It was fourteen years ago this week that Joe left. June seventh, to be exact. Milestones often strike me when I see the announcement of a birthday of a child I delivered. I saw one this week and thought, “Wow, he’s fourteen! It must be fourteen years since Joe left!” I remember the birth. I remember writing the delivery note in the chart. I remember writing the date at the top of the page and thinking, “This is the date that my life is falling apart.” Then the years go by and kids grow and wounds heal and life goes on and I don’t dwell on the past, but I see the eager athlete whose team just won, and think, “Wow. It’s been fourteen years.”
It was the day of Zack’s prom that Joe actually moved his stuff out. Which means that it’s also been fourteen years since Zack graduated from high school. Joe didn’t take much. He had no place to go for one thing. Apparently he hadn’t thought things through very well, but I guess my questions were getting intolerable, as was my crying, so he needed to leave. So, with a forced smile on his face, he packed up some things and walked them to the car as kids were arriving at our house to get ready for prom. He smiled and said “Hi!” to them as he was leaving. I thought I was dying. No one asked him anything. Not our kids, not other kids. No one asked where he was going. He gave no explanations. It was the creepiest afternoon of my life.
I plastered a fake smile on my face as if this were not really happening and went about painting toenails, finding curling irons, pressing tuxedo pants, taking photos. I kept telling myself I could fall to pieces later. I had to get through the day first. The kids will be out late. I could cry as much as I wanted in the evening. I think I made some food for the kids. There were lots of kids here, four or five girls giving pedicures to each other in the greenhouse and the same number of guys getting dressed upstairs. I loved that we had created a home where this was possible; where kids could gather and be comfortable. We planned it that way. We spent years planning to build a house where friends could gather. And he walked out in the middle of the dream-come-true. Ah, life.
Now, after my recent weeks of traveling and distraction I am back in this home getting ready to leave it for a year. I’ve thought long and hard about what to do with this place while I’m gone. I’ve loved sharing it. I love opening it up to those who need a place to stay. It’s a lot of house to care for and I have developed my own systems over the years (fourteen of them!) to do it myself. I love caring for this place. I do get overwhelmed at times when I let the chores get ahead of me, but in reality, I enjoy home-maintenance. My soul is here. It’s funny, because when Joe left I immediately thought I’d sell this place. I thought there were too many memories and I couldn’t bear it alone. But several angels swooped in to guide me through that hard time. One in particular told me, “There is nothing that needs to be done in this house that you can’t learn to do. Nothing. Don’t give it up.” And he was right. And I thank God for him. I call him Clarence.
So I’ve been scurrying about, repainting, planting, cleaning, packing, organizing and am grateful for the time alone here. In the next few weeks the house will be filled with family and friends again. We’ll celebrate James’s christening, some birthdays and graduations. We’ll have good-bye dinners and a holiday weekend. Our spirits will move through the spaces with comfort and familiarity. The memories range from one end of the spectrum to the other–––joy and heartache, celebration and grief. It’s all part of the fabric of this place. This is not a commodity. I can’t imagine selling it. This is not just a house.
In 1993, we stood and watched the backhoe dig the foundation and thought, “My God, what are we getting into?” Months later we took baths in the kitchen sink when we had no other plumbing. All of us, down to the six year old twins, worked hard to create this place. We shingled the outside together, we cleared brush and had bonfires, we mixed cement, we drew plans for gardens, we dug and sifted and planted. We had family dinners with food we grew. We had entire teams over for pre-game pasta suppers. We turned the yard into a grand festival for Rachael and Kyle’s wedding. It’s home. It’s my mooring and anchorage. No matter how much I travel or how long I’m away, I feel the doors to this place are arms outstretched to welcome me back. The tarnished knobs that feel so familiar in my hand as I turn them, are handshakes that say, “Welcome home. We missed you.” The windows reflect back at me and thank me for the hours I spent painting their mullions. They remind me they could use another coat when I get a chance. I thank them for the view, the sunlight, the moonlight, the breeze.
I look around at the masks and art we’ve collected from our travels. I love how it all seems part of the landscape here. Part of me. Part of this family. I try not to collect much anymore, thinking I already have more than I need. But I know this next adventure will also have it’s place in this house in one form or another. My freshly painted walls will always have room for another friend. It’s the study I’m painting. It has needed it for a while, another winter project I’m just getting to. In choosing a color, I must admit, I am influenced by the names given to the swatches. I ponder and ponder, I look in various lights, I put the swatches side by side and when I narrow it down to two, I admit I go by the name. It was the choice between Metallic White or Silver Lining.
I went with Silver Lining.