After Richard died and left our house to me in his will, many people assumed that I would be selling it. As one friend put it, “It will be easier for you to move on with your life if you’re not still in this place.”
I didn’t want to give up our house. Yes, it was too big for just me. Yes, it was a lot to maintain on my own. Yes, every corner and crook held a memory of our time together there. But I didn’t want to give up my house. One blazing hot July afternoon, I came home to an HVAC unit that had been struck by lightning, a green pool, and a leak in the basement. I stomped around cussing and pouring chemicals and mopping and panicking. I didn’t want to let myself start crying because I wasn’t sure how I would stop. I remember glaring up at the brick face of the house as I turned the hose on and shaking my fist at it. To be so huge, it was hugely empty–just me and three dachshunds. That night, as I watched the Atlanta news and ate my dinner all alone in the den, the anchor introduced a story about kids who needed to be adopted. Three siblings who hoped to stay together. It’s hard to find a house with that much empty space–but I had one. A part of my wretched heart opened up at that story because it dawned on me that maybe the house would give me options down the road that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Like any gift, my house held possibilities.
One of the dearest things about Richard’s gift to me is that he knew how much owning a home meant to me. He had grown up with a home–his parents lived in the same house from the time he was in elementary school until after he was out of college. He loved the little yellow house so much that he was furious when the next owners cut down “his” azaleas. My childhood memories were scattered over several places–the trailer in Greenville, the brown house in Hollonville, the old plantation house, the tin-roofed house on the Circle. By the time I was an adult, neither my mom nor my dad lived in a place where I had ever had a room of my own. I didn’t have a childhood home to go back to. Fartbuster and I had bought a house together, but it never felt like a place to put down roots. I didn’t know any of my neighbors there…or my husband, for that matter. When we divorced, I felt like I was being forced into the decision to sell. I rented two more places on my own before Richard and I bought our house. After he left it to me, I had a place I would never have to leave unless it was my choice. So I chose to stay.
Within five years, all the bedrooms were full with three siblings. Not those sweet kids from the evening news–my kids. Yesterday, two of them and I were playing in the backyard when I witnessed something that taught me a new lesson about moving on.
The very idea of “moving on” is an illusion. We put together our lives not by moving away from the past, but by integrating the past into the present and the future, regardless of where we might be.
I’ve told the story before about the bluebird who appeared at our backyard wedding (A Tuesday Kind of Miracle). Well, yesterday, as I sat in the sun and watched Vivi and Carlos playing in her wagon, a pair of bluebirds flitted out of the forsythia bushes on the far side of the yard. I thought I was seeing things. One perched on the fence down by the river–in the exact spot where the wedding bluebird had sat almost nine years ago. As I was marveling at the beauty of the bluebird–and the memory I associate with them–Carlos caught my eye and chirped, “Hello, Mommy!” Time collapsed in my backyard as my son stood in the same place Richard and I had stood to say our vows, and called me by my new name. Mommy.
If I had sold this house and moved in to a new place, I would have missed that moment. I would have missed seeing my Now blend so seamlessly with my Then. As I sat there being happy, it dawned on me that that is what HOME is–being somewhere long enough that stories have time to come back around.