On a crisp January morning in 2012, I woke up at 7 am in a bedroom that contained only the bare essentials. Today was move out day, and my childhood bedroom had been stripped of its personality. After getting dressed and making my way downstairs, my stepmother reminded me that our coffee maker had already been packed away. “I’ll go get some,” I muttered, a little groggy from only a few hours of sleep. I had spent the night before walking around the neighborhood in the frosty evening air. I snapped a few pictures of different landmarks, but mostly just took in the sights. I took one last look at the houses I had ridden my bike past, the places where I’d played, the therapeutic basketball hoop in my driveway, all of it. I would never be here again, at least not in this way.
The movers told us that they’d be at the house between 8 and 9 am. At 7:55, I opened the door to my Explorer. I managed to get one leg in the car when I heard a moving truck rounding the corner.
“Oh (expletive),” I said aloud.
I actually didn’t have to do that much, at least during the move-out portion of the program. Everything was already packed up, and the larger items would be taken care of by the moving company my stepmother had hired. Even so, it was the start of what would be a long process. After saying hello to a few of the movers, I lifted my other leg into the car, and closed the door. It would be such a long day before it was all over, before I became a visitor and not a resident.
I can’t believe it’s been over five years since my childhood home was handed over to someone else. I remember feeling ambivalent about the situation, but I was ready to go when the moment came. When our dog sitter flubbed up the plumbing and our hot water heater exploded a week before turning over the house, it only seemed to ramp up the pressure to get out; it was as if the house was telling us that we were no longer wanted. The feeling was somewhat mutual.
I drive by the old house every now and again, just to see how it looks. It’s still the same color, but the trim is different. I think the basketball hoop has been replaced, and there may have even been a hammock. I’m not trying to make the family feel uncomfortable, I’m just curious to see what they’ve done to the place. It is strange driving by it, but I don’t miss it the way that I thought I would. It belongs to someone else, and there’s no doubt they’re filling it with there own memories. Maybe that’s the way that it should be.
It seems so inhuman in a way, that someone else can paint over your memories, but maybe that’s why I don’t miss it. After all, the memories are still very much with me, and they didn’t even require any packing tape, bubble wrap, or boxes. The last few months in that house were spent sorting through stuff, getting rid of junk, and packing things into boxes. By the end you’re profoundly tired. I suppose that’s not a bad thing, that you’re so miserable by the end of the process that you just want someone to end it.
So many of my friend’s parents are now selling their houses, and it’s strange. Places I used to go during my childhood now belong to other families. It’s all a cycle, but it happened so fast. Suddenly people my age are the ones buying houses and having their own legitimate children. I still haven’t gotten over that even though it’s becoming the norm. It seems like just yesterday that my neighbor and I were dressed in our suits, posing for a few pictures in the cul-de-sac before heading off to prom. That was over 10 years ago.
Moments like this, big things like selling a house mark the passage of time more than anything else. Sometimes you move to a bigger house, but many of my friends’ parents are moving because they have no real reason to stay. Kids and friends have grown up and moved away, and it just doesn’t make sense to stick around. It’s time to enter into that next phase of life, whatever that may be.
Maybe it seems so significant because it’s like losing your home base. After all, when I moved home to Massachusetts over a year ago, my childhood home was long gone, so I stayed with a friend’s family. I would have stayed with my stepmother and her husband, but they were living in Seattle for the year. I think that losing that home can feel like pulling up the anchor, like you’re now floating around. Maybe that feeling of security, of having a place to go only returns when you make your own home with a family; I can’t say for sure since I’m not anywhere close to that portion of my life.
It does suck, just a bit, to lose your childhood home, but maybe that’s when you realize that the house itself isn’t important. Home can be wherever you want it to be, can be wherever your family gathers, or wherever you find your happiness or bliss. It’s a feeling, being home, and I know that I’ve felt it. I think we all have. Our parents found it once, and now it’s our turn to find our feeling of being home again, wherever that may be. There’s no telling how long it’ll take, or if it’ll ever happen, but hopefully getting that feeling back will be worth the time and effort put into the pursuit.
I wonder if I’ll ever own a house. The deal I’ve made with myself is that if I ever get married and have kids, then owning a home will make sense. If that doesn’t happen, then I’ll get an apartment in a city, and just enjoy being close to the excitement of city living. I do want a family, but I think that I’d be happy either way. Maybe the reality will be better than anything I’ve imagined. Until then, I’ll keep searching for my sanctuary.