"Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody." – Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I can’t sleep. I think it’s the kind of Can’t Sleep that can only be caused by a big life change—the kind about which you’re not really sure whether you’re happy or sad (or both). Tomorrow, after three and a half years in our first home, my husband and I are moving. To be honest, I haven’t really given it that much thought. I think that’s mostly because everything about buying and selling homes is so mentally and emotionally exhausting that it has not allowed for any time to contemplate how I feel about any of it. I know, boohoo, right? Sometimes I reread sentences I’ve written, and I think, “Seriously? Who cares? What a first-world problem.” What I want to touch on though is something bigger than why we’re moving or where we’re moving but, rather, what the concept of “home” really is.
I’m the youngest in a family of four children, and we lived in a small condo until I was six years old. Though it definitely got crowded at times, I must say there is something truly magical about growing up in a small home. My siblings were forced to spend time with me, and we inadvertently created memories together that will last with me for a lifetime. My hazy recollections of building forts and goofing around long after we were meant to be asleep are something I will cherish forever. When we were told we’d be moving, I was thrilled. I was going to get my own room, and that was all I cared about at the time. It was exciting to live in a two-story house and have space to run and play. It wasn’t until years later that I wished I had soaked up more of that first chapter of my life. It’s a chapter I can barely remember, so I’m thankful I have my brother and sisters to help fill in the gaps when my memory fails me.
For two years, we lived in a neighborhood where I was one of the only girls on the street, and I would play street hockey with my brother and his friends. Or at least I tried to. I wasn’t always a welcome participant, so those two years also involved a lot of alone time in my room making up dance routines to Ace of Base songs and recording my own original tunes for my parents’ entertainment. One winner in particular was about how I had lost my imagination and was searching for it. I was one weird seven-year-old. Though our stay there was brief, I like to think her spirit still resides somewhere in that house, encouraging its occupants to feel the same kind of joy I did when twirling on the back porch and posing for fashionable photos that my aspiring photographer sister took of me.
Shortly after I turned eight, my family moved into the place I call “home.” At long last, I met neighbors who were my age and loved playing detective, flashlight tag, and Marco Polo as much as I did. A group of us girls grew up together, seeing each other through regrettable trends such as high-heeled jelly shoes and crushes who were seemingly incapable of recognizing just how fabulous we were. Our childhood was idyllic—summers full of lemonade stands and night swimming, chilly autumn and winter evenings spent sitting on corners talking until midnight, and spring days passed by making silly home videos guest starring our obliging parents.
When it was time to go away to college, I stayed fairly close to home but lived on campus 20 minutes away. Leaving was scary but exciting, and I spent two years staying up much too late with my fascinating new friends from various parts of the country (including Orange County). These two years are remembered just hazily yet just as fondly as those I spent in my first two homes. No, that’s not because I was drinking—I was much too naïve for that. I think it’s mostly because I was so busy living my life that I didn’t step back to really think about it very much and contemplate just how much those years would mean to me later on. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since I moved out of my motel-like dorm that got torn down that summer and replaced with a bigger, better building for students who would never know me or my friends or the content of the 3AM conversations we had upon those very same grounds.
After I left there, I spent a couple years back at home with my parents. It felt different this time around, though still comforting. By the time I was 23, I was married and living in a little townhouse with my husband, right next door to my sister, her husband, and my one-year-old niece. We loved living there for the first three and a half years of our marriage. By the time we left, however, we were much too thrilled about owning our very own home to think much about what that place meant to us. It was the place where we learned about each other and ourselves. It was the place where we grew up a bit and started to transition from feeling like we were “playing house” to actually being full-fledged adults with full-time jobs and responsibilities. Honestly, though, it’s all kind of a blur. We were working and commuting so much that it all came and went in a flash.
The arrival in our first new home was much anticipated. I still remember how I had meticulously crafted a letter to its previous owners about how much it would mean to us to live in a neighborhood in the same city where I had grown up and to live just streets away from two friends from grade school and high school. Over the last few years, in addition to meeting amazing neighbors, two more of my childhood friends also moved within a mile of this little old two-bedroom, and I have felt tremendously comforted by their familiar presence. We’ve recreated some of the magic we were lucky enough to experience as children, and it has meant the world to me.
As luck would have it, the new home where we’re moving previously belonged to my same sister whom we lived next door to several years ago. She and her husband and now eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son have moved into a new home down the street, and we’ll all be neighbors again. It will be a new and different (yet also extremely familiar) sense of home to be living so close to them. I feel beyond grateful to have this opportunity. And yet, as with all things in life, tonight it feels like a bittersweet transition.
As I sat on the couch, watching Modern Family as I often do, I was flipping through the pages of a newly purchased book, Elements of Style: Designing a Home & a Life. In the Introduction, the author, a design blogger named Erin Gates, recounted details about the various places she has lived since she started designing homes. About her five different dwellings, she wrote, “Each place I’ve called home has had its own look, furniture arrangement, and color scheme, but what all these spaces had in common was their role in sheltering me and my life story. When I think of each apartment or condo, I recall specific memories—happy and sad—that make up who I am and the life I’ve led. While a home provides shelter and a place to gather, it is also the safe place where we can express our feelings and enjoy some of the most important and meaningful events in our lives.” And that’s when I started crying.
Everything I’ve experienced and learned about myself in every place I’ve ever called home just came flooding to my brain all at once. This home in particular is a place where my husband and I continued learning and growing up together. We’ve had fights, we’ve shared laughter, and we’ve figured out more about who we are and how to best make this relationship thing work. I’d like to think our marriage has matured into a teenager in this home, but then I can just see 50-year-old me laughing at the thought of 30-year-old me thinking we were already there at only seven years into this wild, exciting ride. Maybe our partnership is more like a preteen just barely entering its awkward, braces-wearing years. Yeah, I think I can get behind that analogy.
So, anyway, this place holds a special place in my heart. And I’m trying to really, really feel that feeling while I’m still here. It’s like when you say goodbye to someone at the airport, and you hold them extra tight and take a deep breath to be sure to memorize what they smell like and how their arms feel around you. Every moment seems significant with them, much like every moment I've savored walking up the brick-lined path to my front door or brushing my teeth in front of the bathroom mirror here for the last time. I don’t want to forget which floorboards creaked or which doorways had chipped paint we would fix someday. I want to remember the sound of the mockingbird that chirped louder than our favorite T.V. episodes we watched on repeat and the hum of the $85 refrigerator we bought on Craigslist in 2010. I want each crack in the sidewalk on the walk between my house and all of my friends’ houses to be embedded into my brain in the same way I can still hear the voices of everyone I’ve ever loved saying “hello” to me.
Just like with each one before it, this chapter is one that I don’t think I’ll be able to finish writing until I’m well into the next one. But I have a sneaking suspicion it will turn out to be one of my favorites. Just last night, I visited my parents’ neighborhood for a going-away party for one of our beloved neighbors, and we all chatted and laughed all night as we caught up with one another. We may not all live on that street anymore, but there are moments when it feels like we’ve traveled in a time machine together, back to a time when life was simpler and we didn’t even know what we didn’t know yet. On nights like those, reality gets suspended just for a minute, and we’re all in that blissful, carefree universe once again.
So though there may be some places like this one that I’ve called home that I can no longer visit (without someone probably calling the cops) or perhaps no longer even physically exist, I know that I will always be able to count on the people I call home to help me remember whenever I start to forget. Thank you to everyone who has made this house a home and who makes my life itself feel like one long, late-night conversation on a comfy couch. Come visit me sometime, and let’s make new memories you can remind me of 10 years from now. : )