Many of the homes I’ve lived in, over the time I spent in them, came to be invested with a lot of emotional significance. Home and place are sensitive concepts for me. When I love a home, I have a lot of sadness — more than is perhaps entirely proportional — moving out of it. When I don’t love a home, I don’t. When I love a home, I can’t drive by it or go back to it for a long time after. I sold the home I had when my son was born, a walkout ranch tucked into a small neighborhood off Indianapolis’ Michigan Road, twelve years ago. It was the first home I owned, and it sat on an acre overlooking Crooked Creek, and had 1100 square feet of two-story deck from which I could take in the nature preserve. When my ex-husband and I moved to Portland, Oregon, we had to sell it. When I moved back to Indy in three years later, I wished we had just rented it out.
I can drive by now, but it took almost a decade. In fact, the only home I can’t go back to, still, is the house in Montana I owned while we lived out west. This is true despite the fact that friends of mine own it now, and have offered to let me come back whenever I’d like. But I haven’t been able to bring myself even to the town it’s in, despite being in Montana last summer. Then again, it’s only been eight years. Maybe another two will do the trick.
After this pattern became apparent to me over the course of leaving several homes, I looked for the source of all this overwrought sentimentalism, and found it — as we so often do — in my childhood. My parents divorced when I was eight, and that event meant a move out of my childhood home — a walkout ranch on a large lot, of course — into an apartment complex on Meridian Street in Indianapolis that no longer exists. It was a jarring feeling for a sheltered kid like me, and I wanted my family home back in the worst way. One of my childhood friends still lived across the street, and I went back to visit her once, a short time after we’d moved out. We were playing outside, running around zanily as kids do, and I had to go to the bathroom or something. I completely forgot the situation of my life, the reality that we no longer lived there — despite the fact that I had just been introduced to the new owners that day by my friends’ parents — and on reflex, habit and muscle memory, I burst in the front door of my old home. That was, after all, where I ran to while playing outside when I needed something.
As an adult, I can’t blame this woman for what she did, as I must have at least startled the hell out of her. But she screamed at me, and I stopped cold in the entryway, too shocked to move. Reality came flooding back as she yelled at me: “You don’t live here anymore, get out!” I’ve always been extremely sensitive to criticism and elevated voices. It’s easy to imagine my son, who is not, saying “Oops, sorry,” turning around and running out, without a single enduring emotional effect. But that was not me as an 8-year old. I melted down in tears, and after regaining control of my feet, I turned around and ran out, back to my friend’s house. I was a disintegrated mess of tears, woundedness and anxiety as I tried to figure out where to go. I was terrified this story would get back to my parents and they would be upset with me. (Nowadays, I’m pretty sure they would’ve been sympathetic.)
So, the lesson that wired itself into my brain without any conscious awareness: Places that aren’t yours anymore aren’t safe. The loss feels too big.
That story is almost four decades old, and I’m a tougher character now, but there isn’t much I can do about my brain and its anachronistic clinging to the things it’s experienced. And that’s okay. It’s how this life works.
This last Monday, my husband and I closed on a new house, again in Indianapolis. It’s — you guessed it — a walkout ranch that sits on an acre and a quarter. We’ve been working all day and painting in the evenings, and the second evening we were there, our yard was visited by a deer, a hawk, a red fox, and a great-horned owl. I think it’s going to be one of those places I love. And if we sell it, it’ll be to move back west. Hopefully that will be the last big home transition.
I will be able to drive by my current house immediately after we leave, as I don’t particularly love it. But fate was kind enough to remove the things I do love about it before I leave it. The house sits on a pond, and when we moved in, it had two willow trees and two Bradford pears — the weak, split-prone trees that keep tree-removal businesses hopping — that reached up to the second floor bathroom. Storms took out the willows earlier this year, and a few weeks ago, I heard a huge crash during a storm. The Bradford pear tree had split down the middle and narrowly missed the sunroom. The yard, once a shady, mystical habitat for birds and squirrels, is now bare and baking in the sun.
It’s time to go. And this time, I’m glad.