I’m cleaning the front stoop with a scrub brush and bleach, which is for sure a thing I have never done in the five years I’ve lived here.
Not a lifetime, not a childhood, but enough. Enough to pile up memories that stick to my bones and become part of the fabric of my family. These past weeks, I’ve worked hard to erase it all – the life we built here – my family and I.
As my mind writes this letter to you, I’m scrubbing muddy tracks off the concrete and wiping traces of my kids’ smudgy fingerprints from the front door handle.
I’m standing next to the porch swing – in the magic hour between day and dusk, against the sunlit backdrop of the neighborhood that has been home to my family for half a decade – when it occurs to me, there's more to this house than what's written in the disclosures.
Under different circumstances, I’d invite you in, offer you a drink, make you feel at home – I’m nothing if not a good hostess. But as it turns out, the passing on of houses is an emotionless, business transaction.
But let’s pretend it isn’t.
Let’s walk together (if only virtually) over the threshold I carried my youngest through in an Ergo and all-in-one footie Pj’s, on the day we closed escrow, five years ago.
Follow me. (Picture my hand beckoning you with a come-hither wave.) We begin this tour in the kitchen, undeniably the heartbeat of a home – and where coffee is brewed, so also the most essential. As women, we’re always holding things up and together until exhaustion sets in. I imagine, like me, you’ll need caffeine.
Do you see the window above the sink, overlooking the backyard? Good. Stand there in the morning with a warm mug perched in hand and gaze out at the patch of burnt-orange Peruvian lilies stretching toward the sky. Had you bought this house in any other season, you may have pulled them out, mistaking them for weeds. But in spring and summer, the apricot blooms are stunning, so we already share a secret.
Let’s move into the living room. You don’t see them now, but beneath the new paint and patched nail holes, Christmas stockings waited to be filled, elves hung suspended above mantles, and birthday-cake-covered-fingers left chocolatey handprints on walls. It would not be exaggerating to say the collective rounds of Uno, Go-Fish, and Boggle played in this room surpass triple digits.
In the corner stood our piano. At barely six, my oldest sat feet dangling from the bench, learning "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on color-coded keys. Now eleven, his feet solidly reach pedals, as he plays memorized bars of music from his favorite pop songs.
Down the hallway is the aptly named Family Room. You’ll find a chalkboard door perfect for Tic-Tac-Toe, or the first, brave, unsteady attempts at writing a name. On the ceiling, now filled with spackle, are holes left by hooks that held our projector screen. In rainstorms, on birthdays, and Just-Because-Fridays, the smell of popcorn filled the air and bodies snuggled four people wide on our pull out couch watching clownfish reunite, Jedis fight the dark side, and Goonies find One-Eyed Willie’s treasure.
Beyond this room is a staircase (which also makes a handy, indoor basketball free-throw zone – in case you ever need one). If you look closely, you’ll find residue of peeled off tape on the door at the bottom of the stairs, which once held a hoop and served as a backboard.
In the first bedroom upstairs, the carpet is worn in the corner where I sat on our large, sage-green rocker beneath the wide, westward facing windows – rocking, and nursing, and reading bookshelves full of bedtime stories in the dreamy sleep-deprived years from baby to preschool. If you look down at the yard from here, you’ll see the gravel terrace, between the jasmine and wisteria, where quite possibly a billion marshmallows danced above hot flames at the end of sticks – transformed into gooey perfection – on summer firepit evenings.
There's one thing left to show you, downstairs, where we began. (I'm doing the follow-me wave again.) I saved this part for last because it was the hardest to undo. See the doorjamb between the kitchen and living room? Doesn’t it look shiny and white? (I know it does because I just painted it.) What you don’t see are the years I painted over – the pencil marks with dates and names marking the inches of time my kids grew, under this roof.
My cheerful, affectionate kindergartener – at one time scarcely reaching my waist – is now a temperamental (though often charming) tween whose eyes (almost level with mine) roll back in his head in response to most of what I say. But sometimes (if the stars and moon align, and no one is looking) he still tolerates a hug.
My tiny baby who fit swaddled in my arms when we first moved in – barely to my knees stretched tip to toe – is now an independent 5-year-old whose long legs pedal bicycles and climb trees far beyond my reach. The last time I checked, my pencil marked him halfway between the floor and ceiling on this now very clean, but unexceptional, doorjamb.
Maybe it took me so long to paint over the marks because they served as visual proof of kids who no longer exist – those versions anyway. Forever frozen in time in No. 2 lead, I cannot pack them up and take them with me.
(A fact that remains true, no matter our address.)
You’ll find everything looks like new – my cue to leave. This house belongs to you now. I know you’ll change things, make it yours; but I hope you keep the lilies. By late fall they’ll die back, leaving no sign of their existence. But under the bark, they wait for spring’s invitation to burst through the soil once again with new growth. You’ll wake one morning to find familiar, firey-orange blooms filling the stems – marking another year gone by – and reminding you of the steady, reliable rhythms of life.
It’s likely you and I will never meet. My name on a line above the word Seller and yours above Buyer is the only place we’ll occupy the same space. Except here. We now share thread in the same tapestry – mine rewoven into your needle.
In this house, we overlap.
I’m both profoundly proud and saddened at the thorough job I’ve done removing any trace of us. Just like the lilies, and the younger versions of my kids pressed straight-backed against the doorjamb, we're making room for something new. And that is as it should be.
We’ve undone our life in this house so you can begin filling it up with yours.
With mixed emotions and a kindred adoration for the place you now call home, I bid you Welcome and Goodbye. May your walls fill with holes, and your doorjambs abound with pencil marks.
Jacque lives in California with her two boys (lively), two dogs (rescues), one cat (indifferent), and her husband (patient). She is currently working on a memoir. Her writing can be found on Scary Mommy, Popsugar, HuffPost, and more. You can also find her at her blog, writewhereiam and on Facebook and Twitter.
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