As I survive my 60th year I struggle more often with “last” than “first.” I guess I am lucky to have lasted this long, but I am more accustomed to a life of firsts.
“This is our last Christmas in the house,” my wife remarked, stating the fact without emotion.
The words landed with the punch of a boulder thrown into wet river silt.
“You know that, don't you?” she insisted. “Hadn't really thought about it,” I mumbled. “Not that way.”
She gave me something between a “you should have known” and a “are you kidding me” look before adding, “I'm taking down all the fall decorations today.”
She got up from the kitchen table and walked to the sink. Her back to me, she rinsed the dishes. The loud hiss of water amplified the tinnitus in my ears, confounding any words she uttered. Apparently no response expected, she left me with my breakfast. The cinnamon-sprinkled latte, toasted croissant, and aged Gouda cheese were not as reassuring as they had been.
Big changes were coming. It was a new beginning, our first without the children. We were married 14 years ago, blending her three children with my three children into one family. In May the youngest had graduated college, moved to upstate New York, and found a job.
So the five-bedroom, three-story, 1885 Victorian was too big for just the two of us. And my wife struggled with the stairs since her knee operation failed to keep the pain away. We had talked of moving ever since the last child had left for college. But I hadn't been ready. I had rebuilt this house when we got married. I still loved the authentic character of the old place: sunlight filtered through the frozen ripples of antique wavy-glass windows, fir floors marking every footfall, the bright echoes of voices off lathe and plaster walls. I would never own another home so spectacularly vibrant with hopeless romanticism.
“We'll give the kids our Christmas ornaments this year,” my wife declared, walking through the kitchen, eying my untouched repast. “When shall we get the tree?”
She left before I could answer. It was a rhetorical question, one to prepare me.
It would be my last tree-bearing ordeal, my last struggle to shoulder a 12-foot Noble fir through the double front doors, making a 90-degree turn as I dragged and tugged it to into the parlor. I did it by myself last year. My wife had been smart enough to leave. She'd gone shopping to avoid my cursing as “father knows trees” played out for yet another season. There was still a hole in the ceiling from last year. This year would be my last tree...
I took a nibble of the croissant, ate a sliver of the Gouda, took a sip of the latte. They tasted different, better somehow, as if they were my last meal.