What it is like when we go to Costco as a family: I carry my purse, all applicable coats, the coupons, the shopping list, check the nutrition labels and sale prices. Push cart, manage all three children. Owen has laid down in the middle of the aisle. Sam leans heavily against the cart, hungry and unable to support his own weight. Lilly just walked into someone. Again. We need to make it to the bread, so I heave the cart slowly down the aisle, trailing snot and whines behind me. Have no idea where Chris is. He left like a shadow in the night. But I know that where he is, he is free and unencumbered.
What it is like to attend an elementary school fall festival as a family: I carry three pairs of shoes and most of three pairs of socks so the children can go on the bouncy house. Sweatshirts for all - because cold outside, but like the third level of Hades in here. Also unexpectedly hot when carrying an armload of extra fleece. A roll of tickets. A wad of tissues. Prizes. A stack of books for literacy. Books are, it turns out, quite heavy and also bulky. I am dressed as a pack mule but must function as a cheetah. Watch as all three kids scatter and hope that pedophiles and child murderers haven't figured out that children hang out in elementary schools. Sam is hungry and wants to go to the food area, but I can only see Lilly and have no idea where Owen is. Owen needs to go to the bathroom, but I can't find Sam. A volunteer is kindly asking for a ticket because Lilly has joined the cake walk. Don't know what a cake walk is, and I don't think Lilly does either. Have no way to reach tickets as hands are full. Sweat is trickling down my neck. Have no idea where Chris is - he vanished like a whisper on the wind - but wherever he is, he is free and unencumbered.
What it is like when we arrive at home after an outing: We pull in the driveway. I gather the travel coffee mugs, my own and Chris's. The children's discarded water bottles. My purse. The snack bag. Wrappers from what used to be in the snack bag. The sweaters that were desperately needed earlier - now nobody else in the family can see any potential future use for, ever again. They are done with these things - these wrappers and waters and sweaters - why must I dwell in the past? I scoop them up. Pick up garbage. Lilly wants to be the one to open the door and get out first, but Owen climbed over her and now she is screaming. I make Owen let Lilly out first. It is rude to climb over people. Lilly wants to be the one to get out last and close the door, but Sam is refusing to climb over her, as that would be rude. I know where Chris is. He got out of the car, pocketed his keys and walked into the house, free and unencumbered.
What it means when Chris leaves the house and says he will be back "in a few minutes," "soon," or " in a little bit": he has vague and well-meant intentions of returning. You know, at some point. Later. We sit at home. Poised for action should the father-figure return. Waiting. It could be now, or in 6 hours. Like the memory of a dream in the cold light of morning, we cling to the idea of Chris for comfort. You can't chain him, he lives like a wild thing - free and unencumbered.
When Chris leaves me (for, say, writing about him on the internet), I know exactly how he is going to do it. There will be no note. He will take nothing with him. I'll just look around, and he won't be there. He'll be walking off into the sunsets of New Mexico, free and unencumbered.
He will be cold, though, because New Mexico nights are chilly, and I will have his jacket.