Tent: A Portable Shelter Made of Cloth (that is sometimes red)

Now part of being transparent is telling the truth, even when you’re so afraid it will come out wrong or hurt someone’s feelings. So one of my small truths is that I don’t want much, I don’t want a boat or a Ferrari, I just want one place. I want a physical plant that is my own and that will stay my own, I want a place for my kids to come home to on holidays, I want their children to sleep in my girls’ bedrooms.

Home. Home has for so long been a compass point that I’ve found in myself, in my husband and children. Home is where they are, but the longing for something that I’ve never had persists.

Casey had that, this house that he grew up in, stairs he thundered up and down, a river in the backyard and a pack of boys on their bikes reunited now in the daily and backbreaking work of cleaning up all the leaves you didn’t rake last fall. He lived in both upstairs bedrooms, was thrown from a top bunk on Christmas Day when he was only about four and broke his collar bone. And we’ve slept in those rooms, used that same bathroom, thundered up and down those same stairs.

I don’t think it is a lot to ask. This week we decided to renew our lease for one more year, we told the woman who owns our house and who raised her own girls here that we want to buy this house whose foundation was placed in the earth way back in 1900, whose floorboards have themselves trembled under the swift and terrible gait of children. So much history in 900 square feet. And this was ok and we are moving forward and finally that dream of having my own home forever and ever is maybe coming true.

Maybe.

I try not to count my chickens before they hatch (but secretly have a notebook full of drawings depicting the second story the house needs).

My dear friend said to me recently that she feels like she wishes that someone would just tell her what the right thing is. What way is the right way? Where is the right place? Its hard to be the one who makes the decisions even most of the time, a strange craving to have someone else say, hey, stand over there, do this and do that.

She talked about cleaning out bedrooms in the house where she raised her family, about putting her house on the market and moving out west with her husband this summer. Their house has a perfect lawn, her husband is sort of known for this lawn mania, woe betide anyone who drives or parks on the lawn. The house was the spot to be after Friday night football games, full of kids and parents, and a hangout spot with a candy drawer and cookies in the oven (though I hear Cindi makes way better cookies).

She told me tonight the house is listed and they’ve had someone walk through and more people are coming. She talked about that sweet spot of a price range where there really isn’t much else out there (or anything with a lawn even near this perfect). She is really, really going. She put in notice at work and was surprised to come out not singed or bloody.

As I left tonight, flip flopping down the cool dim hallway I called out a goodbye, I paused just for a sec wondering if this was the last one, calmed myself when I realized its only May and she isn’t leaving until July. Shuddered a bit at the thought of that final night, serving food in the hot kitchen to folks who sometimes get a little pushy.

I thought about how we never know if we’re doing the right thing, making the right choice. And I thought about how just as I am about to realize this place where I can stay until they carry me out in a body bag this brave woman is letting that place go and hitting the road, gypsy style. So we’re swapping, do you see?

I am giving up my gypsy ways and passing them lovingly to my friend. Wrapped in soft paper with a bow, a typed index card with tips and tricks for winging it, for making it work.

A little piece of the tent will go with her. The memories of food cooking and chicken that isn’t done and running out of food altogether. The memories of washing up and cutting up and telling stories and trading advice. It’s a little quilt square for her to take, an Episcopal shield, a red tray, the faces of so many that she’s served and also befriend.

The tent will obligingly part with this small piece, will wince at the sharpness of our shears, quickly fold in all of the loose threads the same that way that it gets bigger and bigger without our knowing the effort therein. But there will always be a jagged edge, there will always be one piece that is missing, one edge that isn’t straight.

Sometimes she will come home and visit us and the tent will sigh with contentment as its missing pieces settles in, even if only for a brief visit, and makes it whole again.

Saying goodbye to a home is hard. I remember leaving our house in Conklin, the way the sun warmed my bedroom wall as it poured through the wavy old window, the way we rode pillows down the stairs and how my dad came down those same stairs in the middle of the night for a fire call and every time slammed into the pantry doors and woke the house. I remember skating on the front porch and how my brother punched his hand through a window when I was being awful to him, the way the huge pines out front swayed and moaned.

I remember leaving Traverse City and all that we’d built and burned there, all the ways we hurt each other, and how neither of us could even speak for the tears.

So I know that the day my friend pulls out of her driveway for the last time is going to be a really hard day, I’ve done that and I keep doing that, but I don’t want to do that anymore.

I think she can live with the 85/15. I think she will take so much pleasure from the proximity to her children. I hope that when she thinks of us she sees our tent, a tent whose fibers she has helped to weave, she will see how it ruffles in the breeze and settles down around the kitchen where she has given so much of herself. How it muffles the voices and the laughter, how it hides the tears and covers the shame.

And I hope she knows that its pretty easy for me to write these things, and impossible to say them to her.

And I hope she knows that I love her, and that I am honored to call her friend.

Safe travels.

“Come and sit by my side ‘ere you leave me, do not hasten to bid me adieu. But remember the Red River Valley and the girl who has loved you so true.” 

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