The two zombies who arrive back in Sheridan by mid afternoon barely get everything put away and start the second load of laundry when we lie down on the bed for a moment, for what I claim will be a short nap. The drive from Cheyenne felt like it lasted for days, so my assumption of a quick rest could not have been more incorrect. By the time I wake up, the daylight has vanished and, despite all my efforts against sleeping solo in our bed while he traveled, Daniel left me alone to rest.
I pull myself out of the bed, my body finally agreeing with my head’s idea to go in search of him, wandering to the living room, kitchen, and even the downstairs rooms, searching unsuccessfully. I contemplate climbing the stairs to the garage, but instead elect to check his office. Still nothing.
As I turn my back on the western exposure windows, I notice the door to the guest bedroom open. Certain I closed it to cover my tracks before I relocated to the cabin, I expect our conversation yesterday unearthed thoughts that probably didn’t dissipate simply because his long journey ended. Sure enough, when I push on the knob and lean into the room, I see Daniel’s silhouette facing the nightstand of photos.
“Hey, you,” I whisper, not wanting to startle him, and still groggy from my long, autumn nap. He doesn’t move, so at least I haven’t surprised him.
He doesn’t answer, but he does extend his arm towards me. Perhaps he means this as an invitation rather than another eviction, so I soft step across the warm rugs until I am by his side. He’s topless, and when he wraps his arm around my thighs, I think standing next to him is close enough. When he tips his head against my hip, I know he is lost in thought, and I feel worthwhile and needed. I softly stroke his scalp.
“Are you alright?” I finally ask, assuming his mother envelopes his thoughts.
“I am. I just couldn’t sleep.”
“More like time zones.” That makes sense. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
I wish he would have. Now my sleep cycle is askew and I have to be at the office for another start to a week. “I kind of wish you did. I might not get back to sleep before I have to go to work in the morning.”
“You have to work tomorrow?”
“Yes,” I know we discussed my being back to work.
“Why do you have to work on a Sunday?”
I recalculate the past few days in my head. I drove to pick him up on Thursday. We spent the night in the hotel and drove back, and, wow, where did I put Sunday?
“I was thinking it was Sunday night. That’s how long that drive felt yesterday.”
“Do you know what time it is?” he asks.
“About two in the morning?”
“It’s like nine thirty, ten o’clock on Saturday night.”
I squeeze his head tightly, elated that we still have another day together. When he starts to pull away, he pats the bed, inviting me to sit next to him. I’m honored.
“There’s a contractor out of Gillette that I have used for several projects.”
I think I remember him from when we built the cabin up in the mountains. I’m not certain where this conversation heads, so I just wait for Daniel to continue. Minutes pass, and I wrap my arms around his shoulders from behind him, and faintly rub my thumb against his chest.
“They helped me build this house. It took longer than I expected, not that I was surprised – it always takes longer to build anything that I think it should.”
I love our home. I always view it as Daniel’s own creation, which by design and décor it absolutely is, but I never previously gave thought to the crew who put hammer to nail in its construction.
“I knew of them before I built this house, but I had not worked with them directly when I hired them for this place. They do beautiful work, great quality, but given the nature of the industry in this area, they don’t usually pre-purchase materials, so it often delayed our timeline.”
I can imagine as unpredictable as winter weather can be here, and how early in the season it can begin and how late into the spring it continues, delays could last for months.
“We were about three and a half or four months behind schedule, but not wanting to jeopardize my relationship with them, I internalized my concerns about their not obtaining all the hardware and rock when construction began. I didn’t want to move in while interior work was still being finished because there’s so much dust and noise, and I was still working for myself and I needed projects to stay on schedule, so I held off moving into the house and stayed in the place I was renting.
“At the time, I was taking care of my mother, but watching her daily grow progressively weaker in an inadequate structure that offered her little privacy or peace of mind in her last weeks. She suffered and I helplessly fumbled to assist her. When the downstairs fireplace materials finally arrived, they’d been incorrectly measured rendering them unusable.”
It surprises me that he worked with the contractor again. That would have turned me off. I make a mental note to ask him about that when he’s not telling me about his Mom.
“I felt like I failed her. I was trying to help her fight a losing battle which manifested itself in my inability to complete my home. Rather than let her see my failure to provide her with a warm and soothing place of comfort for her final days, she passed in my small rental.”
I understand the sacred space this room fixates in his memory. It represents loss, and failure, and frustration, and disappointment in his mind. To me, this room represents an exceptional expression of love and devotion.
“Oh Daniel, this room should remind you of how you gave so much to not only your mother, but everyone in your life.”
He crosses his arms and holds each of my hands in his.
“Do you realize you describe this space in the same terms you describe your last moments with John?”
He tips his head backwards against mine, almost a little too hard, but the thump doesn’t faze him. I can feel his hands shaking, reminding me of the hardest conversations we exchanged in our first few days together. Now, years later, there are still dark secrets that he never shared, heartbreak from which he still has not recovered, and guilt he still carries in his mind.
“Your Mom passing, or even where she passed, isn’t your fault.” I would absolutely blame the contractor, but that’s just me. “You stayed with her every day and whether it was in this house, or some other place, it was your home, and so she died with you in her home. That’s not a gift every son can give, but you did.”
He lifts his head off mine.
“I don’t deserve to have this room. She should have had this room.” His quick reply surprises me.
I recall his words why he so forcefully kicked me out the one night I was here. I saw this room as a place to be alone when he wasn’t here to be with me. Now I see it through his eyes, and I cannot imagine my ever wanting to lie my head here again.
NEXT: Proceeding Onward – Part 48