We’re moving this coming weekend, and we’re excited!
There’s something so grand and so sad about going through all your “stuff.” There’s a lot packed into this place. Sixteen years of my life. A little less than of a third of it.
I’d just turned forty when I bought the condo. It was the first time in my life I’d lived alone. In college, I’d had roommates, and I married the summer before my senior year in college. When the marriage ended seventeen years later, I rented a room from a friend at work, a single guy who’d bought a house and found it a little too big to live in alone. We all joked that he ran the Home for Wayward Ex-Husbands. I was his last Wayward Ex-Husband — he met a girl and married her and sold his house shortly after I moved out.
I remember the first night I had possession of the condo. Empty — nothing but walls and carpets and bare cupboards. Late November, maybe early December. I don’t have a head for dates. But the days were short, almost as short as they get, and I “took possession” at something like seven o’ clock in the evening, well after full dark. The air was sharp and cold. I put the key in the lock — my own key, my own lock, my own door — and walked in, savoring the steady warmth of the baseboard heat. I slowly walked around the house, turning on lights. Running water in the sinks. Flushing toilets. My house. My home.
I took off my shoes and flexed my toes in the carpet. I turned out all the lights and on the fireplace hearth lit a single candle that I’d bought for that purpose. I sat in the big, empty living room with my candle, feeling the warmth of the room, the silence, the emptiness, the peace. This place has always had a sweet energy. I didn’t spend that night in the house — I blew out the candle and left.
The next day, as I moved my meager roomful of possessions, I unpacked my CDs first, and put Rachmaninoff on the cheap boom box I’d bought. Piano concertos two and three: two of my favorite piano works of all time. Then his fourth piano concerto, which I don’t like at all, but which I played all the way through, loudly, because I could. No complaints from parents or wife or kids or roommates, no “Turn off that damn noise!”
When the piano from the old house arrived a few days later, I played it until my arms ached: great crashing works, like Rachmaninoff’s C-sharp minor prelude, or Chopin’s Ocean etude. No one to complain.
Having girlfriends over and making love in front of the fireplace. Learning — relearning — to cook for myself. Learning to enjoy the silence. The solitude. The freedom to eat when I would, sleep when it pleased me, go to a movie any night of the week, make my own schedule. These pleasures grow old with time, but they were fresh and new to me then, and they came with the condo.
Each of my two boys moved in with me. They were five years apart, and each passed through the house separately in the late stages of teen angst and early adulthood. A difficult age, and they both drove me mad in their different ways. The reek of Stagg canned chili first thing every morning, the wreckage of a “midnight snack” strewn about the kitchen. The endless power-struggle over the One Assigned Job of taking out the trash. Fights between the two of them over the television remote when they both spent time here together. The incessant calls from the school about their grades, and the fruitless attempts to get either of them motivated to jump through hoops they saw as pointless; I could hardly disagree.
And yet, it was a sweet time with them here, and it passed so very quickly. The oldest’s enthusiasm for music. The youngest’s creativity. Summer nights, Blockbuster videos, and popcorn. Ski trips in the winter. Punning relentlessly around the dinner table. Both of them were — and are — brilliant, and they were good company.
I went through two surgeries here. First uvulopalatopharyngioplasty — throat surgery for sleep apnea. They sent me home after one night, and I asked my ex-wife to spend the night with me, terrified my swollen throat would close entirely and I’d suffocate in the middle of the night. Then cancer, a few years later. Surgery in the spring, chemo through the summer, autumn recovering. A quiet, reflective year. Never sure whether I would live or die at the end of it, wondering what, if anything, of value I had accomplished in life.
Meeting Marta, and inviting her to move in with me, share my home, my life. She came in March, and that summer my youngest moved into his own place with some friends. Marta lived lightly, and the two of us somehow managed to squeeze in here with all our stuff.
My uncle died, and I was the only relative in my generation who cared enough to settle his estate. There wasn’t much to keep. He and my father and their two other brothers were all shutterbugs, amateur photographers, and I saved all my uncle’s slides, some dating back to the 1930’s. A dozen or so boxes shipped here and wedged into closets and corners.
My father went into nursing care, and we had to sell his house to pay his bills. Most of the contents of the house were worthless apart from the memories they evoked — every bit of broken junk was priceless for those memories. But there was no place to store a houseful of fading memories: most of it went to the landfill. The photographs and boxes of junk I couldn’t bear to part with got wedged into the garage.
Now, everything is getting unwedged, boxed, labeled. Sad, and yet grand.
Each old box has been opened. Some we’ve closed again and labeled for moving. Some we’ve emptied, and we’ve been making a steady stream of trips to Goodwill, the dumpsters, and the city dump.
It’s especially sad to go through what little is left of my Dad’s stuff. Taken from their context in the house I grew up in, the magic has leaked out. The items so evocative of my own childhood are now just things. Someone else’s things. Memories of memories.
Someday it will be my stuff that someone else is going through. “Why did he keep that Spelling Champion trophy on his wall?” they’ll ask. Does it have a story? Or was it just something to fill a blank space on the wall? That photograph — is the woman with him a one-time lover, or a friend, or a co-worker, or a random acquaintance at a party? They won’t know. The photograph and the plaque alike will be discarded. As they should be.
As they should be. That’s the grand part of all this: moving forward, lightening the weight of the past so that we can move into the future.
I say farewell to this place that housed a third of my life. It served me well, but its time is done. It’s time to move forward, together with this best woman in the world who walks with me as my wife.