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Shelf Life

Excerpt: Made for You and Me

Chau Tu Mar 10, 2011

The following excerpt is from Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home. Learn more about the book and read an interview with author Caitlin Shetterly.

Copyright © 2011 Caitlin Shetterly. Published by Voice, an imprint of Hyperion.

When we pulled into my father’s driveway, Hopper sprang up in the backseat and stuck his nose out the window. My dad, who had seen our headlights coming ahead of us, was standing outside, waiting. He was holding a beer, and as soon as Dan got out of the car, Dad handed it to him, saying, “Thank you for getting everyone here safely. I know what you’ve been through, but it’s so great to have you all home.” Inside, my stepmother, Gail, had made a haddock dinner of filets stuffed with wild rice and sweet potatoes. We ate with gusto, our first familiar food in over eleven days. And then we got back in the car and drove the final twenty miles or so to my mother’s.

I was nervous. I had always harshly judged the people who couldn’t hack it in the outside world and ended up home with their families. I thought they were losers. I know Dan, too, always thought that coming home to Maine signified failure. He’d done this trip once before when he left San Francisco and had to cross the country on a Greyhound bus. Maybe it’s the insularity of Maine or the hardship one endures in the winter that one can wear as a badge but also feel suffocated by; maybe it’s that Maine can at times seem outrageously easy to live in because it’s so damn beautiful that it’s hard to ever leave; maybe it’s because people from Maine can only be from one place in the end, no matter where their lives take them– Maine is that specific. I don’t know. But we had believed that if we didn’t leave, we’d never make it in the larger world. Maybe this is true anywhere in America; you’re always beckoned by the highway out. So, on this final leg to my mother’s, although I was filled with gratitude that we had a place to go, I was also feeling fear that we might have to live with her forever. I kept saying to Dan, “I only want to be here for two months, no longer. I want us to get our lives together, fast.” Poor Dan! We weren’t even done with the driving part and I was already on to the next thing, trying to put parameters on what I should have known by then was beyond my control. I wanted the recession to be over and for our lives to somehow magically transform themselves into success, with Hollywood- movie timing. I wanted my dreams to come back into some form that I recognized. What I wanted and needed were two totally different things.

When we turned into my mother’s driveway, there was still snow on the ground. Our thin tires slipped over a frost heave and veered toward a tree. It was very dark, but a substantial sliver of moon shone brightly like a penlight in a tent. We drove up the winding drive, the trees hugging the sides of the dirt and finally came to a halt next to my mother’s car. She had left a single golden light on over the porch. It was late.

We unpacked a few basic things. A lamp came on in my mother’s bedroom. As we walked toward the house, the door opened and she came out, standing barefoot on the porch in her white nightgown. “Welcome home, guys,” she said. “You did it. Come here, let me hug you.” She put her arms around us, hugging Dan and me at once, and led us through the small kitchen, then through the open dining and living rooms and into the library where she had set up our room. She hung back, almost shy, as if she was worried we might reject what she had done for us. But we felt the opposite: so grateful to see the care she had put into what she had prepared for us. We almost got down on our knees and wept.

Mom had removed the dictionary stand and my grandmother’s desk, the lamps and the big cushions piled on the floor, and had replaced those pieces with my old spindle bed from my childhood and two tables, which she’d placed on either side of the bed. She had covered the tables with photos– of me as a child, of Ellison and of our wedding. On a shelf she had put a needlepoint doll my grandmother had made for me when I was born with my name on it and birth date and also some of my old stuffed animals. The bed in the loft was made with a clean comforter cover and big pillows. Outside the trees hung close to the house like soldiers guarding our enclave. Dan took our tiny son out of his car seat and nestled him into my childhood bed. After saying good night, I brushed my teeth and got in, too, and, because there wasn’t enough room in the bed for all three of us, Dan tiptoed up the stairs to the loft.

In the dark, I lay there. I was home. I had made an epic– to my life– journey across America in eleven days. I had lost my cat. I had a child. My husband and dog were still with me. I was at my mother’s, where I had never wanted to end up for more than a visit. I had no idea how long we’d be there. I was tired. I was anxious. I was grateful. What had happened to us? It was almost too much to grasp. My life as I knew it had collapsed and something else was beginning. I just had no idea what it was or if I’d even recognize what was before me as my life. The next morning was Easter.

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