Home is where . . .

The picture above was taken on our very first day in our own home, September 2006.  Over the past eleven years, this humble abode has seen a vast growth and change take place in both of us, been the host of plenty of great times along with some bad, held our tears and laughter, and served as our ultimate comfort as we approached each day.  As we get ready to head in different directions, parting ways seems surreal and bittersweet no matter how much we look forward to our upcoming adventure.  The other morning I felt overly compelled to sit down and say an ode to what will be the end of an era, an unbearable goodbye, and a structure that will forever serve as one of the most important places in our lives.  Thanks for reading.

Charley walks in front of me, her strut more akin to a prance but still always in front of me, always leading the way, tugging at the stretched fabric of her Ruffwear harness and always genuinely excited to be somewhere new.  I used to be like that I think, before reminding myself that on most days I still am.  Today, however, is not one of those days and at this singular moment I feel sensationally crippled by the advent of the unknown.

I attempt to slow her pace, make her mind and coax her to walk steadily beside me in the elegant fashion that trained dogs properly obey.  Instead, tension manifests itself up through her leash and into my arm, yanking at the socket which holds it until I yank back hard enough to send a simple message.  The strategy lasts only minutes, never can I stick with it long enough to make a lasting difference.  Plus, I want her to be wild and adventurous, not to live under the rigid dictatorship of what a well-behaved dog should be.  I want her to have a personality all her own, to retain individuality and not a beaten down companion of robotic obedience.  It all seems like wise advice.

Right now, I’m out here for a variety of reasons, the utmost being my lack of desire to be at home.  A bitterly ironic display of life’s cruel and hideous functionality, desperately wanting to excuse myself from the very place whose loss is fueling both my indecisiveness and mental anguish.  Yet, I feel the burden to escape this structure that consumes me, the place where sitting alone inside offers up no refuge and every room holds a memory capable of welling up my eyes with punishing guilt.  A scene which has become too frequent, a reprimand to the both of us for our desire of change, our ultimate prize to be relinquished, the idea of home both in its physical and mental manifestations to be traded in for monetary gain.  Nothing short of abandonment really, I scold myself, all in regards to this collection of inanimate objects congregated together which have soaked up years’ worth of our laughs, tears and witty remarks.

Out here it’s not much better.  Less emotional, sure, but the comfort of familiarity still swats and smacks at me from every which direction.  It’s been my personal view for eleven years.  Math equations run through my head that associate the massive passage of time in more personal formations.  From first grade through graduation, from the day I turned eleven until I graduated college, there is an endless supply I suppose.  From the second I was born until I was entering junior high school, I mumble to myself doing no favors to my delicate psyche.  Charley zooms forward with a fury after a squirrel works its way across the road.  She understands not a bit of this, focused on this environment in a completely different fashion than myself.  Eyes linger a bit longer upon each sight as I saturate myself with them, concerned that they may simply disappear from existence upon the completion of our stay here, and that in some deranged sense that our past will disappear alongside.

Holly and Abby enjoying the early days

Over the past several months we’ve cut the contents of this house by half, and not a single shred of material goods has approached being hard to dismiss.  Discarded clothing, furniture, and keepsakes tossed in the trash or driven to Goodwill with regular occasion, not a single element of that change bothering me.  But this place is different, it tells a story and that story belongs to us.

Our days here are numbered I tell myself, keep telling myself with conviction despite all my best efforts to force the contrary.  My phone has been ringing off the hook all morning, chimes of different pitches following each other in succession.  Voicemails and emails, text messages from mortgage brokers working for lenders I’ve never heard of courtesy of a regrettable inquiry on lendingtree.com.  Others come from our realtor, more yet from our financial advisor whom I’ve contacted regarding the viability of holding onto the property as an asset, desperately searching for somebody to flail their arms in alarming fashion and tell me I’m all wrong.  All of them work with linked determination, wearing out the speaker and vibration mechanism on my phone, causing fatigue to the device and myself.  This was my last-ditch effort, a cash-out refinance to pay off credit cards, autos and buy a van, all allowing us to keep this place we’ve called home for more than a decade.  We could still travel, albeit not nearly as substantially, the allure of that ultimate freedom being traded for comfort and familiar surroundings.  It’s all an effort to cure my anxiety, a deal that I’ve convinced myself solves an issue but to which I truly know is no more than a bandage.  But, in trade we’d get to keep our home, our memories, and I tell myself this should be worth something, right?

