Sunday, August 19, 2007

You Can't Go Home Again

I had a strangely surreal experience last week. The wife half of the couple that bought my old house two months ago called me up and invited me to come over for a cup of coffee. She said she was dying to meet the woman who had once lived in this beautiful old dream house, the woman who had planted all the magnificent roses in the yard, the woman who had left the sticker on the underside of the toilet seat that says "A Feminist Was Here."

Whoa, go back to my old house? I was terrified! Would it be devastatingly heartbreaking to see these strange new people happily living in my house? Would it bring up all kinds of repressed feelings of deep sadness and loss and homesickness and envy? (Because really, you know, I've been quite happy and content here in my tiny shack. But who knows what kinds of deep underground shit might get stirred up by returning to the scene of the tragedy?) I panicked and dithered but finally my curiosity won out over my fears and I said ok, I'll be there in five minutes.

So then suddenly there I was standing on "my" beloved front porch (which, by the way, was crowded with strange stuff I'd never seen before), ringing my own doorbell, waiting for a total stranger to open the door and let me in. It was beyond weird. But even further beyond weird was when the woman opened the door and stood there looking totally blank. "Yes?" she said, as if she wasn't expecting a visitor.

"Hi," I said cheerily. "I'm the, uh, woman you just spoke to on the phone, the one who left that sticker under your toilet seat?"

She stared at me for a moment, and then slowly comprehension began to dawn. "Oh!" she said. "Oh my goodness! You... I was expecting... You're not... I thought... I heard... I really thought you were going to be a decrepit old lady! I thought we'd bought the house from this very decrepit, very sick, very old lady." (Note to self: kill all former neighbors asap.) "I'm sorry," she said. "Come on in!"

And from the moment I stepped through the front door, everything felt like a dream. Like one of those eerie haunting dreams where you go back to a house where you used to live a long time ago but nobody there recognizes you and everything is totally different. Exactly like that.

Unfamiliar things were everywhere! The new family has four children, and they hadn't quite unpacked from the move yet so there were boxes overflowing with stuff in every room. Along with a whole lot more furniture and knickknacks and, well, just things than I had. The house was much more cluttered, but I think it was a happy, lived-in kind of chaos.

And weirdest of all, on top of all their unfamiliar stuff, they had kept almost all the things I had left behind when I moved. Mixed in with their possessions were pieces of my furniture, art, books, just all kinds of miscellaneous items I couldn't take with me. I mean, I moved from a 3,000 square foot house into a 600 square foot shack, so of course 90% of what I owned couldn't possibly come with me. I donated a lot of things to charity, threw a lot out, sold the mahogany dining table to a neighbor, but I was so overwhelmed and exhausted by the end of the move, I just walked out and left tons of stuff behind for the new owners to deal with. And it was the oddest sensation now, to walk through the rooms and see my old forgotten things mixed in with their unfamiliar things in the old familiar rooms that suddenly looked so strange and unfamiliar. I thought maybe my brain might break.

But you know what? I didn't feel sad at all. It made me extremely happy to see that the new people not only hadn't hauled my detritus off to the dump, but they were actually enjoying it! They were thinking of my rejects as exciting mysterious valuable antique treasures they'd discovered up in the attic of their very old house. The woman would be saying things like, "My mama wants to take this beautiful old piece on Antiques Roadshow!" and I'd be thinking, "Hmmm, I think I remember buying that thing at Target, or maybe it was World Market? back in 2004." I didn't want to disillusion her, but I just couldn't stop laughing.

Anyway, yeah. Going back to the old house was breathtakingly strange and surreal but it was also a happy and utterly freeing experience. I know for sure now that I really have let go and moved on. That enormous, wonderful, cluttered, extremely high-maintenance old house is somebody else's headache now, and I'm glad. Because it means I'm officially a Free Man in Paris, unfettered and alive.


Blogger Betsey C. said...

Ha! And not only did the lady open the door to a hip young (I'm your age) chick, but one with purple hair to boot! Cool!

12:17 PM  
Blogger Lark said...


You SO have the makings of a book here.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Tarr said...

I have this enormous old house that hangs around my neck like an albatross. And as of yesterday, I live alone.

Reading about your experience helps. But dog, though it is time to get beyond the big old house, it sure feels hard.

Maybe I should take in rumors.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Annie in Austin said...

The purple hair does seem to be a bit of serendipity, and even more than a book... belongs in a screenplay. I've left 4 houses behind and never went back to one of them, so to me this is more proof of how gutsy you are.

I wonder if it was kind of surreal for the new owners to have liked and kept your stuff, which gave them some kind of mental image of you... then heard you were a very decrepit old lady which didn't fit the previous possessions. Seeing you may have cleared their brain clouds, too.


6:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great story; and love the Joni Mitchell reference. From my own brush with cancer over the last twelve months, I've found that "letting go" of stuff is one of the hardest and best things to do, but letting go of a house in that way would be a huge challenge.

By the way, I've nominated you for a "thinking blogger" award here. No need to take up the tag; just thought you'd like to know you have lots of admirers in Australia.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Michael Kamensind said...

Have been reading your most engaging blog for some time and finally made the effort to sign up to comment (hopefully this will not unleash a torrent of SPAM - there's only so much advertisement for viagra a guy can take). I was tempted once before when you were contemplating getting a white Dobermann, which I do not consider a good idea, but alas, that's no longer relevant. Anyhow, just wanted to congratulate you on your port removal ! I know what a big step on the road to recovery that is. MK

8:57 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What a surreal experience! Your Joni reference nearly brought me to tears of joy for you. That's my favorite Joni song and I've long yearned to have that feeling.


9:10 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The apartment that I shared with my ex was torn down to make way for new condominiums. The place was holds a lot of memories for me because alot of tender and special moments took place there. It was also the first time I was staying on my own, first time I decorated my own place, first time I had a lived-in bf. On the first week the construction work started, I went to surrender my apartment keys - the windows were gone, the air-cons were gone...I felt that I had left behind a huge part of me but I know I need to move on. Its been 1 year and 6mths almost. Life goes on, I am strong :o)

Cheers Liz.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Patrizia said...

It's interesting how we let heaps of belongings define us, isn't it? And how easy and dreamlike it is to let go of them.

I so want you to write a book about this.

In the meantime, your two Frieda candles are waiting to come clutter up your new abode. "She never writes, she never calls," they complain.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Trasi said...

Although I have never done that in the form of a house (hell, it'd be hard to get a family of 3 into a house smaller than our 1100 sq ft house), I religiously go through all my crap (I mean stuff) a few times a year and just purge things. There's one category more than all the others that continues to linger, that is the hardest to part with (despite the desire). That is "Stuff Given To Me By A Loved One Which I Don't Really Like Or Need But The Giver Asks About Their Gift's Location And I Don't Want To Have The Conversation Explaining Why I Donated It."
You definitely had a good excuse for that pile of stuff. :-)

12:36 PM  
Blogger Go Write Through said...

I used to live in Asheville, NC, home of Thomas Wolfe, so I love the can't go home again reference.
Anyway, you don't know me. I don't know you, but I've been trying to find folks who write about cancer. But I dig your humor and your blog.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Lynne Thompson said...

There's nobody calling you up for favors and noone's future to decide:-) Love that Joni.

great post, thanks LynneT.

5:34 PM  

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