About a week ago, I realized I was in mourning. The ink was barely dry on the real estate papers, and we were buzzing with excitement at the prospect of more space, and nice space at that. I was explaining to my little nipper that it was okay to be excited and sad simultaneously, and my husband walked by, smiled and said something like “Are you trying to convince the kid, or yourself?” Deciding to move automatically makes a home less yours. Staging it with all sorts of things that are way fancier than yours and leaving it half-empty certainly helps to cut the cord. Rationally, and maybe even emotionally, I know this house won’t be ours for much longer, but I know when the time comes, there’s still going to be part of me that will think “I live here. You can’t have my key.”
I know what it’s like to live in a house that doesn’t want you there. The last one was infested with carnivorous weeds. Bits of lost toys from previous owners would mysteriously pop out of dark corners. There was a dent in one of the doors that look liked it had been put there by an angry fist. Food never tasted quite right in that kitchen and laundry always came out a little grungy. We often had the distinct impression that our neighbours were whispering about us behind our backs. Okay, I’ve frosted this with a bit of poetic license (just a bit), but it was clear from very early on with that house that we’d landed somewhere we didn’t belong.
At no point was this more clear than when we moved to another house, the one I’m presently struggling to leave. It’s not as if it was perfect when we bought it. The kitchen was coated in cow wallpaper three inches thick (only exaggerating a little), and the cupboards were lined with paper doilies. There was a shallow, metal tub that made bathing feel like sitting in a sink full of cold dishwater. It needed paint and flooring that wasn’t linoleum. We redid the kitchen- twice. Regardless, it still felt like the house missed us when we went away on vacation. It buzzed happily when we threw parties, and hummed quietly on lazy Sundays. It lovingly enveloped our dogs and our kid, and the back yard bloomed with wild abandon in the spring.
And then one evening, when we finally admitted that our tiny kingdom wasn’t quite big enough to hold the life we’d built for ourselves anymore, the house seemed sympathetic, maybe even a little apologetic.
So, how does one say goodbye to a house? Do we do what people in cheesy 80’s movies do, and throw one last, righteous bash? Is there enough burning sage to smudge 10 years of my life out of this place? Which wall is the one I hug or high five when the movers lug out the last box?
Maybe a new house is just a reminder from the universe that when all is said and done, modern humans are still nomads, albeit very, very slow-moving ones. There’s no dwelling capable of accommodating an entire lifetime. We grow, we shrink, we grow again, and we’re forever trying on a different home that suits who we are at the moment. Houses are containers, and in a few weeks, we’ll carefully pour ourselves into a bigger one and enjoy the sensation of having more room to slosh around. I’m cautiously optimistic that our next container will welcome us as readily as the present one has.
Stand in the place where you live. Now face north. Think about direction, wonder why you haven’t before. (R.E.M.)