Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Home, (bitter) sweet, home
When you open up the curtains,
start answering the phone
Stop driving around for hours
’cause you hate going home
You can talk about it,
even say their name
When you start thinking you’ll survive
even though you’ll never be the same
That’s how you know
That’s how you know
That’s how you know
That’s how you know
-Lori McKenna, That's How You Know
This house is a story of us.
We walked in that front door, noticed the cigarette-stained ceilings, broken steps and chipped paint and foolishly declared it, “perfect!” Nearly. We spent seven years demolishing, rebuilding, painting, repainting, decorating and making a home here. We scoffed at the people we knew who hired out to do what we did ourselves (small consolation for spending date night at Lowe's).
You built the front steps without a plan, at least not one on paper. That’s the way you did most everything. I helped carry nails and hold boards and hand you a drink when you needed a break. (I swear the clam juice was unintentional. It looked like water.) The kids ate watermelon slices, teetering on the frame of the emerging porch, as they learned their dad really could do anything.
In ’04 we transformed the living room into a birthing center to prepare for baby number two. You and Jake filled the tub with as much hot water as our pitiful tank could supply. When I yelled too soon from the top of the stairs, “It’s time!” you used the stove and teapot to supplement the best you could. And when Cole arrived, you kissed my forehead tenderly and said, “You did it baby!” and I said, “WE did it! And we never have to go through that again!” But upstairs is where we forgot all about the sleepless nights and newborn psychosis. It's a good thing we did too, because soon enough, we got Anna.
Remember when Maya called her new friend and asked her to come over for the first time? Her dad got on the phone and asked with all gravity, “Do you have any guns in the house?” That mirror in the living room is where I caught your eye and said, “Guns! Never! But we sure have a lot of drugs!” You stared back at me, appalled, but the couch is where we dissolved into a fit of giggles because, c’mon, that’s funny.
You cleared the driveway and made Maya your assistant when the snows came. In the fall, you blew back the leaves (and the kids) with your fancy leaf blower. They’d shriek and scream and tell you to stop but come back for more a few minutes later. When spring came, we did all we could to loosen the grip of the interminable winter. We made bonfires and roasted marshmallows and you played guitar and taught Cole to putt. I took pictures-those blessed, irrefutable accountings of time.
We made fires inside too, and when I could talk you into it, we laid our mattress to sleep in front of them and planned our future. We dreamed dreams for the kids and talked about how different life would be when we finally had money. But we had everything two people could hope for and most of the time it wasn’t lost on us.
You perfected chocolate chip pancakes when we bought the new gas stove-an expected, highly anticipated event of each weekend. At night we’d gather around the kitchen table to process the day, trading our ‘best and worst’. You’d say, “My worst part of the day was leaving for work and my best part of the day was coming home to you guys”. (Us too)
You’d play hide and seek downstairs, shutting off just enough lights to stay hidden and catch a nap. The piano I swore I’d learned to play, the one you moved more than once, is still here. How could I give it away? The woman who sold it to us gave us a demonstration by playing our song. Now tell me, what are the chances of that?
We logged a lifetime of memories in this house, and each room has the echo of you still. I’ve found comfort in that for almost two years now. Your tools in the workshop. Your clothes in the closet. Your books on the shelf. So how can I say goodbye to this house, to all these memories of you? Perhaps, finally, it's time.
After you died people offered comfort the best they could. They’d say, “It’ll get better. It takes time. You’ll find love again.” This I found to be of little solace. I didn’t want to get better, or move on, and the very thing promised-time moving forward-was the very thing I feared. Moving on without you? No thanks.
The amazing thing about being human though, every bit confounding and comforting, is that we do survive. Against our better judgment, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, we continue to seek purpose and meaning and joy. And time-that frequently merciless tyrant-does indeed lay salve to our wounds and tease our hope forward. And this is what I am clinging to now, a chance to begin again.
We dreamed of a place where our kids could ride their bikes, visit the neighbors and be safe. I wanted the 'pile in' house; sleepovers and basketball games, kids spilling out every which way. This would allow us to keep a pulse on their lives and become a safe haven for whichever hurting friends God led their (our) way. I want that still, Paul.
Kerrie once reminded me, "wherever you go, there you are." I am not so foolish as to think this move will erase my longing for you. I'm fairly certain 5:30 will still find me waiting for your car to pull in. There will be ache and sorrow in leaving behind the story we began here. But there is joy too, and hope in looking ahead. And you'll go with me, won't you?
I have heard that those who've passed are closest to us in our joy. If that's true, I can only assume it's because sorrow and grief are human emotions, quite removed from the reality of heaven. Light can have no part of darkness. Last night I turned the music up and danced some Elaine-style moves in the kitchen. The kids were predictably horrified, which only spurred me on. The funny thing is, I had the distinct feeling you were there with us, watching us sing and groove and laugh, a family tradition from the start. (I even raised my hands, inconspicuously, to let you know I felt you near.)
This is what I want more of in the future. Since I know you'll be with us wherever we go, less tears, more dancing.