I feel unmoored. Only in the last few days did I turn the corner of having been home from Australia and New Zealand as long as I had been there. The first week we were back, we had to deal with our dog Max’s sudden illness, which caused him to act very differently and threw us into a state of emergency where, for instance, we felt that at least one of us had to be in the house at all times. And since we put him to sleep, the apartment still feels foreign.
My normal strategy for asserting control over my space is cleaning, and I did a lot of cleaning in the days after we lost Max. It only emphasized the absence, though. The spot where his bowl used to be cries out for the bowl — the lack is more visible than the bowl itself ever was. The same goes for the space where his dog bed used to be, for the couches with no drool spots or fur, for the pristine white duvet cover that shockingly stays that way for more than a couple hours.
The Girlfriend took a business trip for several days, and I thought that having the place to myself would help me feel more settled. I usually cherish time to myself, my own personal ritual of ordering Chinese food and watching original Star Trek in the evening (the only series The Girlfriend won’t watch), the unstructured time when I can putter around the house, play piano, dip into various books, etc. But I almost avoided being home, making social plans for every night she was gone. When I did stay home, I was almost fanatically on task, always working on something for my writing or course prep. I did order my Chinese food, and when the delivery guy rang the buzzer, nothing happened. The shoes by the door remained in their tidy little row, unmolested.
This weekend, The Girlfriend forgot he was gone. On Sunday afternoons, I will often play the piano while she reads. Max seemed to enjoy my piano practicing, probably because it was the only time when either of us would spend so much time sitting near his dog bed. (Getting up on the couch was difficult for him toward the end — in retrospect we didn’t realize how difficult, because he didn’t want to let it show.) After I’d been playing a few minutes, she went looking for him in the bedroom, then broke down in tears. I didn’t know what to say.
The start of classes brought no respite. My schedule is completely different from how it has been for the last five years — I now teach four days a week instead of three, and most days I’m heading home by 1:30 or 2:00. Shimer feels different, too. The pending move to North Central College, which is a near-miraculous event that has quite literally saved the college’s life, has disrupted the usual rhythm of planning and deliberation. It feels like everything is in limbo, like we can’t make any decisions right now because it’s not yet clear which decisions we will need to make. And to me at least, our physical premises feel somehow hollowed out by the knowledge that we will soon be moving. A malfunctioning printer, a burned-out lightbulb — it somehow doesn’t feel worth the bother to try to get it fixed.
Could the same be true of my apartment? We will need to move next year to facilitate my commute to the suburbs. I don’t think it can be the same thing, though. Shimer’s facilities at IIT always felt somehow provisional to me. I never really “settled in” at my office, for instance. Even if it’s not due to the knowledge that I will be moving out, though, my home doesn’t quite feel like home, just like Shimer doesn’t feel quite like Shimer.
Something similar has been going on online. It may sound trivial, but it’s been a big part of my life for a really long time. Last year I was driven from Twitter, which had weirdly started to feel like an online home to me, and Facebook still feels foreign. My Twitter participation got me out of the habit of regular blogging, and now it feels weird to return. I’ve always done posts like this, for instance, always mixed a confessional or personal element into my blogging — but it feels somehow out of place now. This place doesn’t feel like an online home anymore. I don’t feel as free or settled in. Sometimes when I post I feel like I’m doing it for the sake of keeping the thing alive.
The question that arises for me is whether I really need to feel settled, indeed whether I have ever actually been settled. For a few years, I suppose it felt like it — but in retrospect there were always things throwing me off, like The Girlfriend starting school, then spending a summer in San Francisco, then her brief move to Minneapolis, etc., etc. Life happens.
It feels different this time, though. It feels like too many things at once. It feels more like things are ending than that a new phase is starting, like I’m being asked to slowly wind down the life I’ve known and restart. And all I know how to do is put my head down and work and keep cleaning the already spooky-clean house.