And sometimes you get used to the smell of cat piss.

Last night, I watched my son’s first fireworks show reflected in his glasses. This afternoon, my husband lost his job.

When he called me, my finger was poised to click-order a $200 area rug in a terra-cotta Moroccan trellis-print. After I hung up, I removed it from the cart.

We knew the Valle’s were struggling—it was hard to keep two eponymous family-owned businesses afloat in a town like Marquette. Still, they were good to us. Letting us borrow the company pick-up for moving, handing out holiday bonuses and gift cards, even bringing me pretty souvenirs from yearly trips to the Philippines. We knew the stores were for sale, but thought we’d have time. We weren’t worried; we bought a house and had even been trying to expand our little family. We weren’t worried.

The house—formerly known as the blue house with the yellow door—now a blue house with a white door. No closets, only one bathroom (on the main floor, facing the dining room so you can gaze at the toilet through the open door while you eat). Not much of a yard, but close to the beach and local businesses. The last owner had a dog—we’d seen the silver food dish in the photos—big deal. We weren’t worried.

The smell—so well-disguised by Renuzit fresheners and candles, loomed large after we closed. We’d already decided to rip out the main floor carpet, having lived on laminate hardwood and preferring brooms over vacuums. But we hadn’t planned on having to do it immediately. While we were painting the walls, we realized the place reeked like a litterbox. We hadn’t seen or smelt evidence of a cat; but our new neighbor confirmed it. Dogs, plural, and cats.

We’ll fix it, we figured. The carpet came out, the floors were treated with an enzyme cleaner and sealed over with an odor-trapping shellac. I still burn candles and incense and run an essential oils diffuser daily. I only notice it when we’ve left for a while and come back.

The bamboo vinyl planks came in today. Carl dutifully picked them up at Lowe’s and laid the boxes in the kitchen—a big kitchen—a selling point that eclipsed other lackings in the house. We toyed with the idea of installing it ourselves. After the phone call today, we knew. We’d bought a mallet a few weeks earlier just in case. Now we need a T-square too.

My son wants a Spiderman ice-cream, so I take him across the street. I’ve been in my pajamas all day, sun-sick from hours at the beach yesterday. Now, sick over everything—how much this has cost us, how much it will continue to, and now the uncertainty. As we walk out the front door, I see that the Vista Red salvia we planted in the flower boxes last week has lost most its petals. I’m pretty sure I planted them too close together—but at the time, I wasn’t worried.

“It looks like all our flowers died, buddy,” I say.

He agrees, and as I help him down the crumbling front walk, he says, “sometimes flowers die, and sometimes they don’t.”

I know that his childish simplification is just an echo of what I’ve told him in the past. For instance, he’s in love with the moon, and searches it out every evening. On nights of a new moon, when it’s not visible, I say, “sometimes the moon is there, and sometimes it isn’t.” Of course, it’s always there, but it’s easier to explain that way. I say, “Sometimes the moon and the sun are in the sky at the same time.” This one kind of blows his mind, and really, mine too. Again, I know he’s parroting my own words back to me, but if you were in a shitty mind frame, looking for some, any little shred of optimism after what feels like a roller-coaster you never wanted to ride in the first place, you might take what he says to be a metaphor.

Sometimes flowers die, and sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes you have a job, and sometimes you don’t.

Sometimes your weight plateaus for a good ten years, and sometimes you balloon up twenty pounds in a month because you’re so stressed out you could hide in a closet and eat jalapeno Cheetos and wine for every meal and then nothing fits but v-neck t-shirts and yoga pants.

Sometimes, you have a big, beautiful, two-bathroom house with a yard and clothesline and a pillared front porch where you can sit and hear the frogs and crickets at night, and sometimes you sacrifice all of that to pay almost twice as much to live on the loudest fucking street in the city, so you don’t have to spend two hours on the road every day and never see each other and never go anywhere.

Sometimes you still don’t see much of each other.

And sometimes somebody loses their job, so suddenly you do again.

Sometimes you are the best mom ever, speaking softly to your child, who is terrified of the thought of fireworks, only to watch in proud amazement as he fearlessly sits rapt through every bang, flash and fizzle, never once having to put your hands over his little ears.

And sometimes you let him play video games all day just so you can wallow in your own misery. Sunburned, anxious and scared, much like he was last night before the first rocket went up.

I ask my son, reclining on the couch, if he’s happy.

“I am,” he says. “I am happy. I am. Now watch me play my game, Mama. I can be the robot. That robot can fly.”

Jiminy Crickets,  I wish I could be the robot.



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