It took more than a year for me to lose habit of saying “Oh, Bob’s home” to myself when I pulled up to the house on late evenings after class.
Bob was a trucker and, in the year after his mother Millie died, the glowing lights behind the curtained windows meant he’d completed his most recent trip. When Millie was alive and Bob was on the road, she’d leave the curtains open, even late into the night, as she watched t.v. and waited for him to return, the flickering blue of whatever she was watching dimly lighting the yard below.
She’d wait and watch and when Bob finally came rumbling down the street, he’d lightly tap his horn so Millie could see him drive past the house on his way to park the truck out back.
On my late nights there are those few minutes between the car and the house, the minutes I pause to take in the evening. Checking the night sky, savoring the evening breeze coming up and over the hills from Puget Sound. They are the moments of transition from whatever I’ve been doing—winding down from the hyperactive mind of teaching a long class or storing the mental release from yoga so I can recall it at necessary times during the week.
I look at the glow of lights from behind our curtains, knowing everything is all right in that little world. I used to glance, too, at the glow of lights from behind Bob’s curtains, knowing that the longevity of long-familiar neighbors settled the world to rights as well.
It’s been over a year since Bob died, over two since Millie did—a family gone within months—but lights still glow behind the curtains in the evenings. The house is empty, the lights representing not Bob or Millie, but the dedication of another neighbor. One who is vigilant at maintaining the fiction that they are still there, that they can still return at any time, that the house is anything but empty.