Mama Robin built a nest a scant 6 feet from the front door this year. Brave girl, that one, or perhaps just trusting. The azure eggs were visible just below eye level, and India and I watched the progression from broken shells to featherless, famished babies with gaping mouths, as their gaunt, overworked mother retrieved worms and bugs from the lawn. Almost overnight it seemed, the nest grew crowded by the fully-feathered fledglings.
"How are you doing?" friends have been asking lately when they see me.
"Well, she's off to college," I say. "I'm already walking around in my underwear, peeing with the door open and drinking from the milk carton. Hard telling what it will be like in a month." Then come the lines I've repeated like a lame haiku:
It's very quiet now...
Just Gus and Me and the Cat...
That's the way Life goes...
For the first time in a quarter century, I am alone. I used to be so good at it. Craved solitude. I moved from city to city, from one microphone to another, never looking back, friends and lovers lost in my wake. Then marriage, kids, light, darkness, divorce, and then light again.
It's been just India and me for a few years, now. Plus Gus the Wonder Pug and Squirrel the World's Grumpiest Cat. They both seem morose. Perhaps I'm just anthropomorphizing. Pugs naturally look sad and that cat... his bellicosity increases with his years. Feline nature or maybe he just wants the litter box changed.
I take Gus for a ride a couple times a week. This is what I've become-a pug chauffeur. I try to scratch his ears more often and tell him he's a good boy, although he really isn't all that good-a bit of a maniac, really, barking at everything that moves and some things that don't.
There are people in the guesthouse, but Gus snoozed through their late arrival, so this morning he went out to bark at their parked cars. He usually doesn't miss a thing. He has successfully defended this household from ax murderers disguised as UPS and FedEx drivers as well as suspicious tractors and butterflies with bad intent. And the wind. You can't trust the wind.
I took up gardening this year, possibly in a subconscious effort to keep occupied. Then again, maybe I just like flowers. With nearly a score of containers planted, I wavered on planting anything in the window boxes on India's old playhouse. A friend suggested I plant them for India with her choice of flowers. She chose marigolds, because she doesn't know much about flowers and it was the only thing that came to mind. Though they started small, they are in full bloom, pungent and vibrant, bursting from the boxes. As I water them and appreciate the blooms, it dawns on me that those marigolds really might be for me. A wise friend, indeed.
We text, we talk, we laugh, we sass and pretend it doesn't ache a little. Sadly, Gus doesn't really get that somehow that's "his India" on that FaceTime screen coming through that anemic speaker. But he cocks his head and tries to understand.
"Did you listen to the song?" India asked the other day. I hadn't. India and Dylan send me music often but I don't always listen right away. I didn't realize this one was an original composition-A Song For Home. Melancholy and sweet, guitar strings ringing in the key of something, it's wistful and hopeful, a metaphor for life's journey.
Was I leaving for you, for the fame and fortune?
Or just to spread my roots and grow...
Can I make a promise on the fastest comet?
I'll be home before too long...
It's been three weeks and 1,295 miles ago. When I got home from the airport, after two hours of windshield contemplation, before I faced the echoes inside, I glanced at the robin's nest. They'd flown.
Bender is publisher of North Dakota weekly newspapers in Wishek and Ashley.