The stench of freshly sprayed “eau-de-skunk” wafts with growing strength through my open kitchen window. There are wooden fences all around the properties near me as well as bordering my own, so I know it is highly unlikely the skunk is right outside my back door in my yard, hiding in the night. The thought does cross my mind about whom I might call to help me with skunk spray, though. Despite my reservations and the slowly fading reek, I decide to step outside.
My old house, the one in the country that still belongs to both me and my ex-husband and is currently for sale, has a huge deck running all along its eastern side. Skunks love the real estate underneath that deck and no matter what we used to do to discourage them, they moved in every summer. The dog door, too, was located on that side of the house near the barbeque.
At least once a summer our dog, Mojo, would get herself sprayed, prompting her to immediately come roaring back in through the dog door to wipe herself with frantic intent all across the living room carpet. This usually took place about 3:00 a.m. We learned to keep the dog door shut on summer nights.
Occasionally, checking just because I was curious, I would turn on the outside light by the door only to see a fat black and white form waddling its totally unconcerned way along the deck. Yes, the skunks were still there, even when it didn’t stink.
It is dark and cool on my patio as I walk over to its eastern edge to look up at the night sky. My patio is covered, so I have to stand near its edge to see many stars or the moon once it has risen above the horizon. The crickets chirp loudly in the chill air. It is part of my nightly ritual to say goodnight to the world, literally, before I go to bed. Tonight I take a couple of deep breaths, fresher air mixed with a remaining hint of skunk, and feel my body relax. I like to carry the peace of those few minutes into the world of rest and dreams.
It is going on five years since my divorce became final. I am still amazed at how intensely I lived in that country house. The slightest thing, like the darkness and the smell of skunk, can bring me instantly back to that place and my nightly rituals. I have never been a good sleeper. As a child I wandered my family house checking on my siblings, and sometimes my parents, as they slept. Once in a while I would climb into bed with one of my siblings, only to bask in their warmth for an hour or two before returning to my own bed.
My “marital house” as the divorce decree calls it, or the “skunk house” if you prefer, was no exception. I slept very lightly for years. My son had asthma and I would wake at the slightest change in his breathing. I would sit in his room in the dark as he coughed and barked, praying for him, or waiting to give him another dose of his medicine, or trying to decide if I should call the doctor. My husband traveled all the time for his job. When he was home, he was never the one who sat with our son. The night was mine.
Years later, when my brother was sick and after he died, and following not so long afterward when my mother died, I would wake and wander the house. Grief is worse at night. The world is still, and quiet, and the moonlight on the landscape, or the light on the side of a neighbor’s barn in the distance can make sadness bearable.
Sometimes I would sit outside on the cement patio under the stars, away from the skunk deck, and just listen to the darkness. Cows lowed, the horses snorted in the barn, cars moved on the highway far away, coyotes sometimes sang, and my heart absorbed that peace. God is easier to find in the emptiness. There is Someone to talk to without having to use words. In the winter whether there was a moon or not, snow on the ground made an almost heavenly light. Bushes, fences, even the pole with the birdfeeders stood in stark relief against the night.
I thought of none of these things when I filed for divorce. All I wanted was to get out, get away, get free of an oppressive situation. I fled into the minuscule town we lived outside of, fled to a patio home surrounded by other suffocatingly close patio homes. I handled things badly with my children and with myself because I was an emotional wreck, but somehow I found this perfect brand new house. Its walls were close enough, the neighbors present enough to create a kind of cocoon. I could wait out all that change and somehow survive. I live by myself now, with just my little yellow dog for company.
I stand out on my covered patio at the very edge where it extends out beyond the roof of my present house, and search the sky for stars. I find I want that kind of open space again, the space around that house in the country that will soon be gone. I have let go of all the dreams, all the safety, all the illusions that that house once anchored for me. I have let go of the boundaries this smaller house that is my home now seemed to provide. I hear something calling me from the stars in the night sky. The streetlights are too bright here, the neighbors too close.
The emptiness and the darkness no longer scare me. I thought for a while I would never survive. I find I have, with more strength than I would have imagined. I say goodnight to the world I can see around me every night and touch back into that vastness I used to love. It isn’t so boundless any more. I’ve worked hard on my relationship to the God of my understanding. Someone stands with me as I look at the sky.
“Good night, God,” I say. “Thank you for this day.”
Wow, I felt like I was there, I could almost smell the skunk.