There it was. A bullet in my sink. That’s right, a bullet. We’d been gone all summer and we came home to find a bronze metal bullet standing straight up like a bra cup in my stainless steel sink.
I thought nothing of this. My husband had spent half of his reporting life covering wars and he’d been in and out of the house all summer. After his visits overseas, odd items showed up around our house as a result of covering stories in third world countries. We now had a collection of knives, spears, and weird guns that looked like blunderbusses or something from the colonial era.
He spent a great deal of time reporting on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the wounded families left in their wake. He hung out with soldiers who had recently returned, had a cache of awards and honors and military coins of his own that had been given to him by various generals and commanders in all branches.
So when I walked in and saw the bullet, I shrugged. No big deal. It must have fallen out of his stuff while we’d been away, pulled out during his nightly emptying-the-pockets routine. Over the next few days, as we unpacked and settled back into the house, the subject of the bullet came up.
“Why is there a bullet in our kitchen?” my daughter asked, and I shrugged.
“It must be Dad’s,” I said. “He just got back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe he got it over there.”
“Mom, nice bullet!” my son Mack said to me the next morning, breezing into the kitchen after sleeping until noon.
“The better to keep you in line with,” I joked. He was leaving for college in five days and his absence and truculence was getting on my nerves. He was being mean to me, subconsciously on purpose, to help with the cutting of ties.
“Did you know there is a stray bullet in the kitchen? “ Bob asked me casually one day. And that was when I perked up. The use of the word stray implied that there were more, tamer ones, bullets that stayed in line.
“Yeah, isn’t it yours?”
“Mine? Nope. What would I be doing with a bullet?” he said as if I was accusing him of packing heat.
I then questioned the babysitter, who wasn’t a weapons kind of gal, but she had been keeping an eye on the house and cleaning during our absence.
“Diana,” I said casually. “Any chance you left a bullet lying around?
Her eyes widened in response. “It’s so strange,” she said. “One day that bullet was just here, in the kitchen,” she said solemnly. She couldn’t really pinpoint exactly when it had appeared.
Bob had suggested throwing it out. We probably did need to get rid of the bullet, but no one seemed to want to take responsibility.
Now I was nervous. Who, other than dictators and mobsters, finds bullets in their kitchen? Was this a symbol? A sign? A warning?
We lived in a fairly quiet, white and uptight neighborhood. It’s not exactly drive-by shooting territory, but who knows, maybe the bullet had been shot through a window. Maybe my husband had just ended an affair, my son had made an enemy on the soccer field or perhaps I had cut somebody off in the church parking lot. Goodness gracious there was a lot of talk about road rage these days. Anything was possible.
So here was the thing. There was a bullet….. standing up, in my kitchen.
We talked about the bullet on and off and back and forth, as if none of us wanted to be the one to dispose of it. Maybe, in essence, the bullet worked in reverse as a kind of protection, armor or amulet.
And so the days passed. And the bullet stayed. It moved from the counter up to the window sill. It stood, like some common household appliance, right next to the kitchen timer, as causally as people perch salt and pepper shakers next to each other.
“What if it falls into the garbage disposal and goes off with a bang?” my husband joked with me as he poured milk in his coffee one morning, But still, I felt unable to throw it out. And I didn’t want him to either.
Somehow that bullet was meant to be in our kitchen, I determined. It had become kind of comforting, protective.
“Why is a bullet in the kitchen?” asked my mother in law a week later as she visited from Detroit. She was doing the dishes after dinner and had glanced up at the window sill where it sat pointing skyward like a mini missile silo.
“It’s for good luck,” I answered simply. And she, who is hard of hearing and is becoming more garbled in thought and speech, nodded her head as she scrubbed the pots, as if this was the most normal thing in the world.
Well. Summer's over. I mean it isn't really over, it's not yet Labor Day. Outside it's as steamy as a Turkish Bath and even the dogs are having dog days this August. They are sleeping, listless in the heat and without the energy to bark. But I'm home. I've left our summer cottage, driven back down south with reams of clothes and papers and food in freezer bags with melting ice. I'm home and I'm grumpy and a little bit snitty. Did I accomplish what I wanted to this summer? I had lofty dreams about getting lots of writing done in the three hour stretch my kids were at camp, or the early mornings when i could sit by my computer with a ghetto latte (lots of microwaved milk not frothed and a tiny bit of java.) But I did. I accomplished so much that I wanted to. I hiked, I watched movies with my kids, I answered far too many emails and flirted with facebook, only to be driven back by the volumes of messages I didn' t feel like answering. We finished that jigsaw puzzle of previous blog fame and we swam and laughed and cooked and ate. But I didn't write. Not much anyway. Every time I sat down to tackle something on my list, there was some kind of interruption. And many of those interruptions were from my parents, most specifically my Dad. I'd settle in front of the computer and through the screen door, cheery as a bluebird, I would hear his voice call out to me "Helloooooooooo." For just a moment, a part of my heart would sink. "I have three precious hours," the Type A part of my brain would scream. And then the dutiful daughter part of me would muzzle it, put a pillow over those thoughts and push down. And then they would stop. I would stop. "No regrets," I would tell myself. "No regrets." As the summer progressed, my father and I fell into a regular morning ritual of coffee and chatting as he made me the half-way stop on his daily walk down to the general store to be fussed over by the ladies at the coffee counter. Each morning was the same. Ground Hog Day. He'd stomp up the steps, come in, announce how winded he was from walking up the hill and then sit. In the same tone I use with my children I'd chide him for not drinking enough water, put a full glass in front of him and tell him to rest, maybe pull off his sweater as the day heated up. We'd sit and talk about the same things, the weather, when I was leaving, when my husband was coming, where the girls were. I'd feel myself unwind, relax, the tension would leave my shoulders. This was my Dad. He has dementia which means that every week or month or so we can almost feel the little pieces of him slipping away, breaking off. Dementa is a slippery eel. Some days he is more present and with it. Other days he will have a hard time getting a sentence out. He can often form the words, I think he knows them in his head, but they come out wrong or jumbled. He hesitates a lot more now, more even than last month, unsure of what will come out. In those moments I see the mask slip, the casual jaunty smile he wears and has always worn, of confidence. Underneath the mask I see terror, pure, clean fear at what is happening and what the future holds. I am powerless. I'm powerless to do anything as he asks me the same questions over and over in the span of 15 minutes. I can listen and answer patiently and pour him some more coffee and smile at him in that loving way daughters smile at their Dads. This much I can do. And as my mind flicks to all the things I need to get done, the dentist appointment to rechedule for my daughter, the school forms so Cathryn can play pre-season soccer, the college shopping list I need to put together for my son and the writing, always the writing, in the back of my mind, I force myself to relax. "This is what summer is for," I tell myself. "It may be his last summer here and these moments, this time in the kitchen, these are the things that really count. You don't want to have any regrets. You want to feel secure that you spent the last good years letting him know he was safe, loved, cared for, before he slips away." It's the very least my sisters and I can do. It's the legacy of love. And so here I am. Summer is over. l'll be planning a trip to see both my parents soon in their independent living facility a state away. But those visits aren't the same as summer. Summer is the warmth of the dock, a cold plunge in the lake, delighted screams from the raft and all of our family around. Summer is freedom, roaming, his daily walk, the sunshine and the smell of pine and moon, of the July rains and my Dad's once carefully tended geraniums. The other months of the year, lived out in their small apartment, make life seem diminished, circumscribed. There are smells of new carpet and industrial cooking in the building. It is a place to live, not a home. It is not summer. I am home now, buried under a mountain of things to do. But I have no regrets. No regrets.