• Sahar Abdulaziz

Never Empty

This was the week it all started. Nothing, in particular, caused such a heightened sense of purge but when it happened, by golly, it was like nothing I have ever experienced. Almost akin to a non-stop locomotive careening head-on into the side of a mountain. As soon as the feeling hit, I plunked down my tea, rolled up my sleeves, and dove right in feet first, ready, willing and somewhat able to take on even the most sensitive of memories all in the name of progress…or so I thought.

What exactly came over me I couldn’t honestly tell you…but I guess I could blame it on the change of seasons and the yearly ritual of spring cleaning, but frankly, that would not be close to the truth. However, the want to organize was consuming me, and the need I now have to release myself from the responsibility of many of the physical memories I have kept safe all these years has turned me manic, determined to sift through the collections filled with years of mothering. Picking up piece-by-piece, and only allowing myself the memory. Then after a few tears or laughs, or both, either I tossed what I held away, put it in the giveaway pile or boxed it to be decided upon at a later and less emotionally charged date.

The fact was this overwhelming feeling to throw stuff out came on hard and fast, and completely out of nowhere. Sure there had been inklings, tiny hints that this was going to happen, especially when I began dragging out furniture to the garage to be given away, or when I bagged clothes I never saw myself wearing again. Then there was the jealousy I felt when a nearby neighbor had one of those gigantic metal contractor sized garbage bins in their driveway… Holy cow, that must be cool, I thought…

So when this feeling hit I was at the table, drinking my tea and trying to rev myself up for the day. Then all of a sudden I had the overwhelming urge to reclaim my space. Mark my territory. Rearrange my things in my way…ways I would have never in millions of years dared do with a full and bustling household of gremlins [children].

Maybe it was the countertop that looked, -I don’t know…stuffy? Or perhaps it was in the way the cups lined the shelves haphazardly, tossed and almost precariously ready to tip? Then again, it could have been when I started to scrutinize the space I called home with a different set of eyes. Eyes that have witnessed many a conversation taking place around a dining room table. Eyes, which have watched children grow and become adults, and find their way into a world that hasn’t always been necessarily easy to navigate. Or maybe it was with a pair of eyes that noticed that the space I call home now needed to breathe a new breath for this next new stage in life that I am ready to embark upon, despite it not being necessarily of my choosing.

‘Empty nest’ they call it, or is it really? I’d like to come up with a better name, something more befitting and closer to the truth. A name that lends dignity to the natural course we follow when the promise of beginning our families is new and exciting. A title, which doesn’t fail to cherish the new launch, while yet still respecting the journey taken to make this an actuality. Besides, doesn’t ‘Empty nest’ denote ’nothingness’? And surely that is not what this home that raised six children now holds within its aging walls.

And so this ‘purging’ process began. Something I have been edging towards bit by bit over the last few years as each one of my children have left the nest to begin their life. As they began to pack and empty drawers and closets, I would roam the house searching for items to help send them on their way and make setting up their new places easier or homier. Sometimes the donation was in the form of blankets, plates, and cups while at other times frames filled with photos. For years I would laugh, [not so much their father who didn’t find it funny at all], as my recently moved out child would come home to my pantry to ‘food shop’ or wash clothes… use the garage tools to fix their vehicle… and the inevitable complaining from their dad when the same tools came up missing, bent or in the wrong place.

I also recall the knock at the door in the very early morning with a grown child standing disheveled, eyes drained and a body devoid of the energy to talk, but still very much in need of being back in the safety of the nest to sleep a few hours away from whatever burdened and weighed down their heart. I remember the nervous energy I had as they slept, mind racing, waiting for the right moment to ask what I was deathly frightened to find out…

I remember the wood swing located in the backyard being a place where each child would go at one time or another to sit, to talk, to cry, to laugh…to propose…

I look up at the ceiling at the fan that at one time was manically used to swing confiscated dolls missing limbs, strung in such a way as to make the sibling-owner of the bedroom shriek with fury as he switched it unsuspectingly ON, -only to see a morbidly comical scene fly around his room. Oh, the screams, hollering, and laughter that filled the house that day!

I walk downstairs to the unfinished basement to put a box on the shelf and stop. I remember the summer when my children decided to build a town, - "apartments" they called them. Replete with stores, kitchens- monopoly money used as currency. They wrote up laws, sold one another goods and charged rents. Their basement shanty town even had a ‘hired hit man’ in the form of an older sibling who didn’t necessarily want to join in and play along, but relished the idea of being able to ‘legally’ torment a sibling; All in the name of “good fun” of course or so I was told when I came tearing downstairs to deal with the chaos and yelling. I almost bought the story until I saw that the ‘hit man’ was wearing leather gloves. I also have to admit to becoming a bit unhinged when the neighborhood children heard about the tent town in my basement and came over anxious to play in it… I wasn’t sure whether to be happy knowing where all the kids were, happy and safe and obviously having a blast or embarrassed.

And this city life went on for a good portion of the summer. After awhile I gave it up and even began saving empty boxes and egg cartons for their kitchen and restaurants… however I must admit that I am still- to this day mortified any time I think about the morning when our pest control person [who has been our guy forever] came to spray in the basement. God help me, I had totally forgotten to warn him about the ‘tent city’- complete with hanging old sheets as walls set up downstairs. A few minutes after his decent into hell, he came back up laughing hysterically… had to sit at the kitchen table to collect himself for a few moments. I offered him water, which he declined, too busy cracking up with tears running down his cheeks. Told me that this made his year and that he always looked forward to coming to my house... never knew what to expect.

So you see, this house holds more than trinkets and stuff but real-life memories or rather a real life. Many lives. I refuse to call it an empty nest. I won’t use that word again to describe my home no matter that all the birdies have flown the coop.

So dear readers, I pose this quandary to you… what would you call a house that has raised six children to fruition? -A home that has witnessed births, graduations, marriages, weddings, family gatherings, tears, and laughter? A home that has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help secure, shelter, and raise a family?

Not an empty nest… no never

I know, maybe I’ll just call it headquarters.

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