The big house became our home five years ago when our son and daughter were old enough to ask why we made them move away from their friends. We were wise enough not to answer since really, how could we explain that success meant a bigger house and what was life without success? When the stay at home order came, we were thankful for the space but terrorized by the mortgage payment.
I was laid off from my job as manager of sales for a high-end kitchen and bath designer. My husband Sam kept working. He was in finance trying to keep his biggest and smallest clients afloat.
We had to make some changes, so we dropped the non-essentials. Gym membership went first. Easy, they were closed, and we had a treadmill in the basement anyway. It was where Haley spent a ridiculous amount of time working out. I wanted to restrict her access down there like I used to for phone and internet use, but she was sixteen and stuck. How could I tell her staying fit was not the be all and end all of existence when right then it was?
She could be like her brother Joe, sitting in his rocker game chair in front of a thirty-two-inch tv playing video games. Correction, competing in tournaments which was his future career. I told him when he started winning money, then he could call it a job. What was a parent to do with high schoolers in lock down for an entire spring?
As for me, I tried to make the best of it by keeping busy cleaning my house like I always wanted to. Every day a different task; washing floors, vacuuming, dusting; a forgotten art for sure. Laundry on Tuesdays, and Thursdays; Saturday too if needed. Who would believe that people who don’t go anywhere could generate so many dirty clothes? Mostly towels though from Haley’s three showers a day.
I found out in just over two weeks that my dream of being a happy housewife was based on Facebook posts and not real life. There was no joy in having a schedule of chores, no satisfaction, no feeling of self-worth. Pretty quick I ended up cleaning only the obvious messes, dusting when bunnies started falling off the ceiling fans and laundry, well laundry was always happening.
One thing I did have time for that brought me great enjoyment was starting a garden. I would put on my pedal pushers, pull my hair up in a kerchief and don flowery gloves to dig in the dirt. This stereotype I could embrace. Okay so half the time my hair was pulled back with an elastic band that came with the free town paper and I forgot the gloves so my nails were a “Le Garden” manicure, black rims instead of white tips. But I did enjoy planting, watering, even pulling weeds.
The best place for my flowers and a few tomato plants was along my neighbor’s weathered privacy fence at back. The old fence stood in stark contrast to the impenetrable pristine white plastic ones on either side. Those bastions of PVC glory did not have a crack or space in them for even a flea to cross. Good thing too because on one side a pack of Dalmatians lived. Truly I think their owners had a Disney complex. There were at least a hundred and one of them yapping and scratching up against the fence all the time. Of course, I could only see them if I climbed up a ladder to check the condition of our shed roof; something I needed to do from time to time. Every modern woman stays aware of the maintenance needs of her house and her shed, right?
On the other side was a dog whose actual description was only known by its low rumbling growl. I imagined it was huge, with double rows of teeth like a shark and a tail with a rock on the end like that dinosaur, Ankylosaurus. That dog surely had that kind of tail whipping back and forth wreaking havoc on birds, cats, bees, any living thing. It’s possible I had too much time to put a picture to the strange crashing sounds I heard from that yard, but I have yet to be proven wrong.
One day as I was adding mulch around my prized pink and orange geraniums, thinking about how all the dogs were quiet which made me just a little nervous, I felt the sensation that I was being watched. I looked up. Sure enough, I discovered two big blue eyes staring at me from a small face pressed against a hole in the fence.
“Hello,” I said. I didn’t recall ever seeing a child before. But then I never used to be outside this much. The yard didn’t have toys or a swing set and the brown, weedy grass ended at a cement patio. It was hard to keep a green lawn without a service spraying and doing whatever magic it was that they did. We cancelled that service too, so by the end of summer, our lawn would be in the same shape. Did it really matter? Things that were so important just didn’t demand attention anymore.
“What’s your name?” I asked my curious friend.
“Petie go out,” the little tyke said.
“Is your name Petie?”
“Petie go out.”
Gosh, he had to be barely two if that. I got up and looked through the fence. A little dog came running up alongside the boy. He pushed his feet against the fence and barked a yappy, ‘will you play with me’ bark.
“Petie,” the boy giggled.
I noticed then that the door to the patio was cracked open. The little boy ran away from the fence and wandered around the yard. The gate was open too. Maybe his mama was up front? He ran around, barefoot, diaper hanging low, a little t-shirt showing his tummy. Petie jumped around him.
Something about all this didn’t look right. But I couldn’t scale the fence. I would have to go around the block to get to the other side.
“Hello?” I called out. “Hello? Your baby is in the yard.” No answer. “Your baby is outside. Hello neighbor, your child is running around outside.”
That open gate gaped at me like the mouth of a whale ready to swallow a child. Any moment he could wander through and into a myriad of dangers. I had no choice. I ran as fast I could wishing I had spent some time on that thousand dollar treadmill that I purchased two years ago. I had the dream of returning to my bride weight for our twentieth anniversary. Who makes vows like that? It was harder than twenty years of marriage and that’s saying a lot considering how Sam snores like a locomotive and still thinks a wife should do all the laundry. Laundry! The bane of my existence.
I made it to the house, sweat dripping down my nose; convinced that there was a person in every house I passed staring out the window pointing at me. I found the baby on his back with the dog licking his face.
“Let’s take Petie in. Let’s go to mommy.”
“Mommy has a boo-boo.”
Now all I could think is that there was a mother inside with a mortal wound and I’ve been chatting with a two-year-old while she bleeds out on the floor.
“Come with me,” I said. I held out my hand. Petie licked it which grossed me out because really, I’m not a dog slobber person.
Finally, the baby’s little chubby hand was in mine. We walked to the patio door. I pushed it open.
“Hello?” I listened. No response. “Is anyone home?” Of course, there was someone home. No one leaves a small child alone. I remembered the bleeding scene my imagination conjured up. This was not the time to be timid or polite. A life could be at stake! I picked the baby up and carried him into the kitchen.
“Hello? I saw your little guy headed out of the gate and…” I heard crying. I followed the sobs and found her in the master bedroom on the floor, a cell phone in pieces at the base of the wall, and a mound of tissues at her feet.
I stopped in the doorway. The baby reached out toward his mother.
“He was out in the yard,” I said. “But he’s fine.” I put him down and he toddled over to her. She hugged him tightly.
“I’m so sorry.” She hid her face against his neck. “How did you get outside?” she said to him, tears streaming down her face. “We were napping. Right here, on the bed but then I got the call. My husband.” She looked up at me with red eyes. “He left us just like that with nothing but a phone call and now, the way things are.” She put her hand over her eyes and cried, “I can’t do this alone.”
I sat down next to her and put my arm across her shoulder. “It will be okay Sweetie. You’re not alone.”