I arrived at the house after nine-o’clock and was surprised how lifeless it looked. We had an unwritten rule that, as long as there was one person still out of the house, we would leave a light on for them. With a home as busy as ours, it was rare for the front porch to ever be dark. I left my bag in the car and walked to the front door. There was no hesitation because I had spent the last five hours telling myself how great an idea this was and how well the weekend would turn out. By the time I pulled into the driveway I was looking for a paper sign to break through as I ran onto the field. I knocked on the door and waited. For some reason it felt wrong just to barge in even though it was my house. After another unanswered knock, I rang the doorbell and waited again. I heard no sounds coming from the house, which again was rare. There should have been the thumping of stereo’s and a low mumble of television but the silence was thick. I tried my key and it worked. It wasn’t until I turned it and unlocked the door that I felt a hot rush of gratitude the locks hadn’t been changed, something I hadn’t considered until that moment. Even though I knew the house was empty I still felt like I was breaking in. My heart was thumping in my chest and I opened the door slowly, trying not to make much noise. I stood in the foyer and shut the door behind me, twisting the knob and sliding the hardware into place once it was flush so it would close with minimal sound.
I stood there, in the dark, listening and hoping to hear a shower running or a hair dryer blowing, anything that may have prevented someone from hearing my knock. But it was quiet and I was reassured no one was home. I didn’t move, choosing to enjoy the first moments back standing in the portal, still and reverent. The smells of the house were wonderful, giving me a rare, full blast of the Benton home’s unique scent, an aroma developed over time strictly for visitors, undetectable by the full time inhabitants. Although new to me, it was undeniably ours. I tentatively turned on the light to the family room, relieved how little had changed. Like the door key, it wasn’t until after I saw it that I realized I had expected everything to be different, even if that expectation was mired in my subconscious and totally without merit. Ellen wasn’t trying to get rid of me; she was just creating some temporary space between us. I moved through the house, quietly inspecting each room. I even opened closet doors, touching towels and sheets, reassured by everything being in its proper place. After inspecting every corner, I returned to the kitchen, looking for clues pointing to where everyone might be. I was pretty sure D.J. was out with friends and, being a Friday, Ben was probably spending the night with a buddy. Ellen could have been at a meeting or gone out to eat with friends. I decided to call the Johnston’s and see if they knew where everybody was. If I was lucky, Ellen would be with them and I could join them to turn the threesome into a foursome. Wade’s cell phone went straight to voice mail so I tried Susan’s. She answered in two rings.
“Susan? It’s Earl—”
“Earl? Well, hey! What’s up with you?”
“I was looking for my family. Do you have any idea where everyone went?”
“Where are you calling from?”
“I’m at the house, here in town. I came home to surprise everybody but it’s hard to do that when everyone’s out and about.”
“You’re here? Oh no! Ellen took the kids to your parent’s for the weekend. They won’t be back until Sunday night. I’m sorry…” It’s hard to describe the level of despair I plummeted to at that moment. Everything went black and I could feel my internal organs turn to charcoal, unable to absorb anything, ready to burst into flames. The inequity of the moment was so huge, so devastating and frighteningly ironic, that it wasn’t worth wasting any more energy to fight it. I let the heaviness consume me. I was done; it had to be the bottom.
I declined Susan’s offer to spend the night at their house and slept on the living room sofa instead. I woke up at five and drove back to Atlanta, not remembering one mile of the trip back. I started to leave Ellen a note before I left but I couldn’t. There was nothing to say and if I could have come up with words they would have been ugly. I knew it wasn’t her fault but all of my thwarted emotional investment had to have a target and I placed everything at her feet. Our marriage, my emotional health, even the two house payments. It was all on her because I had done all I could.
This is an excerpt of a full length novel entitled “Back Again.” You can read it in it’s entirety by downloading it from here or you can keep coming back to this site and read it in chapter chunks over time. Your call but, either way, I hope you will read it and, most of all, enjoy it. And leave a comment or two. It lets me know you are out there…