Memories Spilling Out Like Marbles: Saying Good-Bye to a House

Today I said good-bye to a house, a house that was so much more than wood and plaster and dry wall. It was my first house, the only house I knew for my first eighteen years. The land that cushioned my first steps.

Good-bye apple blossoms, good-bye Christmas trees, good-bye Big Swing.

Good-bye to the rocky fireplace beside which I was placed in a cradle one snowy afternoon almost exactly thirty-nine years ago. Good-bye to the closet door frame with the pencil marks charting the heights of my brothers and me through the years. Good-bye to the deck off which my father threw his dinner one night in a rare explosion of anger, good-bye to the room where I split my chin open on my bed frame when I was five, and good-bye to the pool I swam in with my own child when she was five. Good-bye to the water bed in which my parents slept for decades, until they passed away one by one. Even here, miles  -- years -- away, I can feel the phantom edge of the bed under my thigh as if I am frozen in time, perched on the edge of the bed talking to one of them. I can smell them as if I'm burying my face in their pillow cases -- his Old Spice, her Este Lauder Beautiful.

What is it that makes us mourn the loss of a structure? It’s not the great architecture, or the way the light pours in through the windows in the morning. It’s the loss of the vessel that held our memories. It’s almost as if leaving a home rich in such a lived-in history causes our memories to spill out everywhere, and we feel like we’ve spun out of orbit, scrambling to collect them... But we have to remember that we have lost the vessel, not the memories. We just have to build a new place to hold them.” (Kelli Kehler)

For the last time, I shut the gate, spin the combo on the lock, and drive away. I don't honk twice as I accelerate this time. There is no one left to hear me.

I glance in my rearview mirror and am reassured by the bit of red paint I see: a red, long-handled wood saw, perfect for measuring and cutting Christmas Trees. (It seems I never could leave without taking something.) But even as I navigate the first sharp turn past the driveway I know it is a poor substitute for what I want, what I look for each time I go to the house: I want my dad again, flesh and blood. Denim and leather. Salt and pepper stubble and hazel eyes shot through with gold flecks.

For a long time after he passed I thought he lived on in that house, in the Oaks and Madrones, Firs and Bays. I thought he was in the wind, the call of the Blue Jay, the silent step of the deer. I thought if I worshiped at the edge of his swimming pool, if I kept the water -- his precious well water -- as crystal clear as he did through daily loving ritual, then I'd find him.

I thought if I could find him, just for a moment, he would say, "Good job. Well done. I'm proud of you." I thought he'd say, "I love you. I miss you."

But I never found him. Not in the house, not in the trees. Not in the blue sky views.

Almost as soon as he died, things began to change. Summer rolled into fall. Weeds grew up waist high and browned, limbs cracked, windows shattered inexplicably, a squirrel drowned itself in the water tank. Scavengers and mice came reaping their destruction.

The house exhaled... and he was gone. Just like that. When he left for the hospital he thought he'd be back. But it wasn't to be. He shed his broken body, and in a way he shed the house, too, and everything it represented. This beautiful amazing house that he built with his two hands, this beautiful amazing house in which there were equal measures of joy and sorrow and pain.

He was free of it all, free to fly. 

Slowly, slowly over all these months I've adjusted to being alone at the house. And now it is time for me to let it go, too, to fly free. To let a new family build new memories within those walls and in the soil.

But I am filled with sudden panic. It feels as though my memories are spilling across the floor like marbles rolling noisily, no vessel to hold them, keep them from being lost. My childhood and teen year marbles glint darkly in the dusty corners.. my 20s of leaving home catch the light sharply, painfully, while my 30s of finding my way back with my own child in tow sparkle most clearly... I lean down and gather the pieces. As best I can I fill my pockets with the "remember whens," trying to leave the "what ifs" behind to turn to dust. Ashes to ashes.

Blogged while listening to "Coming Over (Filous Remix)" by James Hersey on Milky Chance Radio (Pandora), sipping (San Francisco Blend tea while writing, Usual Suspects Cab while editing), wearing 'ox blood' Doc Martins. 57 degrees. One hundred percent chance of rain showers.