I grew up in California in a house that sat atop a hill. Tall grass and scrub oak blanketed the surrounding hills. The home buzzed with life. Two kids running hither and yon, a dog and a cat and a bird and various pocket pets that never seemed to stay around for long. The house was alive with joy and energy. The sun shone bright overhead and my heart soaked it all in. I lived there until I was thirteen, at which point my parents divorced. I moved out with my mom and not long afterward, the house on the hill was packed up and sold.
Next was a series of rented apartments that felt like way stations. My mom drifted from place to place, trying on new versions of herself, and I tagged along behind her. This went on until I was on the cusp of adulthood. I learned to hold my breath, to not put down roots. It was a lesson in the impermanence of life.
As long as I was unmoored, I decided, I would travel. I worked temporary jobs until I had enough money to travel, then I took off on some new adventure. I kept my possessions few and lived lightly. I traveled all over the country, and eventually across the ocean. I spent six months traipsing across Australia, going deep into the red interior. I found the land to be inescapably beautiful. I felt at peace there, my soul taking root in the ancient red land. This foreign yet familiar place redefined for me the meaning of home.
In my mid-twenties, I moved to Kansas to be near my mom. I decided to go back to school. I rented an apartment in an old Victorian house and settled in to the rhythm and beat of campus life. It was my first home that was mine alone, a place of blossoming. I filled it with books and travel mementos and quilt fabrics. Light streamed in through the big front window, where my cats perched on the sill, lazily twitching their tails. It was a place of joy and friendship, of creativity and freedom. The stuff of creation. At the end of my first year at school, within the span of a handful of months, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and died. I was bereft. But I stayed on three more years in my newly-made home, and it soothed my broken heart.
My next home was on an island in the Pacific Northwest. I was drawn there by the beauty and solitude, but hadn’t considered what it would feel like to be so alone. I imagined I would make friends, as I always had, but this proved a challenge. It never occurred to me that it might be difficult to meet kindred souls on a remote, rural island. I felt like I lived inside the pages of National Geographic. Bald eagles soared overhead and nested in the tall trees overlooking the strait. Orcas and grey whales breached and spouted. The cold sea lapped the shore. At night I could hear the mournful cry of foghorns and feel the vibrations from the cargo ships cruising silently through the dark passage. It was hauntingly beautiful, but the trees sucked up all the light and my heart grew lonely.
I returned to Kansas and moved into another Victorian-era home. The house was old and friendly and weathered. The dining room floor slanted downward and I had to duck to enter my bedroom closet. I painted the kitchen yellow and filled the house with quirky second-hand furniture. The house was light and hopeful, like my last home in Kansas, but I had carried with me some of the sadness from the island and it settled into the home. I stayed there for two years, feeling about, looking for a path.
Next came the house in the suburbs. I had never wanted to live in the suburbs - beige neighborhoods filled with beige cookie-cutter houses – but I let him choose the house. Life had taught me to bend with the wind, but sometimes I bent too far. I came to the house reluctantly, one eyebrow raised. My travel photos and quilts seemed out of place within its newly constructed walls. It felt like someone else’s home. Nevertheless, it was a place that birthed and grew children. A place where cookies were baked and faces cleaned and floors swept again and again. The house, benign and accommodating, nurtured my kids through childhood and sent them off to school. The seasons recycled themselves and life was pleasant enough.
But then there was the summer when everything fell apart. When violence cut like a knife through our family. His lawyer demanded the house and I, frightened and somewhat relieved, made preparations to leave. I was surprised, however, when the house held fast to us. The horror of that period drew out for another three years and all that time we stayed in the house. She held us there through the longest night, cupped in her hand, cushioning us from a series of sucker punches.
When the storm passed and we emerged, shell-shocked yet intact, I regarded the house with a newfound appreciation. I had never seen the loyalty and strength hidden beneath her beige exterior. This place I had leaned away from all those years.
She holds us now with an open palm, like a good Samaritan setting free a once-wounded bird. She wills us to take flight. I can feel her folding up our family’s history, like a laundered sheet, tucking it into a trunk for shipping. She is making preparations for a new family and some days I can almost hear the laughter of someone else’s children running down her hallways, strewing crumbs across her floors and gathering the oversized leaves from her yard.
When I lie quietly at night, I can feel our next house beckoning to us. I catch the fresh scent of towels still crisp from the clothes line. I hear the wind in the trees outside and the murmurs of my children in the next room. I feel the passage of time, like Fortuna’s wheel, carrying us forward towards the next new place, the framework of a home waiting for us to write our story into its walls.