Late at night, hours into your sleep, you hear the rattle of a key in the front door, the pull, groan and sweep of heavy wood against metal as the door opens, closes, then is relocked. Footsteps follow, across the hollow, dark downstairs, up the back steps, into the bathroom. Another door groans shut. A rush of water, silence, another short rush. Finally, padded footsteps up another set of stairs, ending in the bedroom directly above yours.
You listen with your eyes open, tell yourself all is well, then, motionless, fall back into sleep. Your daughter is home.
Years ago, when she was in high school, you waited up for her and scrutinized the hour of her safe return, the stale smell of cigarette smoke embedded in the fibers of her sweater. Years before that, you stretched out beside her sweet-smelling body, her freshly shampooed hair spread across the pillow. You read stories together. Before you left the room, you arranged her menagerie of stuffed animals around her and ushered her into dreams of adventure in imaginary lands.
Now, though she still calls this place home, she lives most of the year in another city two time zones away. You no longer mentally tuck her up every night before you lock the doors and retire. You gave that up after her first year away.
It is interesting that as she has moved farther away, your life together has become more and more circumscribed by home. When she is here, she cooks and you sit at the counter, reading the paper. You swap stories. You color each other's hair. You trade clothes. You watch your favorite soap opera, hooting over the bad lines, predicting what will happen tomorrow. She nests in the corner of the living room in the big, plum-colored chair, reading, for an entire afternoon. You turn on the lamp when the sun sinks behind the mountains.
Beneath this roof, you have weathered quick-tempered attacks on one another, followed by long bouts of silence, boredom, monotony. As a teenager, she found ways to be anywhere but here, for as many hours as she could.
Now, you are contented housemates, but only in brief spurts.
Yesterday, you waded through piles of clothes, held her pack upright while she stuffed it with the bare necessities. Then you sent her off to a time zone so far across the world, you don't even know what day it is there. She's off on an adventure to India, Nepal and Tibet -- places as imaginary to you as the Land of Oz.
You manage not to put a damper on things, though your throat is tight. You know that if you try to say anything meaningful, you will fail. You smile and wave. You tell her to have a great time. You do not cry.
You tell yourself this experience will only solidify her connection with home, but you know it will not. You will not hear the door open in the middle of the night for many months. You will stop listening for it after a few days.
You know that she will come home again, but you also know she has taken one more step toward finding her own place in the world. She has a full and complete life you know nothing about.
That's the way growing up sounds.
To the readers:
This piece was written when my daughter, now 24, was 20 years old, a junior in college. In the time between then and now, you have allowed me to talk in this column about everything from restless hair and grocery shopping to blood sports, racism, radio, soap operas, birth, death, friendship, marriage, divorce, sickness, health -- the list goes on and on. At its heart, though, Domestic Bliss has always been about growing up -- how we get from there to here and all the miraculous (and mundane) memories we collect along the way.
Because of a reorganization of the Classified section of the Independent, Domestic Bliss will no longer appear in this space, at least not for a while. For your kind and generous readership over the years, warmest thanks.