The Hole in my Heart Where Home Used to Be


*at home
1 : relaxed and comfortable : at ease


This morning, Facebook reminded me that exactly one year ago was the last time I set foot in the house I considered home for nearly 30 years.

Two years after my parents put it on the market, the sign on the lawn now read SALE PENDING, and my husband and I were there to sift through boxed up items that I may or may not want to keep. An interesting process—digging up childhood memories and then painstakingly choosing which of them are worth keeping evidence of. There’s simply not enough room in one’s basement for an entire life’s worth of sentimental trinkets and mementos, especially not with a baby on the way.

I don’t know what it’s like to move around multiple times throughout your childhood and teenage years. But I do know that when home is one single place for that fundamental time of your life, the physical space becomes so much more than a dwelling. It takes on a life of its own—a permanent fixture that deeply roots itself in your soul, grabbing hold a little bit stronger with each passing day.

For me, up until a year ago, 123 West Street was home. We moved there when I was three years old, and it’s the first house that my memory can recall. A sparkling new cape cod set up on a hill; a mansion in the eyes of a three-year-old. I remember going to see it before we even moved in—standing in the doorway staring into the empty kitchen—the cherry cabinets and the white and grey speckled linoleum floor.

It was almost a blank slate; kind of like I was. And then, year by year, I watched it grow and evolve right along with me. The brick red siding changed to a muted taupe after a damaging hail storm. The front door, once robin’s egg blue, turned to a peachy salmon. The bare backyard sprouted a multi-level deck, and the barren land behind it slowly transformed from dirt paths and tall grass to a grid of houses and connecting streets.

The formal dining room with parquet floors remained empty for a few years while my hardworking parents saved to fill it with furniture that would do it justice. When we first moved in, every morning my father would carry me down the stairs on his shoulders.

OK, now close your eyes, he would say—

—then briskly walk me around the house, stopping suddenly in one place and telling me to guess what room we were in. That empty dining room, always the easiest one for me to call out. Something about the way the morning sun shined in through the bay window—I could feel the warmth on the side of my face, and it seemed brighter than any other room as the light infiltrated my tiny, translucent eyelids. It soon became the central hub for our family gatherings and memories, packed so full of love and life that you could barely squeeze by the table to make it to your seat.


— *at home
2 : in harmony with the surroundings


Saying goodbye was so much harder than I expected it to be. Sure, I had left it behind when I moved out for college, but it was always there for me to return to if I needed familiar ground to feel rooted and secure. Whenever I felt suspended and hanging in the balance of an uncharted future, I always had the key back to that comfort.

But on that final day, the reality knocked me over the head like some stranger in a dark alley putting me out to rob me of my identity. This was actually it—I’d never be able to go back.

I paced the house, sitting on the floor of each room and stared at the bare walls, as if they were screens projecting scenes of my past before my tear-filled eyes.

I was five again, bursting with excitement as I pulled a piece of torn, red-velvet cloth out of the fireplace on Christmas morning—the one that my dad had cleverly deposited there as proof that Santa was real.

I was nine or ten, sprawled out on the teal colored living room rug, watching in awe as the giant colorful balloons moved across the TV screen in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I breathed in deeply the smell of turkey and pumpkin pie, anxiously awaiting the arrival of loved ones.

I was 16, in the dawn of self-discovery, whispering teen girl chatter with friends in my brightly colored, flower-adorned bedroom—clusters of photos and band posters plastered on my walls screaming to anyone who entered, this is me! (though I really had no clue yet).

I was 21, visiting home from college and sitting peacefully on the covered back patio as torrential rain fell down around me. I watched the flashes of lightening and listened to the crashes of thunder, feeling sheltered from this storm, and from the chaos that had become my life.


— *at home
3 : on familiar ground


One of the reasons I fell in love with the house my husband and I purchased together was that it immediately felt familiar the first time we walked in. Maybe it was the fact that it, too, is a cape cod (though older and a little smaller). Or the fact that it had only belonged to one family (for 60+ years) prior—so I understood the ache they were feeling when they had to turn it over to us.

Their real estate agent had told us it was important to them that the home went to a nice, young couple who would raise a family there. And so it did. Now, it’s slowly beginning to take root in our hearts, as our first home as husband and wife and as the first home our daughter will ever know.

I’ve only driven by 123 West Street a handful of times since the day I had to say goodbye. It’s home to a new family now—a family of four that apparently hated the salmon colored door and clearly doesn’t enjoy landscaping upkeep as much as my mother did. But it’s theirs now to make their own, to shelter them in this chapter of their lives and become a part of their own story.

In my farewell post last year, I wrote:

It feels like 2200 square feet of roots and familiarity being ripped out from under me

—and I still feel that void.

It’s gradually filling though. Each new memory and life experience; each month spent in my now home with my husband and baby girl, is a shovel full of dirt piling into that hole in my heart.

The familiar structure of wood and warmth that I left behind will never crumble under the weight of new years, but forever be an anchor that grounds my past.

I will cherish it always.

 


*–Merriam Webster Dictionary

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