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    BWS Stories - "Alone Again (Naturally)"...Empty Nest

    "Alone Again (Naturally)"...Empty Nest - Empty Nest Refilled

    Janie Dempsey Watts is a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has been published in Chicken Soup for Horse Lover’s Soul, the Los Angeles Times, Moving Pictures International and Exquisite Brides and Weddings. Her current emphasis is fiction, including short stories and a novel, Moon Over Taylor’s Ridge, not yet published. She may be reached at:

    Empty Nest Refilled

    “Pew—eee! Come smell my knee!” my son Jack said. What an odd request I thought, but I moved towards my 19-year-old lying on the sofa with his left knee covered in thick bandages. Three days earlier he’d had reconstructive knee surgery.

    “What is it?” I asked, squatting down next to the sofa.

    “Just smell it, please.” His voice rose to a plea. “I think maybe something’s wrong.” I leaned and sniffed, or tried to. My nose was stuffy.

    “I don’t smell anything.”

    “Of course not. You couldn’t smell a rotten fish, Mom.”

    “Well, why did you ask me then? Never mind. What does it smell like?”

    “Like someone stepped in dog--”

    “Okay, I get it. Don’t be so dramatic,” I replied. My larger-than-life Jack has a tendency to overstate things occasionally, to put it mildly. But perhaps he was right. Perhaps a doggy gift left on our lawn had been tracked inside and was now stuck to one of our soles. I walked over to the kitchen and examined shoe bottoms. No clues there. On the kitchen counter I spotted the information sheets sent home by the outpatient surgery center. I scanned down the list of possible catastrophes and found it: “Foul odor.”

    Although I could not smell it, perhaps my son had detected the “foul odor.” We were in the six-day wasteland between his surgery and the first post-operative visit. Neither of us had medical training unless you counted his high school physiology class. Was the smell gangrene? Leading to amputation? Permanent disability? Watching re-runs? Eating jelly bagels? On my couch? Indefinitely? I rushed to telephone the nurse.

    While I was put on hold I thought of the basketball injury that had brought my son home from college two months earlier than expected. He had gone up for a lay-up and, as he said, smashed into a “bigger guy with a better knee.” Jack’s knee was crunched and dislocated. The doctor immobilized his knee with a brace at the emergency room and we received the dreaded late night call. My husband and I drove to his school and carried our baby, our 6’5” college freshman, back home in the back seat of our wagon. Returning to college was not an option. He couldn’t climb up into his bunk bed, navigate his way around the sprawling campus or even tie his shoes. After an MRI revealed torn ligaments and a floating bone chip, along with that wildly skewed kneecap, he decided to withdraw from college and opt for the surgery as soon as possible.

    At home we waited for the swelling to go down before surgery. I was his nurse, bringing ice packs, water, Tylenol and Cheetos on demand. For three weeks he lived on our couch watching “Love Boat” and “MacGuyver.” His body made a new and permanent dent in our brushed leather sofa and red jelly blobs now dotted our hardwood floors. Our weekly food bill doubled, thanks to the giant jar of red vines licorice, the dozen bags of Cheetos and the many trips for fast food. (With all the fetching, who had time to cook?)

    Surrounding him, spreading out into every corner of our home, as his toys had in days past, were his college things: books, noteBooks, clothes, video games, C.D.’s and toiletries. Noting the two dozen bottles of shampoos and conditioners, I felt pride for my son who is always so well-prepared. I found myself enjoying his company despite the reason for his return home.

    At last the nurse came on the line. I explained my concerns to her in hushed tones so as not to alarm Jack.

    “What did the bandage look like when you changed it?” she asked.

    “I didn’t change it. The instruction sheet said to wait until our first visit.”

    “For heaven’s sake.” She immediately agreed to see the “young prince,” as she called him. I shut the windows, locked up the house and helped him out to the car. He grabbed the car roof and hoisted himself into the backseat, wedged his injured, straight leg out in front in a gymnastic maneuver that could have qualified him for the Cirque de Soleil.

    “Couldn’t we have waited until MacGuyver was over?” he asked as we drove along. At the doctor’s office the nurse led us to the casting table and had Jack lie down. His feet hung off the table’s end by at least six inches. She began removing the bandages and I crossed my fingers and waited for the bad news. The smelly massive infection, or worse, was about to be unveiled. But when she finished all I saw was a neat maroon wound area.

    “Looks great,” she said. Not exactly how I’d describe it. Jack propped up on his elbows.

    “But what about the smell? It smelled weird earlier.”

    “I don’t smell anything honey,” she reassured him. “This knee is fine.” I was relieved to hear that my son was mending nicely and would soon (well, in 12 weeks or so) join the able-bodied once again.

    As I anticipated his return to college, I realized that despite all the chaos in our home I had enjoyed feeling needed again. But like my son, I also felt angry at having lost my new-found independence. Instead of going to my study each morning to tackle writing projects, I had to head into the kitchen to count out pills and prepare snacks. A kneecap knocked off kilter had, in turn, skewed my entire world, or so it seemed.

    A few months later when he returned to college, I knew the house would return to order. I would no doubt pine for him every time I looked into our living room, saw the permanent dent in our leather sofa or the golden Cheetos dust that lingered behind in the cracks between the pillows. Once he left I would have my freedom again, but I knew I would miss the sweet sound of his laughter.

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