I was standing on the front porch with my back to the street and the glorious warmth of the sun shining on my back when I looked in through the open door and called out, “Jude!” Without missing a beat, my baby boy immediately responded by smiling up at me and crawling from the living room and down the front entryway. His first real crawling movements and they were happening here in our house in our final days.
Except, something was not right. There was furniture in the entryway that hasn’t been there in years and Jude’s crawling was too perfect to really be his first time attempting it all successfully. That’s when I opened my eyes and realized two huge and important things: I was dreaming and I was depressed.
When I had the dream back in September it was so real and so sweet but it was over too fast and left me with only a sad reminder that even though Jude was so close to crawling, he would never crawl in our beloved home because time was slipping away much too quickly. All the years of convincing and in one blink of the eye it all happened so fast leaving me here not standing tall and firm like the rock I believed I was but instead swaying and shaking to my core like a tree in a Winter’s storm.
My home. Our home. My families home. The home that was built essentially for us. The home my five-year-old mother moved into with her little sister and her parents and ran around exclaiming, “This is the best day of my life!” The home that was always there for us when we had nowhere to go. The home that Omi always said would be there for me to move into officially with her once I graduated high school. The home that took us in permanently when I was 16 and we had lost Omi forever.
I don’t think very many people can quite understand how it feels to lose someone you love twice. Because that’s how it feels for me. My heart is broken and I want to say I have never felt this type of pain before; but, I know, I have – only it was 11 years ago and I thought I had healed my aching heart with perfectly sewn little stitches. Anastasia’s dark days of depression and acting out have come and gone and the black hair is only a fading memory of dye being washed down the bathroom drain. Instead I am usually light and happy and I cling to the Lord with all the vigor I once used to run away from Him.
Except now… Now I am very much broken hearted all over again and just trying to get by each day without crying more than once.
On my very last night in my home, I cried. I cried in batches throughout the night and sometimes those batches just melted together into one and it was just hours of crying. I touched walls and felt their heartbeat trying to get my own heart back into a healthy rhythm; I looked outside at the backyard and felt it’s breathing and the life and youth of children in the prime of their childhood getting into trouble. Back there it is the 70’s, it is the 80’s, it is the 90’s, it is the early 2000’s.. it is 45 years of children in the family and from around the block and from school and dance studios and that backyard has felt all of their footsteps and giggles and plots and imaginary stories and it is alive with it all.
I went into her bedroom and stared at the huge bathroom vanity and saw it as it was before she died. The department store makeup and perfume so neatly and beautifully on display, just calling for little Anastasia to come up and play with the gold tubes of lipstick and all the shade of eyeshadow.
In the kitchen I had to steady myself on the old brown countertops because as I walked in I saw her, my Omi, standing at the kitchen counter and helping me climb onto a chair she pushed up against the counter so she could show me how to help wash the dishes. I saw that same chair pushed up against the counter with a huge bowl of potato dumpling mix and I was helping her cook dinner. I saw her sitting at the kitchen table in her department store work clothes, drinking black coffee in a china teacup and eating yummy toast and jelly – handing me a hard boiled egg with it’s special little cup and teaching me how to crack it. I saw her look up at me and smile and I caught my breath.
I just want her to be proud of me. I want her to be impressed by Philip. I want her to snuggle Jude.
Saying goodbye to this house resurrected so many childhood memories. So many golden and beautiful things. So many very ugly and difficult memories. The magical Christmases of my childhood. The time my dad threw my mom into the oven in the kitchen. The fights on the phone with my first boyfriend on the front steps. The time I turned 18 and all my friends came over and played High School Musical and reenacted the movie live in front of the TV. The years of stories and dramas played out in the play house in the backyard or the dozens of dance shows we performed on the back patio. The summer nights of In-n-Out and fresh strawberry shortcake. The fights the adults had over politics or correct pronunciation of Folgers or the missing spoon for the set. The moment in time when all five of us kids and my mom shared one room because we had nowhere else to go or the glorious high school and college years when I had the den to myself.
Speaking of the den. The best room. The best window. The best view. So many high school days spent laying in bed staring out that window with The Postal Service or Keane or Weezer blasting through my little speakers. That room sheltered me and put up with my mess and helped to define the woman I have become today.
And now, that view, that window, that room, that master bathroom vanity, the small hallway bathroom that was there with me for all my moments of wanting to escape the sanity of a huge family or hair dye experiments or putting my hair up in elaborate buns for ballet class, the huge living room with it’s slanted walls and cracks and the fire “conversation pit” with it’s banisters so perfect for gymnastic balance beam tricks and the backyard and the playhouse with the roof I climbed onto via the garden wall so that I could hide behind the trees and write and pretend that nobody could find me up there, the kitchen with all of it’s comfort and the strongest presence of her perfume swirling around which is all too fitting being that it’s the kitchen that first brought me to my knees in tears when we came home to the house after she left us forever.
Not even the thought of my warm bed at home was enough to pull me out of that house on the last night. Sleep deprived and running on pure exhaustion and coffee galore each step towards the door simultaneously felt like hours in between but also, like the ticking second hand on the clock had been turned up to lightyear speed.
It’s been two weeks now and I still do not believe it happened. I know I am in denial. And I am okay with staying here a little while.
I said goodbye to 18655 Vintage and with it, my childhood, my teen years, my adult life. I said goodbye to the awful memories of my father. I said goodbye to the days my uncle brought us tacos galore before his schizophrenia took him away. I said goodbye to the day Omi rushed home from work and turned on the TV to watch the news coverage of Princess Diana’s death. I said goodbye to that morning on September 11th when we watched live as the second plane hit. I said goodbye to the Easter Egg Hunts and summers sliding down the slip and slide on the front lawn that felt like a mountain back then. I said goodbye to all of the stories that my mom and aunt told of their days growing up on Vintage. I said goodbye to the faint memory of my grandpa living here before the divorce – the workbench in the garage an ode to the days that a man lived in this house.
I said goodbye to Omi again. Her memory living in that house as strong as the day she left us 11 years ago, Easter morning, March 27th. But it’s not really goodbye. Because even though her ghost stands proud and stubborn in that house, she’s in everything we take with us. From the china to the artwork to the edelweiss that hangs from my neck. And even though that feels a little bit like idolatry, the truth is that the edelweiss really just gives me strength to remember to be stubborn, wear lipstick, love your family, protect their secrets, eat toast and jelly, black coffee, German food, sit and watch the planes at LAX, that TV time needs a special little treat to eat with your tea, that driving can really be done with one hand at the bottom of the steering wheel and to never, never, never forget that where she lives the strongest is within me because I am, forever and always, her loyal granddaughter.