Dear Our House,
Are you still considered an “unresolved loss?” I know that we are saying goodbye to you, but maybe I haven’t fully accepted it because strong emotion sneaks up on me when I least expect it. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if maybe we were closer than I realized.
I’m making the best of living in an apartment because in my mind, I realize having a place to live is a privilege some do not have. I kind of still feel like I’m on a long trip and that we will return to you, though I know logically that’s not true. Our three rooms are not nearly as spacious as your rooms are, and none of the design choices are ones I’ve carefully selected or invested time and money into.
Three months isn’t very much time to be apart when we consider that we’ve been together for 6 ½ years… longer if you consider the months we spent renovating you before we moved in. While you may have overheard me say that there were aspects of you that we didn’t exactly love, overall we were comfortable and happy living in you. It’s lovely to feel such contentment and I know all 3 of us and our animals felt settled and enjoyed creating memories together there.
Many of our neighbors are making repairs and plan to move back home in a few months. We are so happy that they are coming back because we love our neighborhood very much. Actually, this situation caused us to re-evaluate all of our plans, thinking about where we live and why, only to choose again the same life we had been living, in the same place. We love our neighborhood: its location, its people, and its sense of community.
I remember that we were returning home from a vacation the day before the Memorial Day flood 2.5 years ago. Already then, we were driving through rising waters and some streets were impassable. Waking up the next morning and seeing water covering our lawn and front garden, all the way up to the front step, was a shock. I had to do a triple-take! How does that happen??? Someone was kayaking down our street! One more inch and we would have had water in our house then too. Then a year later for the Tax Day flood, we got very close yet again.
In case you’re looking for us or wondering when your repairs will begin, here’s the situation. Please don’t feel hurt about this because it’s nothing you did. Are you ready to hear this? We aren’t coming back to you. Yes, you heard me right. We are not returning.
You see, we would always be wondering when some extreme weather event would happen again, leaving us vulnerable to continually feeling unsettled. And, to us, that is just not what home is supposed to feel like. I can’t tell you exactly when, but you are going to be destroyed fairly soon and I probably won’t be there to watch. We both know you were built to last. You have a very solid foundation and substantive bones. That makes it feel worse to me to cause such harm to you, but I don’t feel I have much of a choice.
When water started coming over your threshold, we escaped to our upstairs room above the garage, but I came back a few hours later to unplug the TV and to get a few other boxes. I may never forget the rush of water flowing into the house as soon as I opened a door. It came in so fast, there were waves. It took quite a lot of force to push back against it and close the door again. Sloshing around in my rain boots, I saw a completely surreal scene. Since you were obviously there to experience it first-hand, I’ll spare you further description. Over the past couple of weeks, that image of rushing water at my feet has come to mind a few times and every single time, I still can’t believe it happened. I truly didn’t think we needed to prepare for that kind of thing.
I know we left in a mad rush. All of a sudden, there were 10 people inside ripping out sheetrock and carpets and counters, exposing all your outer walls. We emptied all your closets, all the way back to the very back where we finally found that box of candles we’ve been looking for for years. We filled more than 200 contractor trash bags with our ruined belongings. Your ample storage closets were packed into boxes and labeled and taped shut so quickly that we didn’t make the smartest of decisions in many cases. My point is that nobody prepared for this event and it continues to feel “unprocessed.”
Let’s not forget that you were home to someone else for 40 years before we got there. I’d like to honor you for what you were for us while we lived with you. I want to express my gratitude for your shelter, your particular sounds, and for how safe I felt living with you. You are strong and solid and built to last. I thank you for all of that.
* * * * *
We usually entered our house via the door off the driveway and into the kitchen. Sometimes we were laden with grocery bags or a backpack and library books and we’d set everything down just inside the door. Sweet Girl and I often sat at the kitchen table to do her homework, she having an after-school snack and me trying to keep her on task. It was a great area because it was close to the living room and dining room. Many a meal was prepared on your large island and I spent hours at the desk, looking out the front window while paying bills or writing a blog post or organizing one of my volunteer events. Your kitchen was bright and very much the hub of our home.
The living room was where we gathered as a family to play games or watch a movie together. There were a couple of times that we moved the furniture to the sides of the room to set up folding tables to host an extended family gathering. This is where SG would hide behind our curtains to announce herself before climbing atop our ottoman and pretending to be a rock star giving a concert, or where she would lay when she was sick and needed lots of TLC. This is the room we used when friends came to visit. We even slept in here when the A/C in the back of the house broke.
Our dining room table was the perfect spot to work a puzzle or do an art project. We opened Chanukah presents here and had our china cabinet in here too. It was always nice to look at all our treasures inside of it and remember the story behind each one. (There is the challah tray we got for our wedding, and the beautiful and colorful glass vases from a dear friend. My grandfather gave us an inscribed silver kiddush cup for our wedding, even though he did not live to be there himself. We have the gorgeous crystal vase Mr. B received on a sales incentive trip for his hard work. There is the tzedakah box SG made and decorated out of a PJ Library kit and the one we bought ourselves a few years ago that we thought represented our place in the world at that time. There’s our main menorah and a little one we received as a gift when SG was born. These things are not lost, but they are in storage for the time being and so we can’t use or admire them, and being apart from them feels strange.) Since the dining room is at the front of the house, we would often wait here and look out the windows if we were expecting anyone. Then SG would run through the house shouting “They’re here!” or “She’s here” if it were a favorite babysitter. She never once closed the shutters she opened or put back the dining room chair she moved, did she? The front door never quite closed right, but we loved it nonetheless because we chose it ourselves.
