The Slow Burn of an Empty Nest
“I don’t want them to go. Seriously. I love them to death. But once they are gone, won’t it be kind of nice to have fewer complications, fewer interruptions?”
These are the things you say before they go, before they’re gone.
Up until the second it happens, their leaving is still theoretical, so it’s safe and easy to fantasize. Like this: “I don’t want them to go. Seriously. But they will go, someday, and when they do — not that I want them to! — it’ll be nice to not have to make plans around their needs, for a change, won’t it?”
This kind of talk happens because their leaving is the way it’s supposed to go. It’s understood: they aren’t meant to stay forever.
But as with anything else, understanding something is a fact is different from experiencing that fact.
The first one
Empty nest essays usually explore feelings about the nest once its builders are the only ones left. But even baby birds don’t simultaneously take flight from the literal nest — there’s the first bird, then the second bird, etc., each one leaving behind what becomes, without them to fill it, extra space.
The extra space my first one left behind was, of course, everywhere he wasn’t, but coming home from being out hit the hardest. He wasn’t there, as he’d often been, to crowd the narrow entry with things to be said before I could even get the groceries to the kitchen/myself to the coat rack. Instead, when I went through the door from the garage, his blaring absence found in the new quiet greeted me, along with the extra room I realized I didn’t want.
I don’t know how many times I’d made clear to him that it was frustrating to be barricaded and ambushed (“Hi, yes, hello, can you please — Agh, get out of the way!”), especially when my hands were full — there was hardly enough room in that area for a single person, never mind another body — or how many times I’ve wished since then that I’d have been less frustrated and more grateful. How wonderful that you want to see me. How fortunate I am that you’ve been waiting for me.