My mother’s close friend came home from the hospital recently. After weeks of surgery, recovery, and more surgery, she called to say she was, at last, home.
“Tell me something wonderful,” she said. I have known her since I was a baby. I could hear in her voice the relief and pure joy of being in the place in the world where she felt most herself, most at ease. The feeling is the same no matter where home is – I’ve felt it in the passenger seat of my parents’ car when they picked me up at the airport, in a temporary college dorm room, and in my husband’s arms. You are home the moment you feel the letting down of your guard, the shedding of the armor (no matter how flimsy) you wear when you step into the world outside.
“Something wonderful?” I echoed. I wanted to give her some distraction from her discomfort, entertain her with delightful repasts. But something wonderful? It was just an ordinary day. I searched the catalogue of the past few days, and nothing popped out in flashing lights – no news on my manuscript submission, no milestone being celebrated, no championship game being played. So I did the best I could with what I had, and described what was going on at the moment.
“Well, Aaron is doing his homework, and Emmett and his friend are jumping on the trampoline, and we might go to the park later.” My offering.
“Ah, yes…,” she exhaled. Her voice was not as strong as its pre-hospital sound, but I heard her smile. “That is wonderful.”
She continued. “Do you remember the Thornton Wilder play, where the girl dies and gets to choose one day to come back to? And she tries to decide – should it be New Year’s Eve, or someone’s birthday, or a graduation? A really important day? And she decides, no, she wants to come back on an ordinary day. To smell the pancakes her mother made for breakfast. To see the view from the kitchen window. To hear her mother’s voice.”
While she spoke my throat tightened and my eyes started to moisten. I was embarrassed that her little talk had brought such immediate tears, ambushed by the revelation that I lived so close to the edge of emotion. I did not want to reveal this to her. But it was my turn to talk, so I swallowed, tried to sound normal, and said, “It was Our Town.”
“Yes! That’s the play. Our Town.” She sighed into the phone, a satisfied sound. “Okay, doll, well I’m going to go open my mail. Tell your mother I called.”
“I will. Bye.”
Like that the tenor of the day shifted. I went downstairs and sat with my homework-doing boy. “I’m almost done, Mom,” he reported. I watched him bent over the round table, pencil in hand, tongue sticking out as he attacked math problems. My eyes traced the slope of his nose, the curl of his lips, and I marveled that his profile was unchanged since babyhood. I stood, kissed his head, then I stepped outside. Unnoticed, I quietly watched two seven-year-old boys bounce on a black trampoline as they talked to imaginary girlfriends on pretend cellphones. The sun reflected off their hair. Their voices bounced off the eucalyptus leaves above them.
This would be my day, I thought.