Nothing is quite as melancholy as cleaning out an empty house. Again. Alone.
Last night as I scrubbed another kitchen sink for the last time I thought of how many times I’ve cleaned out a house as I moved from it.
Houses I’ve owned: 5
Houses I’ve rented: 6
Last night was the 15th kitchen sink in 30 years. (Three times in the past year alone!)
It was for a good reason: we were in our cute rental house for only nine months instead of three or more years as we planned because my husband has a new job at his school, and we get to live on campus now. It’s a fantastic opportunity.
Still, it’s a melancholy thing to remove, room-by-room, floor-by-floor all evidence that we once called a place “home.” Slowly, the new place becomes “home,” but it takes a few weeks for me to feel comfortable enough to sleep deeply (why I dislike vacations—I can never sleep in strange places).
The new house and I have to come to some understanding, establish some terms, tell each other our secrets before we fully accept each other.
(Does anyone else feel this way, or am I the only one who feels the house is a slightly sentient being with whom one must negotiate living with?)
This is why leaving is also difficult, even if the move is welcomed. Piece by piece I pull myself from that house, extricate our existence, leave it alone and lonely again. Another family will move in, put their mark upon it, but not entirely: each house I leave, I seem to pull a strand from it and layer it in my psyche. The new family never gets that part. Every home is still in my head, never fully left. The house will forget me, in time, but I haven’t let any of them go entirely.
That’s also why I clean each place as fully and deeply as time allows. (And not just to get back my deposit.) In the past, I’ve needed help: sometimes I had a new baby and/or lots of little children and was overwhelmed, or I was on a deadline and had to get out before the new owners arrived, or our plane/truck needed to leave for the next place.
Once, there was no deadline because the house had been condemned, but we lived in the leaky, infested place anyway until our situation stabilized and we had a new house.
Even though that house was to be demolished, I still swept the floors as we left. Not out of pride, but out of gratitude. It let us live there, even though it was dying, and it allowed our family of eight to be together again since we’d been apart from my husband for six months.
I didn’t bother vacuuming the molding carpet in the kitchen, though, or wipe down the perpetually slimy bathroom sink, but I swept the floors as a thank you, so it could be clean one last time before the bulldozer came.
Late last night as I wiped down the new white country sink in the 1870s Mainer farmhouse, my phone started to play Dr. Who’s “A Dazzling End.” I nearly laughed, then nearly cried.
This morning I’m fully in another house. Built in the 1970s, it looks like a typical New England house on the outside with cedar shingles, but on the inside it reminds me of an alpine chalet, and a part of me feels like I’m living in a lodge in Yellowstone—my favorite place on earth. (I’m not posting a lot of pictures because we’re still in boxes everywhere. Suffice it to say our cat approves of the open balcony and natural cat walks.)
For now, this house and I are still making friends with each other, trying to figure out where everything goes. Some year I’ll clean its sink for the last time, too. But for now I can’t bother to think about how long this gets to be “home” and where the next one some year will be. My back’s too achy and my hands are too dry from scrubbing, and I’m done!
“Where’s Mahrree?” Shem asked.
“She’s hiding in the house, cleaning things,” Jaytsy gestured. “She doesn’t want to face the horses, and she also doesn’t want to leave a dirty house this afternoon.”
Noria and Calla nodded in understanding, but Shem waved his arms in disbelief. “I’ll never understand that. Who’s going to see the house?”
Calla patted him. “It has nothing to do with pride, but everything to do with gratitude. The house is being thanked for its service to us. We just want our houses to feel . . . clean. Before the soldiers do whatever they’ll do to them.”
~Book 8, The Last Day, coming this summer . . . after I’ve finished moving again.