand party at the Overlook. In the bathroom, he talks with Delbert Grady. Jack says “Mr. Grady, you were the caretaker here. I recognize you. I saw your picture in the newspapers. You eh…chopped your wife and daughters up into little bits, and eh…then you blew your brains out.” To which Delbert Grady responded, “I’m sorry to differ with you, Sir, but you are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker. I should know, sir. I’ve always been here.”
I remember the bone-chilling sensation that went down my spine the first time I watched that scene. It messed with my head. What the hell was he saying? Was Delbert Grady simply a figment of Jack’s unraveling mind, or was he some kind of eternally damned spirit locked in the Overlook forever (who, consequentially, had the ability to drag the living into his private version of hell?) Or was he, instead, the personification of predestination? Acting as proof that we are all meted out to our roles, and that no matter how much control we believe we have, we are merely actors on some grand, timeless stage?
Was Jack destined to be the caretaker there from the very foundation of time? Was the Overlook just sitting there waiting through oceans of time for him to come and unlock the door and bring his family inside?
I suppose life is much like the movie script itself. If you ask that question after the movie’s over, the answer is very different than if you’d been asked it at the beginning. If the format of our lives is the same – a movie that we can’t see the end of yet – doesn’t it stand to reason that the script’s already been written? At the end of your life, the complete story has been told. But, maybe it was always going to be told in that way, you just weren’t able to skip ahead and find out the plotline because of the nature of the time continuum we are constrained to. And as I thought all of these things in a matter of just a few seconds, it felt as though I’d gotten a little glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain. It boggles the mind – in a good way – if you’ll let it.
It’s a rather crazy and disturbing prospect to consider that the control we believe we possess may simply be an illusion. After all, the way time works is a complete mystery and miracle in and of itself. We see time in a linear way; past, present, and future, but that is really due to the limitation of our mind’s ability to perceive it in the way that it truly is. To our mind, it’s merely the demarcation of events relational to our lifespan. But it’s said that God sees time as it actually is, with multiple alternate layers and the past, present and future being visible to Him simultaneously.
If that’s not quite your slant, consider this: scientists describe time in space (spacetime) as having its own set of rules. It can be bent. Folded. Slowed down, sped up. The implications are, of course, way beyond my paygrade.
But it certainly makes me wonder about my short little stint here. My preconceived notions about what it was supposed to be like, versus what it was always going to be like are what have caused such disillusionment for me. But that’s my own cross to bear; life didn’t owe me what I wanted, and just because I ‘did the right things’ and treated my husband like a king doesn’t mean a thing compared to the need for the grand stage to play out its scheduled programming. The show must go on.
In other words, the Titanic was always going to rest at the bottom of the sea. And not one person who eagerly lined up that day to have their ticket punched climbed on board knowing that.
The Challenger Space Shuttle was always going to explode. Yet none of those smiling astronauts could have foreseen their fate as they posed for their pictures that morning.
And Little Man, Baby Girl and I were always going to end up here in this awesome place, but it was never going to be with my husband and their daddy. And if you had told me that on February 21st of last year, I would have flatly rejected the notion that he’d do anything to hurt me or his babies. My answer, obviously, was very different on the 22nd.
And though none of us believe we’re boarding the Titanic, some of us are. And when it went down in those frigid waters of the Atlantic and knocked the breath out of me, believe me when I say that my arrogance about what was ‘supposed to be’ was rightly humbled. How does that old saying go? Man makes his plans, and God laughs…
But of course we know all of this now, don’t we? I wasn’t allowed to know it then. I never would have married him if I had gotten a glimpse of his true character. And then there’d be no Little Man or Baby Girl, and they are supposed to be here, and so of course here they are. Despite whatever it is that I believed our lives would look like as a family, they are here just the same…and I would have missed them even if I’d never met them (sorry about the irony of quoting a line from The Wedding Date).
When I take them to the zoo, I feel the absence of their father like a missing limb. I feel the fire rise into my cheeks when a happy family walks by. I have to turn my head when I see daddies holding their children to get a better view. And though I doubt this pain will ever go away…I take them anyway. I will quietly suffer and bare pain they will never know about so they can remain carefree and innocent and see the flamingos today. And so I go, time after time after time, hoping for a day when the agony will relent, but knowing that even if it never does, these kids deserve me to give them my everything.
So why should I lament and feel tortured over a life that was never going to be mine? It was only ever real in my head, after all. It was never on the specs of God’s diagram. There was no such destination circled anywhere on His map. And it was never part of the structure drawn up on the Architect’s blueprint. Only He gets the script in advance, and He articulates the events of our lives in concert with hundreds of millions of others for a purpose that my puny human mind could never grasp. It’s said that full understanding of all of this is given to us upon death. That we will, without being told, understand things in the same instantaneous and simultaneous way. What an awesome prospect to consider.
I went and got myself invested in the comfort and security of my version of how things were ‘supposed to be’, and though it’s an utterly horrific lesson to learn, I’d rather not know the plan and be floating without a clue than be a puppet in Honey’s contorted version of life. Obviously, we were liberated from that. That oppression, that bastardized version of love wasn’t in the script for us, and I am simultaneously mad it had to be that way and thankful it had to be that way.
This was the plan all along. That I didn’t know about it doesn’t make it any less so.
I didn’t realize something then that I understand on a very fundamental level now. I’m the caretaker here. I’ve always been the caretaker here. And not in the creepy Shining-kind-of-way, in the I have a beautiful life and I am healthy and my children are amazing and we should stop what we’re doing real quick and have a dance party to this awesome David Bowie song kind-of-way.
Just because it’s not what I envisioned, does this mean that there is a sad futility in taking care of that which we will one day lose? Then why rake? Why garden? Why risk? Why love? Why…care? We die at the end of the movie, so why love at all if we know it will all end in ruin?
Because there’s something that God tucked away inside of us human beings which will always seek to do our best and love one another. And so even when we know it’s all going to end up on the floor of the Atlantic…
…we love anyway.