* * *
Two days ago, a large box arrived from Pottery Barn. I'd bought a couple of lamps I've been wanting, which were on sale. I was excited to receive them. I was disappointed there was still no letter from Noah. Ethan's been playing with the box in his room and has tried to convince me to let him sleep in it since it arrived.
Ethan's clinginess hasn't abated at all. If anything, it's gotten worse. I don't mind all the cuddles and hugs and carrying him (obviously), but these past couple of days his clinginess seems to stem from desperation. He doesn't have the vocabulary to talk about what he's thinking and feeling.
Last night when my mom said, "Guess who's coming to our house for dinner?" referring to my friend Heather and her daughter Ava, Ethan added, "and Daddy." Mom just looked at me, and I had to remind him that Daddy wasn't going to be back for awhile. He commented on the empty space at the table and said it was for Daddy (even though that's not where Noah would normally sit).
Today Ethan had a huge meltdown. He didn't want me to leave the room, and he didn't want to come with me to the kitchen, and right before my eyes he transformed into a banshee. I went to the kitchen and got my snack then returned to him, scooping him up and letting him sob on my shoulder.
"Do you miss Daddy?" I asked. He nodded. "Do you want to talk about him?" He shook his head.
Tonight, after the tantrum and the hours of being clung to, I didn't have the heart or the energy to persist in saying no. I'll move him later, but for now he's curled up on a couple of blankets inside that box, cuddled with Big Bunny, Baby Bunny, Sammy, and the enormous serves-as-a-pillow Big Froggie, sleeping as soundly as either of us can anymore.
* * *
Yesterday I arrived home and found a small cardboard box on the front porch.
I knew immediately what it was. Noah had written my name and our address on the side, and had printed his name in permanent marker across the seal on the top of the box.
Inside was his backpack, his shoes, jeans, a t-shirt, and two of the three small notepads he had taken with him. I pulled out each item, inspected it. First the shoes, then the clothes, finally the backpack. Inside the bag was only the Navy materials he'd taken to read over on the flight and a car key, as well as his phone with the battery removed. None of the clothes smelled of him. I suppose they smelled of the journey, the fresh cardboard and O'Hare airport and the hotel in Raleigh.
There was no note. The return address on the box is the address of the main base in Great Lakes. No division number, no ship number. On the mantel my stack of letters is getting bigger, still waiting for a destination.
* * *
The mail truck was pulling onto our street as I left to go grocery shopping today. I probably would have waited in the driveway for it, but Dad had picked us up and we were dropping Nanny off at a friend's house, so checking the mail would have to wait.
As soon as I returned home, before even opening the front door, I walked down the driveway and opened the mailbox. It was empty.