Today was it. The last “official” day in my old house. Although we had cleared out of the house last week for the photographer, it needed just a touch more scrubbing, a little more love, some spit and polish in order to really have the house shine for the market.
So this morning, my daughter and I rolled out of our comfortable beds and tumbled into the car loaded up with cleaning and painting equipment. We scrolled through the hills of country lanes and ended on the straight, flat, and boring highway. We returned to the city, to our old home.
Immediately, we pulled out everything we had brought and while she vacuumed upstairs, I ran to Lowes and rented a steam cleaner. I bought a few things at Wal Mart: a paint roller, apple cider vinegar.
Once at the old house, my daughter swapped out the vacuum for the steam cleaner. I went to the front porch and painted the already tired, sun-bleached paint one last time. The blue steps lost their patina of Virginia orange clay and became a slightly grayer version of a summer sky. Once finished, I capped the blue and swapped out the white. Scurrying to the side shed, I covered up the spray-paint-black-hole on my husband’s peg board. I painted the frame encasing the new door.
From there, I went to the back deck, made a mess, cleaned up the mess, and painted another door frame. All was well. I was making great time.
And then I was confronted by the adhesive scars left by the duct tape from when my husband’s initial door replacement failed. To prevent the house from being flooded, he had taped up plastic to protect the house from the violent, late spring thunderstorms that rolled in from the west.
My work speed screeched to a resounding halt. I tried various chemical agents to no avail. I sacrificed my thumb nails and saw some modicum of progress. And then, my son who was on his way over so we could have a meal at our favorite pizza joint, stopped to buy me a toothbrush.
We ate lunch. We chatted and memories unfurled as we laughed over silly mistakes or fun adventures. The nostalgia hovered over our table and I absorbed the beauty of the moment. Once more, I was just Mom to my children. And I clung to the dissolving seconds before my daughter and I would return to our work and my son would go back to his new home (no, he didn’t move with us. That is another story for another day).
I paid the check one last time. I walked from my favorite restaurant to the street and looked through so many familiar landmarks. This was where my childhood friend and I had met a year ago and chatted as though thirty years hadn’t fallen away from us.
This was where I used to meet with a writers’ group.
I went back to the house and resumed my conquest against the adhesive and found that with a wee bit of aggressive scrubbing and some singing and some prayer and an occasional profanity (I’m a horrible Christian), my assault against the duct tape was successful. The area surrounding the door went from looking like a filthy crossword puzzle of dirty glue strips to the white vinyl siding.
My daughter finished steam cleaning the stairs, and while I cleaned the machine, she cleaned the bathtub where we had purged the gunk from our carpet. While I stowed the cleaner into the car, she vacuumed downstairs. I loaded up most of the remaining equipment except my red bucket and old Cedar mop, my favorite because of the heavy-duty scrub brush attachment.
The house was empty. My daughter took the vacuum to the car and I filled the bucket, poured in vinegar into the hot water. And I went through the downstairs one last time.
One last time I sent the mop back and forth. Under cabinets where my children used to slide around in their walkers and rip off the baby-locks and then gnaw on the useless plastic contraptions. Past the blue-marbled laminate counters where I made Christmas cookies.
I went into the “tinker room,” a den in which my husband would tinker with various and sundry experiments, little wonder machines and engine parts and things that would sometimes meet his dreams. Eventually this room was converted into a part play room. And then it housed our camping gear and a couple of sofas where we gathered to play video games or watch television.
In this room, against my favorite love seat, was the place where I realized my dog, Loki, was dying. And I cleaned those long, hallowed strips of laminate one last time.
I went into the front hallway and cleaned the footprints my daughter and I tracked in by the front door. I saw the memory silhouette of my husband coming and going to work. I took pictures of my children there on the first days of school. Just at the point where I would go from the front hall to the living room was where I would daily dump my teacher bag before moving into the kitchen to consider making dinner.
Or calling for take-out.
I swept into the living room. The mop still going in its rhythmic pendulum motions. It was in this room that my family would gather for television watching. In this room, I finished the first draft of my novel. In this room, I set up the Christmas tree. In this room, my friends and extended family would gather for birthday celebrations, for long moments of laughter-filled chatter. In this room, I cleaned for the last time.
And so, I returned to the dining portion of the kitchen. When my husband and I first moved into the house, we installed a corner-bench table set my parents bought me, a near duplicate of what they had in Germany. At that table, I would grade papers, and, at first, my son sat on the other side, a pair of crazy glasses perched on his nose. He would grip his crayon in his fist and scribble all of the papers I graded, claiming that he was “toloring,”
Eventually, my daughter did the same. I told my students that the more colors they had on their papers, the more they were loved by my children.
I went through my house that was no longer my home and felt the ache in my throat form, the half-eaten bread sadness of my home-leaving.
I loved my house. It was where I told my husband I was pregnant. I brought each of my babies up the front porch and into the house where they were loved and always knew they were loved.
In this home, my husband and I went from being a married couple to friends who were married to one another and truly found a deeper and more sustaining love.
In this home, I stretched out on the couch with ice packs after hiking 97 miles with two sprained ankles.
In this home, my son learned to walk, to drive, to be a good man to a wonderful girlfriend. He became a professional actor.
In this home, my daughter learned to walk and then to run with an indomitable identity. She learned the true meaning of self-confidence and then taught it to her mother who still has a tendency to flail around thanks to debilitating insecurity.
Today, I left the keys on the fake blue-marble counters. I left the house as the vinegary water dried on the floor, leaving little to no trace of its existence.
I lived in that house for twenty years. I cultivated gardens and lives. I held each family member as they wept. And I was held as well.
This house nourished me. During bouts of homesickeness for Germany, I stared at pictures of what was home to me. And then, when I went home to Germany, I realized that home was within the circumference of my husband’s arms….in this little white-vinyl sided house.
I left that home today. I pulled out of the driveway and didn’t look at it in the rear view mirror. My daughter, seeing my pain, asked me if I was okay. And I said, “Forward.”
Last year, when we were in Rome and my mother paused in the middle of the busy Roman sidewalks, I had to lightly shove her to move onward. And I always told her that “forward is always the right direction.”
Today, I my house receded from me. The mirror showed it to me in reverse. But I drove forwards.
And came home.