I have lived in a lot of places in my life — countless apartments, dorm rooms, and houses, some of them I can barely remember — but in nearly 48 years, I have only had two homes. I left one of them when I was 18. I am leaving the other one on Friday.
After spending nearly a year looking at other houses while getting ours ready to sell, we finally found the home we were looking for, and finally found a buyer for our home. We feel lucky and are looking forward to beginning the next stage in our lives in the new home, which has more room both inside and out for our growing family. But that does not make leaving the only home our family has ever known any easier. I have been here for 15 years, the family for nearly six.
We can pack away our possessions, putting them all into nice, neat, numbered boxes. But what are we supposed to do with our way of life, those habits that are tied directly to living here, in this house? I am not talking about memories — we will be taking those, of course; they were already packed away long before we even looked at the first empty box. I am talking about something else, the rhythm of life, the little things we all take for granted.
Rushing out for a pizza because the chicken’s gone bad. The arrival of the ice cream truck on a sunny afternoon. Crowding into our one bathroom on a Sunday morning, jockeying for position like basketball players battling for a rebound as we get ready for church. The sound of the kids talking in their sleep, so audible with our bedroom right next door. Impromptu walks around the neighborhood, the houses as familiar as the faces of old friends. The place where the Christmas tree goes, the place where it always goes. The music, always the music. Family dances to “Rock Lobster” before the kids are off to bed. The indescribable feeling of turning off of Church Street and on to Meadow, after a few days away from home. The feeling of the gravel under your tires — how your own gravel sounds different from other gravel. The feeling of the key turning the lock, the dogs competing for attention. The feeling of belonging so completely in one place.
So tell me, where do we pack these things?
Even the memories we can and will carry away with us have become so very heavy, so sopped are they in the place itself, the bricks, the mortar, the creaks in the wood floors, the cracks in the walls, the trees outside. As we draw closer to leaving this place behind, trying to wrest the memories away from the objects to which they are so profoundly attached, a weird thing is happening. Suddenly, everything in my life here in this house suddenly seems to be happening all at once. I sit at the kitchen table, divorce papers spread out before me, pondering my life here alone. I find in the mailbox a document that tells me my book will be published. I look out the front window and see my friends in the yard moving toward the front door, come to say and do whatever they can on the day my father has died. I am on the computer all day, sending the cleverest messages I can think of to the woman who will become my wife, my heart out of control as a feral child. I am putting on a tie to get married in, this decision having been arrived at and executed on the very same January day.
I am driving home with the baby in the backseat, taking him to see his room upstairs for the first time, the one we painstakingly converted from an office to a nursery. I am driving 20 miles per hour, maybe as high as 40 on the interstate. I am teaching him how to walk. I am trying to figure out the new camcorder on Christmas morning, the kids tearing into their presents like brightly colored piranha. I am taping crepe paper to the ceiling and lighting birthday candles. I am on the phone negotiating a price for the house.
In 15 years, I have lost my father, three grandparents, and two dogs, one of them buried behind the garage. I lived alone for more than half that time, watching the last years of my youth slip away in impossible increments, so much so that I wonder if the man who moved in here 15 years ago would even recognize the man who is moving out.
I have heard that moving is one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life, a notion I would have laughed at 25 years ago, when I was in the habit of moving someplace new nearly every year. But now I see not only that this is actually true, but why it is true. Moving is a metaphor for death — if you are a believer in an afterlife, and I am. It is saying goodbye to one life and hello to another, a life yet unknown in a place you think will be better, but don’t know for sure, can’t know for sure until you get there. It’s all about faith, after all.
I heard Loretta Lynn sing that “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” No doubt, a little bit of me will die on Friday when we take one more tour through the empty rooms of our home — uh, no, THEIR home now — to look for any last remnants of our life together here before we get in the truck to leave Meadow Street, to say goodbye to it all, to say, at last, thanks, thanks for everything.