Empty nest


When dusk falls it’s the hardest part. The darkness, the silence, the lack of people.


It used to be a full house. When I came home from work, it might be dark outside, but all the lights would be on; Mimi busying herself in the kitchen, preparing dinner, and the boys in their rooms, studying or getting ready for their rugby training. Occasionally they would be in the living room watching something on TV, or with friends who had dropped by before training, considering we lived very close to the rugby club. Our house was a get-together place and I loved to hear the animated voices as I came in. When I passed by the bedroom doors they would stand up and came and greet me, a smile on their young faces, and I hung around a few minutes talking to them, and sooner than later they would all be trooping out of the house, boisterous laughs and cheerful voices disappearing as the door of the lift closed.


Then I would sit down and enjoy a few hours of silence and quietness. So often, when they came back home, around 11pm, I would be tired and grumpy about having to heat up their dinners and wait for them to finish eating so that I might clear the dishes and tidy up the kitchen, and they would laugh and say “Mom, one day we’ll be gone, and you’ll miss us coming back home, even at this late hour!” Little did I know that moment would arrive only too soon.


From the moment they were born, they filled my life and every moment of it. For years, it was my sons and my career, and I was constantly running, from home to work and vice-versa; on weekends, when they were still children it would be taking them to rugby matches or birthday parties. As the became teenagers they started going out with their friends, but I still went to watch almost every rugby match, even if I didn’t have to take them there.


After their father and I separated, I no longer had them 24 hours every day, and the first times I saw them leave to go with their dad it hurt, but then I got used to it and I learned to make the most of those moments I had to myself. The house would be silent for a while, but they would always come back, and there was a sort of balance between those two sides of my life, a balance I grew accustomed to, and began to enjoy.


Then came the pandemic and the first lockdown. I sent them to their father’s, because I knew they would have more space, a garden, a swimming pool; I would not want to have them confined to an apartment with me if there was a better alternative. And so, I lived by myself for a few months; they came for dinner often, but for the first time in my life I was alone; strangely enough I never felt lonely. It was a quiet time, that I knew  wouldn’t last forever, and things would be back to their busy, animated normal.


Only they didn’t.  Suddenly, it was as if the pandemic crossed a line between the old and the new times. Afonso never went back to live in Lisbon again, staying at my beach apartment because it’s near his work. Pedro went back with me, and somehow in this last year we grew even closer. It was just the two of us, and the winter lockdown didn’t allow for many outings, so we spent a lot of time at home together, long winter evenings when he talked to me about his work, and his plans. That, invariably, included some time abroad.


I think I only realised he was leaving the day he booked his flight to Amsterdam. I knew he had a job there, of course, but the truth only hit me then. From that day on it was a countdown of anguish, of hidden tears and sorrow, because I knew nothing would, nothing will, ever be the same again.


It’s not as if he spent a lot of time at home, I tell myself. There were nights when he stayed over at his girlfriend, at others he would go to see his dad, but there was always his presence, his untidy room… Sometimes he would just come home to have dinner with me and then leave, but he would give me a hug and we would talk for a bit. Even when he was not there, his presence was strong, and I knew he would be back the following day or the day after, and that certainty would warm my heart.


No more. He left a month ago. The last days were agony, tears in my eyes every moment I thought of his leaving, tears I tried to conceal the best I could. But he knew they were there. As much as I think – if I’m reasonable – this is very good for his career, deep down I’m devastated, trying to adjust to this new reality that has come upon me so suddenly, almost unexpectedly. Or was it that I didn’t want to see it coming?


Today I have come to my beach apartment, to be with my other son, the one who’s still living in a house of mine, within my reach. Not for long, I’m afraid, as he tells me he’s looking for a place to live together with his girlfriend of 9 years. Which is only natural and to be expected. But for now he’s still here, and I have run away from that other house, and from the shadows that come at dusk and linger while I prepare dinner for only myself; where silence installs itself and no key turns in the lock, where there’s no one coming in and calling “Mom? I’m home;” no hug, no conversation about work or plans or anything else, only the silence, the void.


Years ago, I wrote a post about how empty the nest felt when they went on summer holidays. Little did I know what I was writing about. I missed them, but they were always coming back home. With their noise, their untidiness, sometimes in a hurry, relaxed at others, but always full of positive energy, their presence giving so much meaning to my life.


Now all has changed. The little birds have grown and flown the nest, and the silence and darkness linger, because no one is coming home. As night falls, an empty home waits for me. My full house is a thing of the past. Nothing more than a memory, deep down in my lonely heart.



Photo by Lalesh Aldarwish on Pexels

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