The art of coming home to an empty house

I don’t know why Fridays are the worst; the house is just as empty every other day of the week. But the feeling of dread that starts as a seed when I leave work on Fridays grows into a boulder that lodges solidly in my gut the closer I get to home. I know what I will find there.

Everything just as I had left it.

The TV or radio will be on low for the dogs that wait patiently in their crates for me to return home. There’s quiet. No sounds of human life. None of the warmth to which I had become accustomed when my husband Jim was alive. Just a cold wall of silence.

My husband Jim loved his Brittany dogs. Here, Bullet brings Jim a bone to try to distract him from kissing Sassy.

My husband Jim loved his Brittany dogs. Here, Bullet brings Jim a bone to try to distract him from kissing Sassy.

I purposely will sit in my vehicle in my garage, engine off, and listen to the audio book in the vehicle’s CD player until I can focus on what I have to do once I get inside and not on who isn’t there.

Most of the time, I focus on the dogs. I think about getting them outside, and where my Brittany dog Thistle’s squeaky tennis ball might be so I can toss it for her. I try to remember how much water I had left in my dog Quincy’s pail so I will know how desperate he might be to relieve himself. (He tends to drink all of the water I put in the pail in his crate.) I think about timing for the dogs’ dinner, and what tasks await me that evening. I think about laundry, and paying bills and vacuuming and the dog groups I participate in, and anything I might have coming up during the week.

And, in line with my New Year’s resolution to replace negatives with positives, I try to focus on how warm home can feel when the dogs are free of their crates, a scented candle burns in the kitchen, dinner is on the stove and household chores are underway.

Anything to avoid the feeling of loss that I dread most.

But no matter how much I try to distract myself, that final moment of entering my house that is devoid of other humans is always the same: A cold that has nothing to do with temperature; an emptiness that has nothing to do with how much stuff I have; a feeling of death that has nothing to do with breathing.

When Jim was alive, I would open the back door and step into the sounds of televisions in the living room and kitchen not on the same stations, each trying to out-shout the other. Our Brittany dogs Sassy and Bullet would greet me because there was no need for them to be crated; Jim was home.

The house would smell of cooking food, wood smoke and cigarettes that Jim wasn’t supposed to be smoking in the house. There might be laundry going and the dishes would be done. It would feel warm and alive and was bursting with the energy of things he wanted to tell me about his day and questions he wanted to ask me about mine.

And I would wait, as for an escalator, to step into the motion at just the right time and become part of my home life once again.

Fridays were special somehow, especially after Jim retired. We would talk about my work, and the people he ran into at the grocery store, and plans for the upcoming weekend; maybe we would have takeout food for dinner. We might watch the qualifying runs for NASCAR racing, or finish watching a movie or a cooking show he had started to watch while I was at work. Fridays were busy and fun and pulsing with life and anticipatory of at least one weekend day we would have together.

Pictures of us together at home are rare as usually one of us was taking the pictures, but my aunt and uncle were visiting with their dog and we were having our Christmas together here.

Pictures of us together at home are rare as usually one of us was taking the pictures, but my aunt and uncle were visiting with their dog and we were having our Christmas together here.

That is all gone.

I may feel a twinge of angst other days of the week, but Fridays are a terrible contradiction. I am happy to have weekend time, but dread the homecoming. I think it’s part of the reason I strove to be away a lot in the five years since Jim’s death; to have somewhere else I needed to be. Avoidance as an artform.

I have made progress though. I actually think of my residence now as “home” and not “the house.” I don’t cry very often when I arrive home. And I find it easier to think about things that can distract me, to find a focus that will whisk me through the doorframe and set me on a positive path.

I hope, with more time, Fridays will not be as difficult, but in the meantime, where IS that squeaky tennis ball, Thistle?

JULIE HARRIS

About JULIE HARRIS

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.