Our office was where Mr. B worked every day for several years. He had piles of business cards on his desk and stacks of papers on the floor behind him. One April Fool’s Day, SG and I tried to rig up a foghorn-type thing in his desk chair, so that when he sat down… you get the idea. The walls were decorated with Father’s Day cards and homemade picture frames and artwork. Then a couple years ago, I got to turn it into an art space for myself. I found my footing in there as I experimented with many different techniques and worked through some online classes. The huge bookshelf in there was home to all my favorites, all of which are in storage and all of which I am missing. I never really thought about how often I would consult one for a remembered passage or to learn about something specific. I lost all my binders that were full of valued course materials about photography, blogging, publishing, starting a business, etc.
Behind SG’s loft bed, we found a poster we’d made when we moved in. It was a step-by-step guide (with photos) of our bedtime routine. It is not necessarily a pleasant memory that I used to stay with her as she fell asleep each night, tied to her every waking moment. But to progress from that routine to where we are now… we were reading underneath the loft bed, cuddled together with a beanbag chair and Grammy-made quilt. And we had finally reached the point where I could say goodnight and actually… Leave. The. Room. Holy God that was a liberation. Her room, like any room of a young child, transformed during our time there from little dolls and princesses to chapter books and art projects. The pink walls became lavender. The crib became a toddler bed became a double bed became a loft bed. Diapers became pullups became decorated day-of-the-week undies.
My bedroom, with the screened porch immediately outside it, was my sanctuary. I would retreat here to the back of the house when I needed to get away from the activity or craziness of the living room. When I’d open the door to the porch to sit in my egg chair with a book or my computer, Mo would come out to lay in the sunshine or sit near me. We could spend hours sitting watching the birds together. There was a particular sound I’d hear when the lawn guys would come and use the weed eater against the brick on the side of the house, which was behind our bed. We would watch the cracks on our ceiling grow over time as the house settled. I had just hung some large metal prints of some of my photos from our trips over the years.
* * * * *
I remember tiptoeing down the hall into the kitchen in the dark middle of the night to make a cup of tea because I couldn’t sleep. I remember the very few times I woke up before SG did and savoring a cup of coffee in the quiet living room before the day officially began.
I will miss being in all of my own design choices. I will miss our sofa that was only 6 months old. I’ll miss our custom-made living room shelves, the back of which I measured and ordered mirrored glass for, picking it up and driving it (carefully) home myself to place behind the wood shelves. I will miss seeing the kitchen valances I made out of foam core, batting, and fabric and got lots of compliments on. I will definitely miss our shutters and shades that I ordered and enjoyed so much. I’m sad that I lost my bed and SG’s loft bed.
I know, it can all be ordered or bought anew and it’s is “just stuff.” Somehow though, since it was our stuff, it had attached meaning. Everything had experience and memories as part of it. A kitchen countertop is only a slab of granite, but it’s also where my mother-in-law taught her granddaughter how to make homemade applesauce and where we topped SG’s birthday cakes with candles numbered 3 through 8. A bathroom consists of the usual amenities, but in this one I remember SG potty-training with her special step stool and little Dora seat with red handles. This tub was home to many colorful bath concoctions and creative tub drawings. Our mailbox was just 3 pieces of metal, but the familiar clunk of its lid dropping will probably stay with me forever. There is the corner in our bedroom where Mo slept every single day, most recently on a tiny quilt that SG and my mom made together. There is the simple Ikea chair that I bought after grad school, struggling to put it together and enjoying it ever since as one of the few items that was truly self-selected and self-built. There is the bench I used to use as a closet seat to put on shoes or to reach the top shelf… SG secretly decorated with over 100 happy-face stickers a few years ago. I remember being really mad about that at the time, but I have loved it since. It was heartbreaking to see that in the front lawn pile.
Yes, nothing is perfect. Your ceilings were low. We never felt that you let in enough light. I would have loved it if your hallways didn’t feel cave-like. I wish you’d had a real pantry. Yet overall, I loved you. We made you our own before we moved in and then yet again about a year ago with new paint and furniture and lighting.
When you make a house a home, are you not pouring in love and care? That is tough to say goodbye to. This must be what is catching me unawares and often bringing tears to my eyes. It isn’t even the tangible loss of walls (though we just bought a brand new roof and that hurts a bit)… it’s memories and feelings and it’s all invisible. We won’t have these rooms any longer, but I will always treasure the memories and call to mind our time together in fondness and gratitude for what we shared. I’m not there yet though. I’m still lingering in the disbelief and loss part of this particular puzzle. I don’t want to let you go.