I’m alone in the house, which is a blessing of sorts. I’m sick and it’s hard to be sick with kids. To put them in front of a screen to watch god knows what on YouTube so that I can snatch a bit of rest and be ready to go tomorrow, or as ready to go as I can be before the onslaught of dressing, feeding and moving a stubborn and unruly army, none of whom can tie their own boots.
But this loneliness is hard in its own way too. The alone-ness is hard. I think of Demeter and wonder how she spent the days when her daughter was not with her. How each fall her sadness breaks the world, stops the sun from shining and brings quiet and cold to the world around her, and I feel a certain sympathy with her as the days shorten, the air turns cold and the northwest rains return.
Her story, her daughter’s story has been on my mind a lot lately. Originally it was a story of a mother losing her daughter to abduction and marriage, but since the separation I can only see it as a story of shared custody, a family split apart and a daughter torn between two households, two angry, unhappy parents sharing their most beloved possession half a year at a time.
It is a fitting theme for this time of year, as summer dies away, gold fills the gutters and is washed away by the rain. Persephone has returned to her father’s home in the underworld, where she will stew for six cold months before returning home to Demeter. The world dies away as the goddess’ mourning takes hold; slowly at first, and then with the full force of winter’s withering grip. Only when the return of her daughter seems imminent does the world begin to thaw, and the joy of their reunion brings the world back into bloom.
My own world now has two weeks of winter sewn into every month. My ex and are splitting custody 50/50, trading the children and all the responsibility they entail every Friday afternoon. Life is simpler without the kids. There are fewer deadlines, less hassle, less hustle, less laundry, fewer arguments and much more free time for reading, writing, socializing and sleeping. It is simpler, but it is not easier or better.
I love being a father. My children give my life meaning. I write that and I see the danger in the statement. In this world of self-empowerment, depending on others for meaning is a dangerous thing, a lesson my marriage has already taught me, all caps and italics. But that is my experience, the experience of Demeter whose world withers and dies without the presence of her daughter. I do not wither, I do not die, but I lose my center, my family. My family is taken away from me twice a month and I’m a left alone to stew and ponder. I am transformed into my pre-family, pre-marriage state, a self I’d sought to shed through accumulation, but one it turns out I could not outrun or escape.
And I know, with the heavy certainty of wisdom, that this is good, but it is not easy. These little winters are difficult for me. I know that they are beneficial, that there are lessons here for me to learn, that I will eventually settle into, and perhaps even enjoy, these cessations of parenthood, that I will learn how to make myself one week at a time, and learn to find satisfaction in the creation of the things that this space makes possible: writing and relationship. But for now they are simply dead(ly) space to navigate; attempting to avoid the precipices of catastrophization, the icy sluices of obsession, and bogs of bitterness and frustration for my missing children.
And I remind myself for the thousandth time today: it is still early days. It has been barely three months since my family was torn apart, since my wife left me, gracelessly, thanklessly. Things are still cooling, still shifting. The landscape is still malleable: The mountains that swayed and crashed down like waves are still search for stillness, but are not yet still.
So I must remember again to be gentle with myself. I must learn to live with this grief as well. The little grief of a quiet house, the small sadness of their empty beds, and a day whose routines are only my own; these winters that blow through my house one week at a time.
I know the necessity of this. A larger version of it was coming anyway. If I do my job as a father right, they will fly away of their own accord in time, but I was not ready for it now; it was an account that was not due for years. These little winters are seeds sewn into my soil against my will; a rogue crop that I will have to learn to harvest, learn to cook and learn to live on. They are the seeds of my freedom, a fruit I cannot find, but must grow. The promise of my resurrection lies quietly in the cold, strong hands of the earth. The promise of Persephone’s return is only kept in the blind darkness of Hades’ soil. I must learn to lie fallow, learn to let the ache of activity pass and to rest in quiet rather than thrash uselessly against it. I must give myself to the silence and rest rather than resist it. But here, just three months past, it is easier to write than it is to do.
Adam Blodgett is a figment of your imagination, a stack of tin cans held together bubble gum and baling wire, piloted by three fast-talking raccoons. He lives in Olympia with his children and his crippling insecurities. You can read more of his work at asensitivelumberjack.com