I took a walk with my dog this evening. Two miles around the neighborhood, I kept a leisurely pace and stopped every so often to take a picture. I noticed a lot of things, as I tend to do these days--the way the setting sun skimmed across the northern sides of the houses; the play of shadows on garage doors; the way a little breeze rippled the skirt of a mother at the elementary school playground, her hip thrust out to support one child as she watched another running through the grass. Mostly what I noticed was the quiet, though.
Of course, it's never completely quiet. A breeze would rustle the leaves of a jacaranda as I passed, or a car would drive by. As I crossed the mouth of one cul-de-sac, I heard the rumble of an air compressor and the shouts of childish delight at the simple joy of jumping in an inflatable castle. But these were only fleeting and sporadic. Mostly what I heard was my own footfalls, and the click-clack of my dog's claws on the concrete--the kinds of sounds you can only really notice against a backdrop of real quietness.
Arriving home, I set about filling the silence that now permeates my house, now that Juliette and the kids are 2500 miles away. The whir of the microwave, heating my meal of leftover rice and beans. Shelby Foote's mellifluous drawl as he chuckles over some anecdote revealing the character of some Confederate or Union general--still not enough to overcome the quiet, though, and I drifted off and dozed for a bit, awaking as "Ashokan Farewell" played over the credits. When was the last time I fell asleep on the couch? I don't know, but it's been a while.
This is what I've been doing every night for the past week, and what I imagine I'll do for the next week as well: filling the quiet. Being used to its absence--whether because of the laughter or tears of your children, or even just the television down the hall in our bedroom, lulling Juliette to sleep--quiet now just reminds me of how alone I am.
It's almost the same, though. I stay up late, just as I do when they're here, and my office is lit by the same dim lamp and bright computer screen as every night after Juliette turns in. And after, when I finally admit defeat to my own need for sleep, I walk into the same darkened hallway, and for a moment I can pretend that past each bedroom doorway will be one of them, quietly sleeping. And when I reach my own room, turn out the light, and slide under the blanket, in the dark I can pretend that Juliette is beside me, there just past the part of the bed that I can feel.
It's quiet, and I let the sound of my own breathing, my own heartbeat, carry me off to sleep. In the morning, things will look better again, and I'll be one day closer to seeing them again.