Letting go of a house
My parents built a house together in North Carolina before I was born, and then they divorced when I was 9 and sold the house when I was in my early 20s. I was knocked for a bit of a loop when they sold it: I spent hours sitting at my desk at work, trying desperately to be “professional” but actually listening to “Carolina in My Mind” on repeat and silently crying, periodically swiping at my wet cheeks with my flat palms, muttering, “Jesus, get it together.” Then I would go to the bathroom and wash my face, furious at myself for being such a huge baby. I would go back to my desk, put on more upbeat music, work on some spreadsheets – and then fall down the rabbit hole again.
In hindsight, I don’t really know why I was so affected by it all. It wasn’t as if it had been my childhood home or anything, although we did go back for the summers in my early years. I hadn’t stepped inside the place in a decade or more when my parents sold it. I was never planning to move back there. But it still threw me, seeing this last vestige of my parents’ broken marriage disappear into the open market.
And now, because family traditions are hard to break, I’m feeling a similar flood of emotions as my ex-husband puts the house we bought in 2009 on the market. Things had been rocky between us for a while when we first bought the house, but I thought surely they would improve once we were out of my dad’s house and into our own place, with the mingled pride of ownership and endless projects that accompany home ownership.
“We’re just restless,” I told myself. “Once we have landscaping to do on the weekends, we’ll rediscover the value of teamwork.”
And so we bought a house in Broadmoor, a “cozy historic cottage,” according to the real estate listing, and I really, briefly, thought everything was going to be OK. I have an extremely distinct memory of myself from this time about five years ago. I was wearing ratty cut-off sweatpants and a running bra because it was disgustingly hot and humid, and I was kneeling on the countertop unwrapping our wedding china and stacking it carefully in a cupboard. “We have wedding china,” I thought firmly to myself, as though that signified anything. “We are homeowners and parents, and we have a gravy boat that matches our plates. We are not going to get divorced. We can’t get divorced.”
Slightly more than a year later, we were divorced. I think the wedding china is still in that cupboard. I didn’t take it when I moved out. I wonder what will happen to it now; eBay?
Five years later, I know I’m happier than I was, even happier than I tried to convince myself I was. I am happily remarried with a fantastic family. But it’s still beyond bittersweet to see the house that was – ever so briefly – the representation of our shared hopes and dreams listed online for another young hopeful family to buy.
I clicked through the pictures online: There’s the patio that we had planned to fix up but never did, where I’d envisioned myself sipping coffee in my pajamas on weekend mornings, sections of the newspaper piled at my feet; there’s the grapefruit tree I planted just after we moved in, heavy with fruit I never even once got to harvest; there’s the shower curtain I picked out, the coffee table I got at such a good price, the entertainment center that I loved and he hated that we bought anyway and he got stuck with.
I am not sad about it, but it’s still weirdly emotional.
Ultimately, though, I’m ready for that chapter to be well and truly closed and happy and excited for the family that buys it. I hope they lay brick on the patio; I hope they enjoy the grapefruits; I hope they keep the banana trees.
(And if they want a nice set of china, I’m willing to include that in the deal. Gravy boat and all.)