In the dim upstairs room overlooking the side garden, I sit with my sleeping son in my lap and a book in my hand. Mark Helprin’s protagonist in A Soldier of the Great War, Alessandro, is speaking near the end of his life: “I asked myself, why do I love, and what is the power of beauty, and I understood that each and every instance of beauty is a promise and an example, in miniature, of life that can end in balance, with symmetry, purpose, and hope—even if without explanation.”
When the weight of the book’s 792 pages dips my wrist back, the book light jerks, casting a glare across my toddler's face. I relax when his eyes remain closed, and I sink back into the rocker with his cheek heavy and warm against my arm. This is the type of story I need right now; an escape that doesn’t feel contrived or frivolous. I need a story that, even though it’s been compared to Dante’s Inferno, speaks to the truth and pulls me out of the limited perspective that comes with being only one person with one mind.
This is what I love about reading, how it can dip you into seeing something as mundane as nap time in a new, precious light. Before long, I lay the baby in his Pack N' Play and head downstairs to my laptop for as long as he’ll sleep. I settle on the brighter back porch, facing the garden where a pillar of morning glories rises above the lemon thyme and chicory buds. The heart-shaped leaves seem to stretch and rest on the heavy August air. A community of insects flashes in the sun, skittering across the black-eyed susans and echinacea, thriving in the well-watered Michigan soil. Their steady click, sizzle, chatter form a blanket of sound that overlays the days like lace.
It’s been almost three weeks since we packed up our Chicago apartment and departed for my in-laws’ house in Ann Arbor. From here, I can see trees lean over each other in a canopy so dense you wouldn’t know there were houses surrounding you. The stillness in the air is palpable. I’ve refilled my coffee, relishing this precious time. I’ve been slow to find steady emotional ground since the move, and I still feel muddled, like a bear who’s emerged from hibernation too early. Our belongings have been shuffled together like a dropped deck of cards, and we haven’t had the wherewithal to stack them properly yet.
It was a horrible move, one of my worst, and I've had about twenty. In the subsequent weeks, Kev and I have been finding our footing, resetting a routine for our son, who was as stressed as we were but without the capacity to understand why. We’ve been focusing our energies on him. It's taken about this long to realize that as worried as we were for our little man, we also needed rest and rebuilding. In a swoop as sudden as an executioner's, the choreography of our days dropped as though the stage itself fell away from beneath our feet.
I stayed with Little Man most of the time. After canceled trucks, scrambling to reschedule movers, and hours spent on the phone so we could return our truck as planned in Ann Arbor instead of returning it to Chicago only 24 hours after we got it, which was what our company was demanding, our truck was unloaded into my in-laws’ new house, which was still undergoing some renovations before they’d move into it in September.
The first time I descended into that basement and saw all of our boxes, mattresses, furniture, and luggage stacked against the walls, I felt nothing. Just the desire to find what I needed—jeans—and get back to the old house where my in-laws were watching the baby. The second time, I felt sad. This heap of stuff was our lives packed away in a corner of Michigan, waiting for us to come back. The third time, I remembered that this was our choice and that transitions, especially drastic ones, come with a feeling of loss, even when you’re pretty sure that what is coming will be better than what is ending. Each major life change I’ve experienced, from marrying Kevin to giving birth to Little Man, our son, Connor, has felt like a long embrace released.
We get so many questions: Where will you stay after this year? Where are you traveling to? What about your stuff? How long are you doing this? My honest answer right now would be a blank face. I’m not sure. And that is the point. Planning is important, but so is air. There is work to be done before I can answer those questions. There is distance to create.
Later, I will finish A Soldier of the Great War, counting it as one of the greatest books I've ever read. I will fold the corner of page 674 down and return to it after the story ends. Alessandro is reliving his past, a moment in which he clings to an icy precipice near Northern Italy: "There lay his future and his past, all that had been lost, and all that he might piece together. He looked calmly at the driven snow against the cold, blue sky, and with the last his heart could offer, he climbed directly into it."