Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Packing Up, Taking Stock, Moving On: Thoughts on Leaving Home

My house has always been cluttered. I share an intimate love-hate relationship with "stuff," and though I've tried to change my evil ways, I have never succeeded. Now my stuff is in boxes, neatly labeled and stacked along the perimeter of rooms. Except when it's lying in the middle of the floor, or stuffed into bags to be put in the garage and unpacked later this week for our yard sale. One of my favorite things, my simple pleasures in life, is to walk through my home at night, when children are asleep and lights are dim. I have taken comfort in checking doors to be sure they're locked, in folding that last load of laundry (alas, never putting it away until I need an empty laundry basket), in replenishing the dogs' food and water bowls. Before bed, I blow out candles, kiss the dogs, turn out the lights.

To walk through this house at night now is to put one's life at risk. Scissors, tape rolls, boxes both full and flattened litter every square inch. Thumb tacks, nails, even stray pieces of (unchewed) gum threaten my bare feet. I am leaving Windsor; I am leaving this house I've called home for the past 13 years.

I never dreamed I'd be leaving this house until Bella graduated high school. I fell in love with the house itself the first time Wes and I walked through it in 1998. I admired it for its practicality. I loved the open floor plan and imagined watching my kids playing in the backyard while I cooked supper. I liked the idea of playing music on the stereo in the family room and being able to hear it upstairs. I craved the sunlight that I knew would pour through the living room window each morning. I could easily envision raising my family within these walls, and so I set out to make it a home.

We covered those stark white walls in vivid colors: periwinkle, fire-engine red, autumn leaf orange, sunshine yellow, lime green, cerulean blue, turquoise, aqua, terra cotta, purple. This house is a veritable palette of color, and it loyally reflects the personalities of the people who have inhabited it all these years. I painted furniture--wood benches, kitchen chairs, children's bookcases, chairs, stools and chests of drawers. I decorated the walls with kids' artwork and family photos, and my kitchen cupboards became bulletin boards for pages ripped from coloring books, messages of "I love you, mom," and other youthful masterpieces. Books filled every room, and my children grew up understanding that, with books, you never have to be bored or lonely.

As the kids grew, our home became a place in which their friends came to hang out. Just this past summer, it was nothing to find a half-dozen--often times, twice that--kids in Tuck's room (sometimes, when he wasn't even here) or gathered on the back patio, just talking, laughing, and generally kickin' it. Some of Tavi's friends have basically grown up here, so much so that when Tuck came through the door just last week and saw one of them at the kitchen table, he asked, "Do you live here now?" And he was serious. 

Kids who spent a lot of time here over the years were treated exactly as I treated my own. They got hugs, food, advice. They heard me yell when I got fed up, and they knew they were expected to respect the rules of our home or face the consequences. They heard me play piano and sing, lose complete control in fits of laughter, say bad words, apologize. Tuck has, over the years, lamented the fact that I don't act differently when his friends are over. He would prefer I have two personalities: one for public and one for private. That's never been my gig, though, so he's had to learn to deal with that. And when all is said and done, I believe that the kids who have returned to our home time and again know they are welcome, that in some cases, I dearly love them. As I contemplate the days ahead and know I will not see the faces of my children's friends, I feel a genuine sense of loss. They have been a major part of my own life.

A house is just a house; I know that. It is because I made it a home that it matters and means something. But still, I struggle with leaving this physical structure. This is where two of my four children took their first steps.  In this family room, the kids and I would push the furniture to the side, crank up the stereo, and dance like there was no tomorrow. Sometimes, other people's kids would join us in our joyful silliness. Scores of birthdays were celebrated in this house and the backyard. How many birthday candles were blown out at this kitchen table? These walls once vibrated with the sounds of Max learning to play piano and baritone, of Tavi's singing and learning to play piano, of Tuck learning to play guitar and trombone. There was nothing I liked more than to be in my upstairs office and hear Max and Tuck playing guitar and bass and sometimes even singing as the sounds drifted up through the floor vents. The bedroom walls brought comfort as I read bedtime stories with my children each night before tucking them in and telling them one final time that day how very much I loved them.

The memories aren't all good, of course. The master bedroom is where Wes and I lost our baby boy, and where I very nearly lost my own life in 1999. I sat at the kitchen table in disbelief as my sister hyperventilated over the phone, screaming that our mom was dead, in 2004. It was in these rooms--and yet so far beyond them, as well--that my relationship with Wes fell apart, into such a state of disrepair that there was no salvation for us. And it was here that I had to tell my children what that meant for them. 

And consequently, it is within these walls that the kids and I learned how to regroup and continue growing as a family in which the dynamic had changed but the love remained. So I feel a profound sadness at leaving this place that has seen countless milestones, been home to the people I love with a fierceness unparalleled by anything else I know. And yet I leave it also with a sense of excitement, of hope, of security and certainty that I have never known before in my life. I know that home is something carried in the heart. It is created and nurtured, not simply found. It is not so much a where, but a who, a communion of hearts and souls.

I guess, then, I'm leaving home to go . . . home.


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Wniccoli said...

I knew you wouldn't leave me without making me cry at LEAST one more time. No patio or kitchen table will ever feel quite the same, but I look forward to visiting your new ones as much as financially possible. This is achingly beautiful, profoundly accurate, and now, another memory to tuck away and pull out when I can't bear the thought that you are clear across the country from me instead of just around the curve.
How does one say goodbye to her soul's kindred spirit? I guess with eye's tight shut, replaying cherished mental home movies. My eyes are already closed in remembering, dear Beck. Miss you even now.

DKBarnhart said...

Sorry to read in the Beacon today that you are leaving Windsor. You are an amazing woman and I have enjoyed reading your writings and talking to you at vsarious community or school meetings. I have always admired you beautiful flowing long hair and I love you lighter coloring I see in your blogspot photo.

Best wishes and enjoy the ocean. I love maine and miss it dearly.