When your husband shows you the house, recently re-listed on Zillow, complain that he’s been cheating on your home again. And worse, on the Internet. You thought you’d agreed to stay here, to stay home, in this sweet corn-yellow colonial, but instead, you find yourself clicking through the photographs, imagining your children at play in the fenced backyard, their growth ticks on the moldings (original to the house!), watching rainstorms from the screened porch. You have arranged your furniture in the living room.
You go to the open house with your husband and both sets of parents. Your mother gushes as though you don’t own a beautifully remodeled kitchen in your house with tall cream-colored cabinets, rich hand-scraped floors, a farmhouse sink, the kind of kitchen your colonial always dreamed of. You and your husband spent hours deciding on details and he, weeks making it come to life. It is as full as it could be. It needs no second-helpings.
The dining room in the Open House is yellow like the outside of your home. The sun glints off the walls just right, the hardwood floors are original, too. Outside there are sidewalks that are fast-paced to your job at the university, to your sons’ schools, to the canal. You spent days researching the yards around the house, the Quaker Maid factory, the train tracks. You can imagine both sons’ eyes lighting up at the whistle. Or the Halloween doorbell. Or summer’s Skippy truck. These are the sounds of your childhood village, and in many ways, at the open house, you are home.
You return to the home you own, stinking of betrayal. When your sons run to you and cry, “Mommy!” the sound of their feet on the hardwood aches in your stomach. Your husband is smiling because he has made a decision he believes in. His mind reels with numbers and plans and a new kitchen remodel! He is giddy with housework. You are grief-stricken.
Run upstairs and look out the bathroom window at the west-facing pines that have a strange place in your heart though you’ve never even touched them. Perhaps because, as a child, your parents had a row of pine trees in their backyard, a canopy of gnats and dust and, in the late summer, pine needles you’d sift through your fingers, alone.
Nearly fall down the stairs in a hurry, and say, “We’re not moving.”
Change is not easy for you.
Before you decide to list your home, you do a quick search of the address in the village’s old newspaper, just to see. See what? You don’t know, you never know what you’re looking for, only what it is when you find it. There were no violent murders in this house. There were no crazy shenanigans (a word you love) of any kind. Just a professor and his wife who held social meetings in the 1950s, their daughter who grew up to own the house. This house is a home kept for family.
The offer you make is contingent on the sale of your current home.
You hardly see the flaws in the home you own anymore; it becomes like an ex-boyfriend you want back. Your husband snaps you to reality. “Here’s what we have to do,” he says. And then lists: paint the hallway and the mudroom (that you actually call “the dirty room”); paint the stairs; fix the bathroom fixtures; move your books (gasp!); move the dining room table… you are lost already, and he’s not finished.
The hallway is the first large project you feel invested in, though nearly every room in your home has been remodeled since you moved in. While you paint the stenciled hallway a neutral tone, you think of the Thomas Hardy poem you explicated freshman year at your parents’ kitchen table–the last full paper you ever wrote with a pencil on lines. Every stroke of paint feels like an eraser. You paint faster because you are tired.
Your father lived in many houses growing up, your mother lived in many states, and you, you lived in one house. In one village. You wish the same for your boys, that they can pinpoint home, that they know its insides and outs like their own guts.
On Christmas, you went into your parents’ basement and found an old canning jar in the crawl space. You had just finished a story about the Quaker Maid factory at the end of Spring Street in the 1940s. You wonder if that’s where the jar came from, and before you finish the thought, you make it truth. From now on, that’s where the jar came from, it traveled from the factory you wrote about to your parents’ cellar. “How have I not seen this before?” you asked your mother.
You took it home and put it on top of your refrigerator and bouquet-ed your mother’s old monogrammed silverware inside.
The other day, you packed the canning jar and the silverware in an MBS box marked “kitchen.” You will take it with you.
And now, painting the treads of the stairs is a burden. Three-quarters of your pictures have come down from the walls. This Friday, the realtor will take the pictures of your house. Friday, it will go on the market, like some fresh piece of meat. You resist the urge of nostalgia, how your sons’ cries came down the hallways in their early days. How the sun shone in the large windows behind their highchairs at dinner. How much you will miss the place you made. You examine the lines of your palm to see if there is a veer in your lifeline, if leaving a home could be it.
Though, somehow, by convincing your son how wonderful the move will be for him, you recognize those words are meant for you, too. Be sure to tell the realtor to pass on that the frogs call beautifully in the summer nights, that the early fall air is full with cricket chirps in the afternoon, that the home calls out with love.