Don’t get me wrong.  This adventure thing is our gig.  We love it.  We love the road, being away from home and traveling aimlessly with or without destination.  Weeks, months, years, maybe more, we’re open to the idea of a nomadic lifestyle.  But we’ve only ever tasted these things under the pretense of this set of walls waiting patiently and unjudging for us to return inside.  The idea of not having a home, our home, to set back foot in and drop our suitcases to take a shower, to hang up pictures of our escapades and cuddle on the couch has now infested my brain with intense worry.  It’s a leap, a gamble, and one where a scribbled signature marks the point of no return.  Once we sell this place it’s no longer ours, no longer us.  Yet, my logic ensures me that it can never be anyone else’s.

This was my idea, I remind myself, what I wanted and wanted badly!  An idea that I spent hours pitching to Holly over the course of several years, to live some sort of epic adventure.  As skeptical as she was initially, she has embraced the idea with a legitimacy that dwarfs my current state.  This seemed so easy on paper, as conversation, as an ideal.  Nostalgia thwarted by the yearn for exploration, an intoxicating scent floating directly beneath our noses, reminiscent of a cartoon pie tempting a dog from a picturesque windowsill.

But now, it all seems different.  This peculiar crossroads of being excited for what lies forward while yet being haunted by that which sits behind us.  This house is already beginning to take on the vibrant shades of memory in its desperate effort to change our minds.  “Our lives are here,” the echoing reverberates through my head almost to a point that it drives me to the brink of insanity.  The temptation to carry on the same path, the trajectory that has led us to this place and could hold us captive in this spot forever seems to gain mass appeal over my weakened state.  Just three short years ago, we were thoroughly convinced that we were never going to move, consumed by the notion of how cool it would be to spend our lives together under one roof.

Excitement that was once rampant is waning by the onset of reality, causing a perplexing contortion of my stomach struggling over an internal disagreement of happy and sad.  This old place has meant everything to us.  It’s much more than the set of walls it contains, nearly eleven years of our lives drift in the corners.  It smells like us, feels like us, is a part of us as much as we are a part of it.  Moments that I can still see, taste and feel surround me if I afford myself the opportunity to linger in one place long enough to let that little pit in my stomach take control.

One-hundred-twenty-seven years this structure has stood on the face of this earth, and for over ten-percent of that time we have been its proud inhabitants, its collected caretakers.  It has undoubtedly seen a lot over its lifespan.  The growth of this once microscopic town, the advent of electricity, indoor plumbing, families in and out, a lot happens in the span of a century plus a quarter.

And then I think of us.  From where I’m sitting I can see parties taking place, the tune of family and friendship playing in my head.  People we still see mixed in with many that we no longer talk to, life straps everyone in for their own journey and people fade into the backdrop, it’s common practice.  Good times are meshed in with the bad, but sometimes in the comfort of home they all remain decent enough, and if you think too hard about them they all become sad within the fact that they’ve passed and can never return.

I still recall with vivid memory the day we moved in.  We were young and fresh-faced, Holly still not old enough to buy a drink.  That day we signed a thousand papers and got a set of keys in return.  Driving over to what felt like ‘out of town’ on a road that has dramatically changed, just the two of us racing up into a crushed gravel driveway, for the first time pulling into our own house which was not quite yet ‘home’.   Unconcerned with interest rates or thirty year mortgages, we were simply happy to be on our own.  Family piled over, the oldest and first children in both our families to have our own place, we contained such pride in both it and ourselves.  Friends dropped by, one by one, helping carry furniture and staying for a few beers.  Pizza boxes scattered over makeshift tables as we carried in what few, mismatched possessions young couples have.  As old and dated as this place was, we loved it and vowed to make it our own.  The independence and freedom of it all exciting us, again it seems ironic that we should need to give it up, trade it in to once again achieve those same wishes.

And past that first day the list keeps growing, years adding on memories of increased meaning and clutching attachment.

Just a handful of steps away from where I sit is where I asked Holly to marry me, and that means much to me.  Everywhere I look I can still see Abby, our recently passed Doberman of eleven years, the door she came rushing toward to greet us each and every time we returned home is within my view. I try to muster out a laugh as I think about the time she actually broke the window with excitement but all that comes out are tears.  At times I feel guilty that we are leaving her here, the yard she roamed and the chipmunks she hunted to become unseen and forgotten.  Her final breath, the one that took place in the exact same spot where I lowered myself to a single knee and grabbed Holly’s hand, with both of us huddled up against her as we said the most painful goodbye of our lives simply dissipating into the plaster, unbeknownst to new dwellers.

