Sneak peek book 8: Anyone else clean a home to say “good-bye” or am I the only weird one who negotiates with houses?

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.
Apartments: 3
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!)

This farmhouse in Whitneyville, ME is now added to the list of “Places where we once lived.”

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.

virginia house

The old, condemned house we lived in Virginia in 2001. There’s a parking lot there now.

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.)

1980-01-01 00.00.12-2

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.

The chapter may be ending, but the book keeps going

Since last summer, I’ve felt I’ve been dying a slow death. We’re in the long process of moving cross country in June, but not until some major events in our family occur: a granddaughter born, a daughter off to college and back again, a son marrying, another son returning home.

I find myself looking at every day, every activity, and morbidly thinking, “This may be the last time that we ever . . .”

Miserable.

However, God isn’t pleased when I mope, and I’ve discovered Him slipping ideas into my head, such as, “Yes, but you’ve done that so many times, don’t you want to do something new?”

As I get book 6 ready to send out to my beta readers this week (yes, that means it’ll be revised and released in late spring!) I’m realizing that life is a number of chapters, but still all one book. I’ve had many chapters which could be called Childhood, High School, College, Husband and College, Small Children and More College, The Riverton House, The Maryland Year, The Virginia Years, The South Carolina Months, The Idaho Falls Months, The Hyrum House.

I rather expected that The Hyrum House chapter would take another 20 years. The house isn’t my favorite that we’ve owned, but the neighborhood, the views, and the rural location with access to big cities certainly is.

Everything was nearly perfect. Which, naturally, meant that God said, “Time to shake things up a bit.”

That shaking is making everything fall apart. Our family will be scattered, and we’ll be too far away from our adult kids and grandchildren to see them on a regular basis. Since we actually enjoy each other’s company, that’s a bit of a heartache.

That’s when I scowl at this chapter ending and think, “I’m starting to hate this book.”

Because surely the next chapter can’t fix anything, right? We’ve had a few chapters that I really didn’t like, and the photo albums from those years are never touched. I was grateful to slam the book on those pages when they were over.

(By the way, fair warning to my beta readers: there’s a chapter in Book 6 that you will hate. Maybe two. Ok, likely three. Three chapters you will want to slam the book on. But remember–the story’s not over yet.)

But other chapters, I let my mind revisit and enjoy them, but also find something odd happening: I don’t want to necessarily relive them. I was happy for that time, but there’s no going back, thank goodness.

I’ve never understood people who miss high school, even into their older years, wishing vainly they could go back to those glory days. Sure, there were good times, but aren’t there good ones coming, too?

It’s those little thoughts, that prodding from Above, that remind me it’s ok to bring this chapter of my life to a close. God knows that I get restless with stagnancy. That once I’ve worked on a project for a few months or years, I begin to look around for something new. When a job no longer is a challenge, I need a new one. (This book series has been the longest I’ve ever spent on a project, because it continues to challenge me every day.)

While I crave stability, I have to confess to myself, and my husband, that I don’t exactly mind that he changes jobs every few years, that my mind begins to feel claustrophobic in the same place, and while my anxiety disorder causes me to clench in fear at change, that trapped part of my head is screaming, “Lemme out!”

(Brains are messy places.)

It’s when I’ve memorized the street signs, the aisles at the grocery store, how long it takes to get to the pizza place, that I find myself simultaneously thinking, “How nice that I know that so well. That makes me feel secure. Now I’m bored. What’s new?”

So it’s with equal parts of excitement and dread that I watch the last few months of our Hyrum Chapter play out, that I remind myself that it’s still part of my book, that it’s shaped our characters in unforgettable ways, and that we take it with us wherever we go.

And I try to remind myself that the next chapter will also be interesting in unexpected ways, and that I very well may look back years from now upon our new Maine Years chapter, think, “Oh, but that was the best one yet!”

(I just barely looked at the date–which I haven’t done in days–and realized that yesterday was the anniversary of my mom’s death, three years ago. And yet, even her story still continues . . .)

Perrin quietly shut the door behind him and ran his hand along it. As soon as he let go of it, that would be the end—

He felt Mahrree squeeze his other hand, and she reached back and touched the door as well. “I’m sure they have oak where we’re going,” she whispered, and let her hand slide down the door.

And Perrin removed his, clasping it into a fist. He gripped her hand tightly as he whispered in her ear, “Come Mrs. Terryp. Let’s find our new world.”

And neither of them looked back.

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti