Yesterday it was dark by 5:30. It’s November now; the days are shorter and nighttime comes excruciatingly early now that the clocks have fallen back. Time, the shortness of it, has been on my mind. In two months I will walk with head held high into a new life with about 70 other Peace Corps volunteers. We are identified as Thailand Group 127. I trod a similar path earlier in the year while I was preparing to go to Ukraine. It’s a lot less frenetic this time round. Back in the dead of winter my house was getting ready to be sold, I needed to keep it clean between showings, until it was finally under contract. Tatter was keeping me company while I boxed, bagged and tagged my life up into sellable or storagable units. Then one track of the train derailed—my going to Ukraine—while the other track remained on course. The house sold and those possessions I thought I’d want to return to went into storage back in April. The dog stole the hearts of his adopted family way back then too and left me alone. Since the beginning of May I have been renting a room from a very dear, generous friend and I thank my lucky stars everyday for his benevolence and companionship.
The gap in time between almost going to Ukraine and preparing to go to Thailand has been filled with joy and loneliness, bursts of creativity and self-assuredness, fits of procrastination, doubt, and ennui, and an awful lot of time to think. While I don’t have to worry about selling and emptying the house now I still need to worry about some equally mundane things like taxes and voting while I’m away for 27 months. And I’m struggling over making sure I have all the appropriate clothes, accessories and gear for the tropics and this electronic age. The waiting has given me time to explore America and myself and to spend time with my family, getting to know my father a bit better and getting to know the extended family he married into after my mother died. I have been able to visit my father and step-mother more frequently this year than any year since I left home 35 years ago.
This past January, thinking I’d be leaving for Ukraine before they came back north, I said good-bye to Dad and Joyce after I drove them from Western NY to Florida. None of us was sure what kind of goodbye it was going to be, a temporary—see you in a couple of years—goodbye or the more permanent one—thank you for giving me life. My father is proud of what I’m doing; I overhear him when he talks to the dwindling number of his contemporaries. He wants his only child to succeed and come back to regale him with stories about Southeast Asia. He’ll read my blogs, of course, but only after Joyce prints them out. Dad doesn’t participate in this electronic world and we both have an aversion to picking up the phone. Joyce is the key here, she’s the only one of us with Skype experience.
They are both in their 80s now and their health is deteriorating, more noticeably than in years past. So this gap in my joining the Peace Corps has been a blessing on that front. I have been able to be there for them, to sit with them, to drive them to Canada and Ohio so they can visit distant family. I have been able to be a son, something that I was always too busy to be when they were younger and healthier, when I didn’t need to worry about them so. But now I do worry.
These past few years Dad’s heart has gotten so much weaker and this once active man now has no energy or motivation. Joyce has COPD and is tethered to an oxygen pump. She is frustrated that her new hearing aids haven’t been adjusted right yet and we shout every bit of conversation. The once gentle ribbing between us takes on a meaner tone now that it’s amplified. I look at them, the calendar and the clock and see the days getting shorter. And while I’m indulging in this sad reflection I surprise myself by expressing these thoughts aloud. How can I leave them alone for 27 months? But they won’t be alone, they reassure me; Joyce’s family watches over them and they know that I love them. For all time.