And all the work that we’ve done, graduating from amateur to novice, to downright professionals in our remodeling skills.  I’d list them but it would take up too much space.  Seventeen-hundred square feet of living space, every inch of it redone.  The entire outside remodeled, siding, paneling, deck, porch, a fence, so much done that the sheer mention of the work physically exhausts me.  But that’s all part of what makes it ours, years of our blood and sweat which creates such an emotional attachment.

And then there is my dad.  The work he has put in here on our behalf is a debt I could never repay.  Back in the beginning, before we knew what the hell we were doing, he was our weekend afternoon saving grace, always working for nothing more than beer, and a trend that has been constant for our entire stay.  He too has an emotional connection to this place, the memories of our work here something we’ll always remember fondly as time spent together.  Sometimes I feel I’m selfishly stealing it away from him as well, trading his hours and our hard-earned lifelong memories for cold hard cash.

We’ll miss the little tavern across the street, the one where we meet my mom once a week, that we can walk to and then catch the ice cream store on the way back during those humid Michigan summer months.  Scattered keno tickets and empty pint glasses strewn over a table will forever serve as memories of a place we called home.  A picture of a Christmas past shows Holly’s family so bright and young, her dearly missed grandpa drinking a cup of coffee with a smile on his face.  Her sister living upstairs with us for three years offering up plenty of good times.  Age progressing pictures of our nephews playing baseball or hockey in the driveway, always happy to be at Holly and Jake’s.  All this happened here, all in our home and on our watch.   Some moments it overwhelmingly seems like we should stay, that we need to stay and, without choice, march out the remainder of our lives right here in the cozy comfort of what has become ordinary.  It’s what we know, what we’re used to and what’s become our routine existence.  It’d be an easy selection during these trying and testing moments.

Yet it seems complacent and definitively unrealistic to attempt to freeze time.  All these roads past our driveway lead to a million different places, a billion different possibilities lurking with each corner, curve, bend and turn.  Perhaps this pit in my stomach is less of a nuisance than I believe, a compelling thirst for adventure ready to exasperate a sigh of relief to be freed of its cage.  To let memories fully convert into such and make room for different experience, all this grief I’m putting myself through serving as a simple reminder to cherish moments because they will leave, and times will change.  A large home to take care of, too many bills to pay, these have been the chains we seek to break, yet the truth is my time being trapped by them have been the best years of my life.  But then again, so much of that has to do with who you are with and how you view life, neither of which will be changing.

With the absence of this house will come responsibility.  Responsibility to use our freedom wisely, to take advantage of our situation and move forward with passion and adventure.   Within this .2-acre lot that we currently reside, within these walls lies a single possibility for us, selling offers infinitely more.  Comfort has its place and its benefits, a craving for people that I can now more fully appreciate.   However, sometimes your comfort zone can serve as your own private prison built to inhibit growth, possibility, and life experience.  Already, we’ve weighed the pros and cons with exhaustion, over drinks and dinners and disappeared months.  We know the choice we’re making, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.  It’s just going to be hard is all.

For the next few weeks, tears will be commonplace, a fixture upon my cheeks as I wander around our home and reminisce.  As I see our younger selves in every which corner disappearing over time, someone else moving in and pretending that it’s their home, their special place where their memories are made, we’ll be in a van somewhere out west, conquering mountains and galivanting about, knowing nothing of it and making new memories of our own.  Whether or not they have painted the walls a new color or cut my grass this week, if they’ve chopped down the trees I dug up and replanted out front, relaxing on my deck or using my garden boxes, it doesn’t really matter because for this segment of time from 2006-2017 this was ours, and it was us.  It will always be that way, nothing can change nor erase that.  I’m certain that I’ll probably change my mind a few more times yet in the weeks to come, probably as early as the next half hour.  Rough roads lie ahead, however much they may be the right roads, the past is always a tough thing to let go of, particularly when the past has been so kind.

At some point soon I am going to spend my last moment in this house, sleep my last night here, turn off my last light and close my last door.  Charley will walk around this block for the last time.  Holly and I will walk to the ice cream store for a final trip.  Someday I’m going to ease out of this driveway for the last time, crank my steering wheel hard in one direction and drive away never to return.

Right now the thought of this seems enough to kill me.  But then again, these roads all lead somewhere.

Abby-  Always a great girl and a good sport.  We’ve loved our time here with you but now it’s time for both of us to move on.

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