(and it’s not any of the houses in which I was a child)
Between 1962 (when I was born) and 1999 I moved more than 15 times. Moving (and change, for that matter) has never been a big deal.
So imagine my surprise when – upon telling a friend that it’s likely we’ll be moving from our current home, where we’ve lived for 18 years – I burst into tears.
It wasn’t a complete surprise, because for a couple of weeks now, ever since we made a serious commitment to moving, I’ve sensed a deep, uncomfortable emotion vibrating right below the surface of my consciousness.
A feeling I didn’t quite recognize.
It was fear, but not the a-lion-is-chasing-me-in-the-jungle kind of fear. It was something more identity-rattling, something that – when I finally recognized and verbalized it – brought relief. And then grief.
“If I don’t live in this house, I might disappear.”
Relief, because I’d finally named it.
Grief because I could only measure what I imagined I’d lose upon leaving this home.
We moved into our little 1300-square-foot, built-in-1949-on-0.1-acre brick home in 1999 and fell in love with it as we fell in love with each other. It was as much a part of our commitment as was our marriage, just two years prior.
We tended to it. We made it ours in all the ways it was possible to do so. Furniture handed down from family. Artwork made for us or purchased from friends. Braided rugs my great-grandmother made. The family heirlooms from both sides that adorn various surfaces. An outdoor enclosure that Tim designed and built so the cats could go out and not get snatched up by a coyote or hit by a car. A remodeled kitchen. A remodeled bathroom. A new roof. Re-pointing the brick. Birdhouses and gardens.
Sometimes I dreamed about how we could make it even more of what we wanted, but in the end, those ideas were not practical, or even possible (without, say, buying the house next door).
Our commitment to it, and to ourselves, was evident in the response of friends and family who visit. People tend to sleep deeply and well here. They relax. They feel safe.
Then there are the not-so-great aspects: a three-quarter-car garage which, for a man who loves working on his car and motorcycle, is not enough; a next door neighbor who lets his dogs bark endlessly and who uses his leaf blower to clean his patio right when we’ve sat down on our patio to have dinner; and the beach traffic that backs up well past our house on summer mornings and then speeds past in the late afternoon, music blaring. Black-hole closets, awkwardly shaped rooms, floors that squeak, and the many quick-and-dirty, clumsy, inelegant, inefficient, difficult to extend and hard to maintain work-arounds (what Tim calls “kluges”).
First-world problems, for sure.
Over the years, from time to time, we’d scan the real estate section of the newspaper (or, more recently, Zillow) to see what else is out there. We’d check out open houses. I always approached those excursions with curiosity and excitement. What would it be like to live in a more modern, spacious (but not necessarily bigger) house?
But now we’re not just looking. We’re committing. We’ve made an offer and we’re preparing to put this home on the market.
The other night, in the midst of scrambling to put some paperwork together, I wondered if Tim was doing it for me, even though it is he who is driving this most recent effort.
Just in case, I let him know: “It wouldn’t break my heart if our plans don’t work out.”
I was perplexed by my lack of enthusiasm. Who wouldn’t want a brand new customized house (literally, because the house we’ll be moving into hasn’t yet been built)?
Sure, I’ll have a walk-in pantry in the kitchen (instead of rickety shelves in the basement stairway), but will the wind in the trees sound like it does here?
Parking cars, motorcycles, and lawn mowers in the garage will no longer be like playing Tetris, but will there be a family of cardinals who make their home nearby?
Will it be too…sterile? Prescribed? Perfect?
Will I have the same ability to create there?
Why do these simple questions make my eyes ache with tears?
Even more than the physical ways in which this house is a home, it is the place where I was – finally – safe to grow up. It’s the place where I let down my guard and discovered who I am. Where I healed. Where I became a grown-ass woman.
Here I woke up.
Here I found my voice.
Here I was able to let myself be cracked wide open.
Here I did the hard work of looking at my whole self – even the parts that terrified and disgusted me – and chose to love all of it.
Here I learned what it feels like to be loved unconditionally and to love that way in return.
Here I lost weight and gained weight and became weightless.
Here I started a blog, wrote two books and part of a third.
Here I became a peaceful daughter.
Here I learned how to grieve.
Here I practice.
Here I nurtured my relationship with myself, finally allowing myself to take the time to know, understand and honor my values, preferences, needs, desires, and boundaries, which, in turn has led to realer and richer and more honest relationships with my husband, my stepchildren, my grandchildren, my friends, and family.
Who will I be if I am not here?
Right now my heart can only see what it perceives I will lose. My mind, however, is open to what I will gain.
And I finally know what it feels like to grieve the home in which you grew up.