I'm a journalist, a reporter. When I am seeking information about a thing, I ask people about their experience of it. My husband says I interview them, implying I'm a little too intent, and maybe I am. People don't seem to mind, though. Mostly, they are surprised and then gratified that someone sincerely wants to know how it was for them. From the time I knew myself, I have wanted to know only this: What you experienced, how you felt, were you changed. It is why I decided to become a journalist in the first place.
This seemingly unquenchable thirst to know how life is processed in other bodies of consciousness arrived full blown, well beyond simple curiosity. As a child, I made up elaborate stories about people who passed by me in the street. Seizing on clues of gesture and expression, of dress and urgency and the company they kept, I surmised where they had been, what they might be feeling about it, where they were going next. I studied them surreptitiously, having been admonished by my mother and my older brother in sharp whispers, "Don't stare!" "You're staring!" "Stop staring!" from the time I was very young.
When I discovered there was such a pursuit as journalism, it seemed like a magnificent blank check, a license to ask people about their lives, to not have to make up their stories any more. I could finally learn the truth about what they thought, how they survived the moment-to-moment buffeting of emotion, the incessant unspooling of thought pictures like flickering home movies in their brains.
Lately, I have been interviewing women who are mothers about how it was for them when their children first left home. I get all sorts of answers. This is the one I got today from the wife of a man I grew up with, and whose children are both now grown.
"After they left," she said, "after the second one went to college, I had this core of loneliness inside me. I couldn't explain it to anyone but everything around me just felt so vast and empty. One evening I came home from work and realized I had forgotten my keys and Charles was still at work and there was no one inside to let me in, the house was dark and quiet and still and I just sat on the front steps and wept."
"But in time," she said, "you grow close to your husband in a new way. You've shared so much and it has bonded you. And now you get to go out and have adventures together. After a while you realize there is nothing stopping you, your time is your own, and you get giddy again. And then when the kids come home to visit it's a big celebration and a joy you share, but you're okay when they leave again. You really are okay."
I loved how she said all this, the way her eyes opened wide at some points, the way her shoulders slumped when she recalled sitting on that step and sobbing into the empty night, the way she clapped her hands a little, without even realizing she was doing so, when she talked about getting giddy.
I can feel the promise of what she describes. That tenderness I feel towards my husband, remembering how, when we were first married, I had the insistent sense that we were two giddy children playing in a sandbox, having the time of our lives. It's almost like synesthesia, that sandbox feeling tonight, after a terrifically busy weekend with my cousin who came to visit us from Maryland, and our friends who were visiting from Jamaica. Everyone has left now and it's just the two of us, puttering around the house, him reading, me here typing, brushing against each other and feeling as lighthearted and playful as children, and it seems to me that this is one sort of adventure.
As for the other sort, we lay in bed last night coming up with a list of places we want to go. On it were places he wants to see and places I want to see, and for the first time both lists were equally important, as I itemized the places I know he wants to go, and he itemized the places he knows I want to go, and wordlessly, we agreed to visit them together, and I'm thinking what is the world, really, but a map on which to carve new paths and scatter particles of dreams like so much play, hardly more complicated than when we first sank our eager fingers into the willing sand.