The House, My Home
Just over seven years ago, I moved to Los Angeles. It was the first time I had ever truly left home; I went to college in Minnesota and Iowa, and though I traveled to Central America to study abroad, I knew that trip had a term limit of four months. So LA was a big step, one I was excited to take. And as sad as I was to be leaving all of the people I loved in Minnesota behind, the thing that made me the saddest was saying good-bye to my childhood home. I wrote a blog post about it. I cried when I left it for the last time before we drove to LA. And last weekend, I left it for the last time...for the last time.
I've known for awhile this was coming. My parents bought a new house last spring, and they've already been living there for a handful of months. Our house has been on the market almost as long. I've already wandered the halls with my camera, taking photos of every minute detail (I'm talking light switches and carpeting), sobbing softly to myself and stroking the wallpaper of each room. It was as pathetic as it sounds. I've been mourning the loss of this house for months. I've been mourning it since my parents first started talking about moving when I was in college. There's been a lot of mourning.
I've always had a strong relationship with inanimate objects. I don't know how or why it started, but from a young age I've had a hard time letting go of even the most mundane items - rocks, paper clips, hangers - that I have, for some reason or another, attached meaning to during their tenure in my life. I struggle to give away clothes not because I think I'll want to wear them again someday, but because I feel bad that they have to live at Goodwill, or someone else's closet, and they might be sad that I abandoned them, or feel lonely in their new surroundings, or miss me. I think Toy Story is partially to blame, but it probably goes deeper than that, rooted in my overactive imagination and my impeccable ability to feel all. the. things. all. the. time. I've lived my life like this, understanding the absurdity of it and slowly growing out of it over time, but never fully being able to shake the tiny, imaginary voices in my head of a boxful of books saying, "Why don't you love us any more?" as I hand them over to the library donation center.
Anyway. The house. Everything is cleared out. My parents have a few more loads to pack up, but the rooms are empty and hollow, noise ringing where it was once muffled by couches and bookshelves and tables and paintings and all of the structures that fill the spaces where we spend our time. I could go through each room of the house right now, and name the memories. All of the people that came through those walls, the boys I cried over, the music that was played, the smells of dinner wafting through the doorways. I made a list of these memories as I performed my aforementioned wandering sobfest last spring, so I wouldn't forget. Not that I ever actually could.
Last Saturday, I walked up the familiar stairs to my bedroom, grabbing the railing at all the same places, pulling myself up two steps at a time like I've done since my legs were long enough to reach. Every stair, every floorboard under the carpet, creaking their own distinct note. My bedroom, filled with sunlight. There wasn't much left, just a few books and knickknacks sitting out so the shelves weren't bare for showings, and it didn't take me long to fill a few boxes and put them in my car. I flopped down on my bed and cried, staring through my tears at the glow-in-the-dark constellation wallpaper on my ceiling, the patterns I memorized years ago. I heard the church bell down the street chime once, indicating that it was a quarter past the hour. I breathed in deeply, taking in the scent of the place.
And then my parents arrived, on a mission, and dismantled my furniture in about ten minutes, and suddenly...my room was no more. It was that easy. Like I had never even been there.
The rest of my family does not feel the same way I do. I'm not saying they don't care, because I know they do, but I am certainly the only one who has spent quality time in each room, saying good-bye to the walls and the ghosts. As my mother often reminds me, I don't like change. She's also reminded me that she and my father have been ready for this new phase of life for awhile, and they're excited about their new home. That our house has been around since the 1800s and has seen dozens of people and families come through in that time, along with changes to its interior and the landscape around it. We will be neither the first nor last to create memories inside of its walls.
I really, truly get that. But it doesn’t ease my heartbreak. And that’s what it is, for better or for worse. I am heartbroken. It almost doesn’t feel real, that I will never get to spend time in that house again. I am no longer allowed inside my safe haven. But I guess that’s part of growing up: finding new safe havens, or maybe allowing myself to be my own, so that I don’t need to rely on fleeting external locales to save me. Accepting that change is a constant guarantee. And cherishing the fact of my extreme luck, that I was born into such comfortable, secure circumstances, that I had a perfect childhood, that I had one home to love for the majority of my life. Heartbreak is born out of love. The greater the love, the greater the grief. And the greater one’s capacity for feeling feelings, the harder those feelings hit. Them’s the facts of life.
I know better than to fight the feelings now. I’ve tried that before, and it never works. Instead, I will sit with the ache of sadness and nostalgia until it fades, and feel gratitude for the thousands of happy memories I got to have in this place that I called home. Another family now gets to experience the magic of our drafty, creaky digs, and fill its rooms with new laughter and love. I hope they know how lucky they are. And I hope the house doesn’t miss us too much now that we’re gone.