Saturday, January 19, 2013

On Leaving a Home

Every time a friend has moved in the past few years, I would "comfort" them by saying,

"I always think of a move as a kind of giving birth.  You have to get so miserable and uncomfortable that by the end you'd do anything just to get it over with."

'Cause that's a super-comforting way to look at it, right?  Sheesh.

This past week, after six-and-a-half years in our little attic suite, I had my own birthing experience: we moved to a bigger place.  It was one of those word-of-mouth opportunities that comes along in Vancouver every five years or so.  Three bedrooms.  Two baths.  A fenced backyard.  Very reasonable rent on Vancouver's unreasonable scale.

And, yes, we could bring our dog.

Matt and I conferenced a bit after viewing the place to decide whether to confirm with the landlord that we wanted it.  Money was tight when it became available (we had just paid some hefty immigration fees and, hello, Christmas!) and that was the biggest thing holding us back.

Matt took this picture of me holding one of the
"sentimental-value only" casualties of our move. 
But it wasn't a long conference.  My closing argument was, "I know what's out there.  I've been looking for three years.  We'd be fools not to take this."

So we called the landlord, forked over the deposit, and got ready for childbirth.

But it didn't really feel like childbirth this time.  Yes, it was stressful; yes, it was a heckuva lot of work; yes, I turned into a beast and was willing to throw away half of our life-long possessions just to make the move-in a bit easier.  And yes, by the end I was ridiculously overwhelmed, weeping, exhausted and in the final hours dependent on Matt and other friends to step in and talk me through what needed to be done.

Okay, it was like childbirth.

But it was like something else, too.  I had realized, a few days before the actual move, that the little attic suite in which Matt and I had been raising our kids was the place I'd lived the longest in my nomad life.  Six-and-a-half years may seem short to some of you (my husband lived in the same house his whole life until he went to college), but for me it was huge.  Our little suite, with its sloping ceiling and steamy summers, turned out to be the first place I'd really made "home." The first place in which I learned (as an adult) to root down after a life of tearing up recently-laid, shallow roots.  I'd learned to cook in this home, cared for my kids and their friends in this home, started regular cleaning (!) in this home.  I had grown to love the yellow and orange flower countertops,  the window that looked down on the street, the shelves my husband had so carefully constructed for our "pantry", even the sea-green toilet and bathtub.

We couldn't stay though.  We had outgrown our 750-square-feet suite.  We would truly have been fools not to take a bigger space when it was available.  Still, when it was time for it to stop being home I found myself grieving for our little space, and wanting to honour it in some small way.  The image that came to my mind, the more imminent handing over the keys became, was not childbirth, but burial...rather, preparing something to be buried.

So, with the help of a friend, I returned to our empty suite after the main stage of the move and scrubbed everything down.  I apologized to the fridge for, like my mother before me, being bad about cleaning it out.  I thanked the counters for being so cheerful, and the window for giving me such a bright, beautiful view.   Two days later, I came back for the final scrub down, ceiling to floor per the requirements of the BC Tenancy Act (whew!  Serious cleaning requirements there!)  And when it was all over, I stood and addressed the walls that had borne with my sons' artistic antics and the floor that had cushioned our feet and the sloped ceilings that had added such "character" to the whole place, saying:

"Thank you.  I know that you can't hear me, but I want you to know that it's been a privilege to live in you.  Thank you for letting me raise my boys here.  Thank you for being a happy place to live in.  Thank you for being a good home; I don't take it for granted."

And with that, I put on my coat and shoes, took my bucket and gloves and soap, gave the place one last look, and walked out the door.

It was no longer home.  It was as simple and strange and sad as that.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny how, when we leave things behind, their annoying quirks become oh so endearing. I hope your new space becomes home for you very quickly.