I’m about to leave on another business trip and I’m feeling anxious. It’s been about six weeks since I returned from the last trip and got that call from my neighbor David about the fire in the house and my son on the way to ER. I know rationally that the chance of another disaster occurring while I’m away is close to nil, but feelings aren’t rational. I wish I could cancel, but that would be a hardship for my team. Also, a small part of me wants to get away from it all – the bills, contractor’s reports, insurance inquiries, and all the countless details of my post-fire life. Six weeks ago I left a house that I had scrubbed, repaired, and repainted, ready to go for its first day on the housing market. I had left my 20-year-old son in charge of the house and our two dogs. I had been looking forward to a summer of house hunting.
This time leaving is different. We are living in a rental house with very few of our own possessions. My daughter is back from college and I take some comfort knowing that there are two of them in the house. If for any reason something happens to one, the other can go for help. I’m especially worried about my son Jacob. He hasn’t shown any overt signs of depression or post-trauma stress in the last few weeks, but I’m still glad his sister is in the house so he won’t be alone. Not that they have much to do with each other except when they watch a show, but there’s some comfort knowing they’re together. I prepare for my trip, leaving plenty of instructions and warnings. I’m sure they’re both glad when I finally leave.
I send frequent e-mails and texts asking them how it’s going. I try to wait patiently for a response, but by the second day, I’m irritated that they don’t bother to answer. I finally get a text from the girl. Where do you keep the batteries? The remote isn’t working. Perhaps I should have hidden some important objects to get some kind of communication. If I’d hidden the remote controls or the pool card, maybe they’d let me know of their existence. When I return home four days later, all seems well. I walk down that same airport hall and luckily, there are no scary phone calls. Then I smell that all too familiar burning odor. I look around nervously, but all I see is a barbeque restaurant. I don’t think I’ll be able to enjoy the smokey smell of grilled food for a long time. My son picks me up, I go home, and all is well. Or so it seems.
The next week, while chatting with a neighbor, I find out that there was a party at my house. A party while I was away. A party with half a dozen or so teenagers. Hmmm. The fact that my kids did not ask or ever mention this is suspicious in itself, and then I remember the blender. When the kids were back at their dad’s house, I did some thorough cleaning. My brand new blender had dried fruit crusted on the rim, so I soaked it. I detected a slight alcoholic aroma in the soaking water, but at the time, I dismissed it as my imagination. I guess not. Now I know kids will be kids, but none of these kids are legally allowed to drink and we’re living in a rental house, not my own. Just one tumble down the stairs or one kid barfing on the carpet and we have a problem. If one of them foolishly decides to drive after drinking, we have a big problem. I’m due to leave on one more trip in a week, but I’m not about to put the kids in charge now. A few quick consultations with their dad, and he agrees to keep our irresponsible offspring and their dogs while I’m out of town. This time away I don’t feel anxious, but when I return to Austin, I’m glad that it’s my last business trip of the summer.