The cars and vans ahead of us jockey to park in the makeshift gravel lot. Families line up on the wooden slatted walkway. No trees, an open field that goes on for miles. I feel the wind on my face as if I’m on a bald prairie. A pioneer on the frontier, as if I have more days ahead of me than behind me.
I recall another time, another field, and feel the bittersweetness of returning to the past, armed with the awareness of how it will turn out. But I will not let the weight of having seen it all before spoil my daughter’s dreams.
The realtor’s office won’t open for another hour, when a woman with glasses on a chain and a pencil stuck in her back-combed updo will welcome the first-time buyers. Her skirt will be a little snug, and her sweater, pilling with fuzz balls, will be unable to hide her tummy rolls and back fat. Register here, she’ll say. But I know she doesn’t want to be here either, lost in the suburbs. Her days of brass and glass, selling high-rise condos with plush cream carpets in the city, are behind her. She’ll sigh with relief when the day is done, and she can release herself from creating dreams in too-high heels.
Random children in yellow slickers and rubber boots with bunny faces jump in the puddles. They are tired of waiting, and their parents are tired of their whining. Weary mothers and anxious fathers burdened by nightmares of stretched budgets call them by name, urging them to settle. But they cannot. Were they promised swing sets, their own room, a puppy? A suite for Gran?
The drive from the city took an hour. Each passing exit going northbound reminded me of what my daughter, Cassie, will be leaving behind—girlfriends, boutiques, balayage, and Pilates.
And what will I be leaving behind other than my hairdresser, my library, and the butcher who knows my name? I can barely afford the museum and galleries in a city that is no longer safe, and yet my house, begging for a new roof and wiring, subsumed by monster builds around me, is still my home. My independence.
“Isn’t this exciting?” Cassie asks.
I say nothing and consider if my silence helps or hinders. Do Cassie and Mike know what they are taking on? The joy and burden, freed, yet shackled for what, twenty years?
And who will I be in twenty years other than a woman whose heels have gone from low to flat, with roomy sweaters having replaced blouses once tucked into tailored suits? A woman who has mastered responding to well-meaning strangers, “Don’t call me dear.” Will I still pencil in my eyebrows as they yearn for relevance on my wrinkled brow? Or will I realize the peace that comes from acceptance?
Moving in with Cassie and Mike keeps me close to what’s left of my family and frees me from the upkeep of an aging home and rising taxes. What do I have to offer? Cooking, babysitting, and housekeeping. Is that how they see me, or only what I fear?
How far away is the school, someone asks. I turn my back, pull my collar slightly higher, and let my umbrella sink lower. Mike takes Cassie’s hand. He’s smiling. She nods with excitement at what they’re about to do, this plunge launching their future.
I cannot rob them of their enthusiasm. It’s their turn now.
“Register us, will ya, hon?” Mike asks Cassie. He’s studying the wall of renderings and pointing.
They’re handing out packets of information but holding back the price list. Cassie gives their names and registers. There’s no escaping for them now. I glance at the prices and do the math. A thirty-foot lot if they’re lucky. Each sketch has a different elevation, with shrubs penciled in gaily colored greens and cobbled walkways drawn in grays. “Folks, do you prefer double doors or single?” They have palatial names, Grand Cypress, Weeping Willows, and Maplehurst. Fantasies. No fences. But don’t they make good neighbors?
“Mom, look at this one,” Cassie says, and I do.
What do I see on that wall of renderings? A place for her to be the wife she wants to be, a mother to her unborn children. Grass to cut, snow to shovel, a roof to fix. Is that so bad?
“What do you think?” she asks.
So eager she is to please me. “Look.” She taps her finger on the glossy brochure splayed open on the clear plastic cover of the diorama. “In this model, it’s only two steps down to the lower level. We’ll be right upstairs.” I smile and nod. “You’ll have the entire lower level to yourself,” she says. “Your own kitchen too.”
*I have my own kitchen now.*
“I love it,” I respond. That’s what she wants to hear. *Say more,* I think, but don’t. *Be grateful.* One day, I may be.
“Two years we have to wait,” Cassie says, frowning, “for the houses to be ready.”
“It’s okay, hon.” Mike assures her that time will pass quickly, and their dreams will materialize in that mud field.
*Two years!* I swallow my smile.