I counted, and I’ve been in my office a total of fifteen minutes since sometime in April. I’ve been home maybe five days. DC, New Orleans, Atlanta, Detroit, DC, DC, DC. I suppose they’d all be nice to visit, if I didn’t have a family in the middle of Kansas. Their voices, when I hear them on the telephone, twist my heart like a corkscrew, until it’s almost easier not to hear them.
If they are awake when I get home they come running, and threaten to knock me over with their hugs that are like tackles. Every time this happens I wonder if it is the last, if sometime soon they’ll love me but not in that ferocious way that only children know how to love you.
I wish, these few days I have at home, that I could just be with them, that I didn’t have work creeping across the radio waves to leach away the time, or acres of Kansas grass that grows despite the cool weather, or eighty-seven pieces of machinery in and around the house broken or in need of maintenance. But there they are, all those external things demanding my time, and the most perverse thing is that it makes me grouchy with my children.
This is the salt in the wound, I guess, that too often, on the nights I am here, I lie awake regretting how impatient I’ve been, how often I’ve barked at them or hurried them through a story because something that is truly less important, but which comes dressed up in urgency, has been biting at my heels.
It’s temporary, I tell myself. Just a big project that will end. But there’s always another project, and another, and something, I keep thinking, has to give. I know I’m not the only one to feel that way, nor the only one to fear that the something that’s going to give is his family.
A friend pointed out recently that there’s a silver lining to all the travel, which is that I’ve written two books, much of them on planes and in airports. So maybe that is the silver lining. Perhaps it’s even a gold lining.
I’d settle for copper, were it enough to keep me writing in my little office in the barn, rather than writing at 30,000 feet. Some people write better in the clouds, but I think I’d do just fine with my feet in the soil, our little patch of it in the middle of Kansas, which is this country’s heartland to be sure, but also the land where my heart resides.
And maybe this is why, when I wake some nights and can’t remember what city I’m in, it feels like my chest is empty, and all the breath and life gone out of me. And it’s why, when I come through that door and they run to me, I feel my heart thumping, because it is restored to me there, with them, who have ever been and always will be home.