Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I'm Goin' Home, Bome, Bome, Bome-Bome-Bome

Before we moved to our current town, we lived about seven miles east of here. It was a much smaller house, but with a bigger back yard and more previous owners and a lot more history than our current house. We couldn't fit more than one and a half couches in the living room, the windows were very drafty, and Grace slept in a closet until we moved, but we loved that little house. It was a safe little neighborhood for the most part, although Noah, then 2, and I spent a good amount of time staring out our front window at police activity that often took place at the house across the street. A couple weeks before we moved, for example, we watched as several cops stood, hands sturdily on hips, on the lawn of our neighbors as they hastily moved out of the home where their landlord still lived, but now with a brand new restraining order against her (old) tenants, our soon to be former neighbors.

There were actually several nights - and afternoons - when I'd be walking through our tiny living room and happen to look up and see blue lights, sometimes even a fire truck, in front of their house. Always, my response was, "NOAH NOAH COME QUICK, POLICE! BRING YOUR SNACK IN HERE!" "Goodie!" We'd say and hunker down, heads low, pressed against the window, gleefully watching the blue lights and cops screaming at our neighbors, who never just stood quietly and listened. It felt a tiny bit wrong to consider this activity one of our best sources of entertainment. But even in retrospect, if I'm being honest, it doesn't feel entirely awful that we did that. It was a familiar albeit strange comfort of our home - and, also, our neighbors always came back.

It should be mentioned that I really liked those across the street neighbors; they were perfectly nice and often helpful, thoughtful people. They'd push my windshield wipers into the air when it was snowing, so they wouldn't freeze. They offered us old stuff they didn't want anymore. They offered to fix our stereo system if we ever needed it fixed. I don't know... I am not suggesting the police had it entirely wrong about that couple, but if I'd ever been asked to be a character witness or something for the defense, I could have easily done that. This was home. We saw the good and the bad but hung onto the good, out of choice or necessity I can't be sure.

We met a few definitively wonderful people on that street and we haven't seen each other since and I wish that weren't the case, but at the very least, they have etched their faces into the collection of characters that comprise my memories, which are never left behind.

We have a new home now. We love it in just about every way. I need to not start on this topic or I won't stop. This post is actually not about me.

My dad officially moved last week. He has a new home and so our old home, the one I grew up in, the one on 9 Bear Meadow Rd, is no longer ours (his). He was alone in that house and had seen so many of our old neighbors move away. He kept it up nicely after my mother passed, but I found it hard to visit and felt relief, more than anything, when he told me he was selling.

My dad, with his unique ability to make meaningful connections with nearly everyone who crosses his path, has already met the new family, having dropped welcome flowers off at the house the day after they moved in. And he's learned some about them, the second family to ever inhabit my childhood home.

My old room, which I spent a few days this past summer dismantling, tearing down all of my second and fifth place ribbons from field days (never third or fourth... or first) and un-dusting the dolls and diaries of my childhood, now belongs to twin six year old girls... who LOVE my (okay, *their*) room.  One of the little girls even took my dad's hand and lead him in to show him around their (my) room.

I love that there is life in that room again. I wonder if the girls will turn the room into a "store" that looks exactly like a little girl's room, as I once did, or if they'll use their mini kitchen to make "dinner" for their stuffed animals, and then for their parents, and then use it to hold discarded notebooks and jewelry, and then one day decide to vandalize the hell out of that strawberry shortcake kitchen set by writing in giant permanent letters the names of bands like Def Leppard and Bon Jovi just to establish some level of preadolescent control in that room. They won't do that. Who does that? In the next room over is the older boy's bedroom, where my brother once lived, with the secret hall that leads to his room and guards him from direct contact with the main hall that connects to the stairs and all the bedrooms. I imagine a great deal of Lego building and model airplane assembly and homework procrastination and other secret things will happen in there once again; I hope so. But I'll never really know. It's not my home anymore, and I'm actually fine with that.

Me and my house - age 6
Me and my house - age 7

I was ready for this long ago, for my dad to be out of the house, to start somewhere new, to leave Bear Meadow and all its associations behind. I don't know what is a healthy attitude - this probably isn't. But aside from seeing my dad, I experienced minimal joy when I visited over the past four plus years. Too much space and quiet, not enough peace. There were sections of the house that still smelled exactly like my mother and I would debate about whether I should go towards those spaces, just to be closer to her, or stay far away, to keep my wits about me, to keep my nostalgia in check. I suppose if I had made a real effort to make a new home out of that old home of ours, to redefine its place in our family and our lives, I may have gotten there. I may have been able to walk into the front door with the same burgeoning excitement I used to feel when I entered, catching waves of baking cranberry bread and The Rolling Stones as I dumped overnight bags at the bottom of the stairs. But I never got there. It hasn't been home since the day we brought the hospice bed into the living room.

Old living room, old me - age 13?
HS Graduation, Mom, Me - age 18

But now... dare I say it? Now, Dad has a new home and I think he may even really grow to like it.  Same town, same stuff, new location. He has a new giant basement that lit up Noah's face when we saw it for the first time. A bike-riding sized basement, a mini soccer game sized basement. And there are boxes covering every inch of that basement floor, but they are bursting open, longing to learn where they'll be placed in their new home, if they get picked to stay there, having (at least) made the first cut.

My mother's clothes all made the cut. All of them. She's been gone for over four years now and we are still looking for where they'll go next. For now, her clothes are resting safely in Dad's gigantic closet. He now has the largest closet I have ever seen in real life (let it also be noted that this is not an overly large house - it's a small condo, in fact - but it has a disproportionately large closet and basement. Grace could still sleep in this closet, easily, with friends.) I spent a couple days going through the relics of my past this summer, throwing most of it out while I attempted to commit it to memory, but Dad spend every last day of his summer doing this. It is a damn hard thing to dispose of any item whose memory or existence brings happiness. My parents' house was full of these items and my father had to go through all of them this summer, decision upon decision, attachments to his lifeline, the memory of my mother, kept, thrown, donated, recycled. My God, Dad, you did it.

My mother's dying wish was that we clean out the attic and we've finally done it plus more, with many thanks to a couple key family members and a group of unbelievable friends who have helped carry my Dad through this moment and other, much harder ones.

Here, in his new place, he has new neighbors who wave every time he walks or drives by. He's been to a couple parties already. He has dear lifelong friends who live right across the street from him. He has a sunroom which pours in warmth and leads to a porch and a yard and trees and neighbors.

His furniture is splayed all over the place, his china cabinet sprawls across an entire wall, but it is empty with all its intended contents still boxed up, along with his books and many of his clothes and everything else he owns. There was not nearly enough food in his fridge last I looked and there was a brief moment when it occurred to me that there was a very real possibility that this was going to become a bona fide bachelor pad, my dad's bachpad. But that was fleeting, of course -- and don't you know I'm going to say there is much more to it. My dad is the man who finds meaning wherever he goes. And he is slowly finding home again, forcing nothing, moving forward, steady, sometimes stalling his pace. This is more than a new house. He is the man who helped teach me what home really is, that it is an experience, created over time. It is our safest place, but it may take awhile to get there. What is startling at first soon becomes a reliable comfort or simple white noise. What seems overwhelming and unfamiliar asks you to stay awhile, accept a new situation in your own time. Open the boxes, fill the refrigerator, find space in the closet for your things, Dad. Home is who you are with, I know, but if you can't be with her, create your comfort, and take a good long look out your window; the sun is pouring in.

 (All of this to say, Dad, I love you. I'm proud of you. You did it.)