An ode to a beautiful house
is what I want to try and give
but the reality is that I’m
torn between two worlds –
a future and a past
and in the deepest
darkest part of me
I know what it is can’t last – me
It’s Monday, May 30th, 2022—four days before I lose my childhood home forever. I feel as if I’m living in a paradox, and maybe it has something to do with my return to work tomorrow and nothing to show for it, just two days spent in front of a computer screen, complaining about the junk removal guys who tried to bribe us out of $100 just to take some bins of old, vintage toys to the dump—a box of toys my dead dad meticulously designed, handpicked from auctions and yard sales, to one day pay for my college education.
I’ve held a large disdain for this house in recent years because nothing about it felt like home. The last time the scent of my dead mom’s famous chicken soup oozed around the house was on Thanksgiving 2020, and it was the last time I saw my dad have a desire for food, or in reality, a desire to live. There’s something about me and the month of November. What’s robust and beautiful during those mid-to-late autumn days seems to fade to gray in January. Nothing like starting the year off on a bad foot. I should know—I lost both my parents in February.
I would rationalize that anyone selling off their childhood home would feel this way. That it’s both a bitter and sweet thing. Sweet, because the home goes to someone new who will love it the way our family used to. Once again, holidays will be spent around the tree or, if they’re like my family, arguing on Thanksgiving morning. Maybe someone will turn the attic into the art studio my dad always wanted. Maybe they’ll fix up the weathered, worn-down dollhouse he custom built for me when I was five years old for their own child or future child or grandchild when they rarely come to visit.
But it’s bitter because I know that won’t be the case. The french doors my dad put in will be taken down. His hand-painted mural of the French countryside will be painted over. Everything his hands touched, everything my mother loved will be stripped away and pretty soon it’ll be like we, as a family, never existed. We’re just footprints in the sand erased by the tide, only taking up space for a little while.
I held so much disdain for this house when my dad was alive because he looked at the things my mom left behind and wanted to sell them. He wanted to start with this doll my uncle brought back from war for my mom when she was child. It was stained and ugly—not something she ever displayed or even talked about, really. But there it was, clutched by my father’s hand like it was worth many pennies. I wanted him to throw out his shit, not hers. Or at the very least, something they owned together. But that’s just how we were in this whole complex thing known as the after-death stage of life. He wanted her things gone because the pain of their sour memories were too complex. I wanted them because they were the only things left.
That’s where I find myself with this house.
Over the course of a year—at this point, a year and a half—I’ve spent more bad times there than good ones at this property. I watched my dad wither away, slumped in the mocha-hued recliner that I got up at 4 a.m. Black Friday morning to get him. In early August, I watched him slither his way into the kitchen, only to fall backward and hit his head on the stained tile floor, barely audible, trying to murmur the hospital he wanted to go to. He was frail. His ribs were showing. He shuffled when he walked. And he’d only get skinnier as the months went on, when the reality of what I thought was happening that day he collapsed finally came true.
This isn’t even about the difficulty I had trying to find the words to say at his deathbed, wondering if he could hear me tell him I loved him and that even though we’d be separated by the worst kind of distance, we’d both be okay wherever our feet landed. It’s the fact that I didn’t really know what to say beyond those words. You think you’d share and reminisce about the millions of memories you had together or the promises you made that were continually broken, but no—you just kind of sit there, holding their hand that grows colder by the minute until their vacant stare takes over. You see it all so clearly. You know what’s happening, yet you don’t know what to say, and even worse, you can’t stop it.
In three days, I’m going to sit in an empty, furniture-less house, ordering pizza one last time in a house that has no TV or music. No family photos hung to the walls or even the sound of my father hacking up a lung in his office. Just me, cross-legged on a floor with a piece of pizza, knowing what’s coming—seeing it so clearly—and not knowing what to say or how to stop it before the clock finally runs out.
A house is just a house, especially now that it’s empty. It’s just a few barren walls and crooked floorboards and the reality is that it stopped being a home once my mom died. Instead, it became a tomb. I try to remind myself that the worst has already happened. I lost them. They’re in the ground, inches apart just like their death dates. The hard part is already over. The news of the death. The reality of watching it. Signing my name to bank statements and estate paperwork and combing through utility bills. Picking out his urn and delivering his eulogy—both their eulogies. Watching people buy my mom’s jewelry stands and my dad’s paintings for ridiculously low costs and feeling my stomach turn when someone asked me for a few prices lower because the reality is that nothing in that house was worth less than everything to me.
I rationalize and argue that I’ve already done the hard part and once this house sells—once I close on it—I will never have to go through this again. Life will throw other pain at me, but not this—this finally wraps up the five-year journey of watching both of my parents die from cancer. It puts a nice little bow around my sadness and depression and feelings of guilt and pride and overwhelm. It puts an end date on my suffering, much like my father’s passing, though I refused to pull the plug when the nurse asked me if I wanted to. And quite honestly, from here, it’s going to be such a relief.
Such a relief that I don’t have to keep this wound open indefinitely, much like how I’ve lived since my mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2011. Such a relief that I don’t have to drive 20 minutes each way just to check for mail or an Ebay package or a will. Such a relief that his next door neighbors won’t continue hassling us on a property that isn’t ours with the magnitude of compassion and understanding that would fit inside a pea. Such a relief that the journey of our caretaking—in some way, shape, or form—will be over and my husband and I can focus on moving, or getting a different job that doesn’t require as much flexibility, or finally have that baby we’ve dreamt about for the past four years.
Six months from now, I’m not going to wish I could go back to that house for Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, I’ll look back on those memories fondly—like the Thanksgiving in 2007, shortly after my grandma died. My mom was in the kitchen prepping the turkey and I said something stupid like all teenagers eventually do and we started to argue. My dad was in my bedroom, sketching out what would eventually become the mural of France. But when dinner arrived, it was back to normal and we joked around over charred biscuits and mediocre turkey and cranberry sauce in the shape of a metal tin. It was imperfectly perfect—much like our home, much like our journey, much like this after-death stage of life because, though it’s weird and sad and kinda complex, we must have shared something really beautiful to be so broken up about a house that stopped being a home many, many years ago.